Health Risks in Paper Mills and How To Eliminate Them

  • HafcoVac
  • December 12, 2019
  • 1122


With $422 billion in revenue in 2019, the paper and pulp industry is one of the largest in the world.

It is also a potentially dangerous industry with a multitude of health risks that paper mill workers face on a daily basis. Workers are prone to injury due to burns, poisoning and lacerations. In 2015 alone, there were 10,000 injuries recorded in the paper and pulp industry by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Paper dust itself is highly combustible, leading to the risk of dust explosions at manufacturing facilities.

In this article, we will identify the different types of hazards faced by paper and pulp workers and how they can be managed.

5 Common Health Risks in Paper Mills

paper mill

Pulp and paper mill workers are typically at increased risk of various health problems due to prolonged exposure to increased noise levels, toxic chemicals and more.

Here are some of the most common risks and hazards.

1. Noise Hazards

In the paper and pulp industry, noise can reach very high levels on the manufacturing floor. It is imperative that factories take appropriate steps to protect their employees' hearing.

This includes investing in low-noise machinery and providing effective noise-canceling ear protection equipment. These should be made compulsory for workers, while noise levels should be regulated and checked.

2. Chemical Substances Hazard

There are many chemical substances commonly used in paper mills that can be dangerous to workers' health. Some of these include chlorine, chlorine dioxide, sulfur compounds and sulfuric acid.

The following steps are crucial for ensuring worker safety:

  • Proper storage for chemical substances using drums, spill containment pallets and spill berms.
  • Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be provided.
  • The proper and regular maintenance of protective equipment should be ensured.

All of these standards should be maintained per OSHA regulations. Proper training in the fitting, use and care of all protective equipment is a core requirement for any complete worker safety protocol. All personal safety equipment should be regularly inspected and replaced in case of excessive wear and tear.

3. Mechanical Equipment Hazards

Another real threat that workers face in paper mills is crushing or amputation by unsafe or faulty machinery. Regular inspection of mechanical guards and other safety equipment is absolutely essential, and work must be stopped while and issues are resolved and necessary repairs are completed. 

4. Human Errors

Long shifts and repetitive work can lead to an increased chance of human error. As such, it is important to schedule shifts accordingly and train employees on how to recognize and manage fatigue.

OSHA-compliant programs teach better safety to workers and contribute to a safer culture throughout the company. Looking out for co-workers is encouraged to help prevent accidents from happening. As part of these types of programs, workers are educated on how to wear protective gear and encouraged to remind others to do the same.

5. Combustible Dust

One devastating risk that has resulted in great casualties and destruction of property in the industry is the risk of combustible dust.

Paper processing equipment releases dust residue, which, when accumulated, can cause serious hazards including fires and explosions. For instance, an explosion in 2017 at the Didion Milling facility in Cambria, Wisconsin claimed five lives and injured fourteen workers on night duty.

A combination of these five elements can lead to dust explosions — and all five are commonly found together in paper mills:

  • Oxygen
  • Fuel (Dust)
  • Ignite source
  • Confinement
  • Dispersion

Dust explosions can be easily prevented by the proper exclusion of combustible dust from potentially hazardous areas. This process requires identification of two factors — the areas where dust usually accumulates and whether it is combustible — while the last step is to get rid of it efficiently.

In order to prevent dust accumulation and mitigate the risks that come with it, vacuums are considered the most effective equipment in removing combustible material safely – but not all vacuums are well-suited for this task.

Vacuum Cleaners for the Paper and Pulp Industry

Processing equipment in paper mills produces a lot of combustible dust, and while regular cleaning can reduce the risk, it is important to use an intrinsically safe, explosion-proof vacuum cleaner for proper disposal.

HafcoVac's Explosion-Proof Vacuums

Certified EXLR HafcoVac

HafcoVac's explosion-proof vacuums are certified which means that they are specially designed for use in hazardous locations. They are efficient in the eradication of dust particles with their multiple overhead extensions and ensure disposal in adherence to OSHA's housekeeping guidelines.

These intrinsically safe vacuums have no moving mechanical parts, resulting in zero buildup of static charge due to friction between different components. These heavy-duty, non-electric vacuums are not only affordable, but they are also an excellent option for paper and pulp mills given their excellent performance on wet and dry surfaces.

Here are some added benefits of these vacuums:

  • ATEX Certification: HafcoVac's vacuums are certified for use in areas with combustible dust hazards.
  • HEPA Air Filtration and Liquid Shutoff: These have a HEPA-certified filter system and a filter bag that is extremely efficient at preventing dust from dispersing in the air.
  • Increased Fire Safety: Since the vacuums are compliant with OSHA housekeeping codes and National Fire Protection Agency regulations, they represent enhanced fire safety.
  • Different Drum Options: The range also comes in 30- or 55-gallon drums so they are perfect for gathering combustible dust from small or confined spaces.
  • Venturi Driven Suction: With 5x the suction compared to electric vacuums, this feature allows the explosion-proof vacuum to pick up dust and debris easily through the hose.

All-in-all, our explosion-proof, intrinsically safe vacuums are extremely popular in various industries, including paper and pulp mills, since they can effectively clean combustible dust such as paint powder, paper dust, cardboard and more. 

Get in touch with the experts at HafcoVac today for more information on how explosion-proof vacuums can help make your workplace safer. They can even arrange same-day delivery to help you ensure your mill safe as quickly as possible. 

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