PSM in Paper Mills?

Ah, the smell of Kraft mills...it is amazing that one type of plant has given an entire industry a bad name for its putrid smells. But that is a whole different blog post. Let's take a look at how PSM may be applied in the Pulp & Paper industry.

In early February, there was an explosion at the Packaging Corporation of America DeRidder Containerboard Mill in DeRidder, LA. The mill produces Kraft linerboard and corrugated medium. For those not familiar with the terms, linerboard is the outside layers of corrugated cardboard and the corrugated medium is the wavy center portion. Many paper mills are not covered by PSM, or only a small section of processes are covered, because they typically do not have a large number of the identified highly hazardous chemicals above the threshold quantities.

The Chemical Safety Board issued a statement as it was preparing to investigate the incident, in that statement, the CSB stated, "According to initial reports, the explosion took place while contractors performed welding on a tank during a facility shut down. The explosion was powerful enough to cause the tank to fly and land in a different area of the plant." Although paper mills may not be fully PSM covered, the guidelines provide a great framework for any manufacturing facility.

The first PSM element that may have come into play in this incident is Hot Work. According to OSHA, "Hot work" means riveting, welding, flame cutting or other fire or spark-producing operation. Welding a tank would certainly fall under this definition. PSM requires that a hot work permit be issued for "hot work operations conducted on or near a covered process." The regulation also requires the scope of work to be completed along with the fire prevention and protection measures that have been implemented prior to beginning the hot work operation. It is especially dangerous to weld on a tank as there is a possibility of flammable gasses getting trapped inside the (relatively) small area inside the tank. When preparing the hot work permit, the area outside the tank as well as inside the tank needs to be checked and free from any flammable materials. Many plants have designated locations where hot work is allowed without special permits, make sure those locations are well posted and everyone knows where they can and cannot perform work without a permit.

Another PSM element that would have played a factor is Contractors. It is important to treat contractors as more than second class citizens. Make sure they are trained in all plant safety policies and procedures. And check out the contractor policies to make sure they are in line with what has been implemented at the plant. It is important to have adequate oversight for contractors. Do not send them out to a job site and leave them alone all day. Make sure they know how to reach a representative in case of questions, and check in with them to make sure they are not making up their own answers.

How else might PSM play a role in the Paper Industry? Share your thoughts with us!