By Candace Sofianos King | Photos by Sweet-Orr

With health and safety a rising concern, personal protective equipment (PPE) in the timber industry is taking top priority.

The timber and woodworking industry boasts one of the highest accident rates in manufacturing.

“The key to preventing accidents and, in the worst case, rescuing workers, is the right equipment,” notes Anderson Cilliers, 3M Market Segment Lead: Fall Protection.

According to Rani Naidoo, technical manager at 3M, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the timber sector is imperative. “PPE is used to protect workers against health or safety risks on the job. The purpose is to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective to reduce these risks to acceptable levels,” explains Naidoo.

The need for PPE in the timber industry is more important than ever.

PPE plays an especially significant role in the timber sector for several reasons, says Denver Berman-Jacob, Sweet-Orr executive director. “The timber sector uses a wide variety of dangerous machinery including chainsaws, harvesters, cranes log splitters and wood chippers. When accidents happen out in a forest, workers are generally far away from medical treatment centres. Because of this, even a minor injury can become serious because of the time it takes to get treatment.

“Forestry work is done outdoors which leaves workers exposed to extreme weather conditions, poisonous insects or animals and broken terrain. This industry has earned it’s ‘3D reputation’ which stands for dirty, difficult and dangerous. All protective measures go a long way under these vulnerable circumstances.”

In terms of legislation, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (No. 85 of 1993) outlines basic principles that specifies what the employer and employees’ roles are. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards related to woodworking include and is not limited to General Industry Standards, Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 1910.

Additional legislation worth referencing is the National Code of Practice for the training providers of lifting machine operators. Make sure you use a brand that complies with national safety and quality standards, such as ISO 9001 and SANS 1387, notes Berman-Jacob.

Common injuries, challenges and PPE misuse

People who work in timber manufacturing need to ensure their eyes, heads, hearing and skin are protected, says Berman-Jacob. He continues, “In industries that require hard work outdoors, PPE can quickly become uncomfortable as workers overheat. In this case, the most common mistake people make is removing a clothing item such as their hard hat before moving out of the danger area. Other common errors include not replacing damaged PPE or not caring for PPE. Earplugs, for example, are often touched when hands are dirty and kept in hard hats for storage. This can lead to ear infections.”

Naidoo says, “Machines used in woodworking are dangerous, particularly when used incorrectly or without proper safeguards. Workers operating woodworking equipment suffer

Sweet-Orr designs and supplies protective workwear that are specific to various industries, namely timber.

the following common injuries: laceration, amputation, severed fingers and blindness. Wood dust and the chemicals used in finishing are health hazards, and workers in this industry can suffer from skin and respiratory diseases.”

Work-related hand injuries are one of the leading reasons workers end up in the emergency room, says Loga Kisten, CEO of SADRAM. “Damage to the nerves in your fingers and hands, loss of a finger, a skin burn or allergic reaction, can negatively impact the quality of your work, your productivity – or worse – end your career and seriously detract from your quality of life. The cost of these types of injuries and illnesses to the construction industry is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

“Always stay alert and focus on keeping your hands safe, not just at the start of work or a task. Keep guards on machinery and power tools in place – don’t remove or reposition them. Use tools and equipment designed for the work being performed and use them as instructed by your supervisor and/or the manufacturer,” advises Kisten.

Changing the mindset of people to understand the need to use PPE is one of the biggest challenges, notes Naidoo, adding that, “Most workers would look at the obvious dangers and cater just for that, for example, wearing safety shoes but little or no thought is given to the ‘silent’ risks such as noise induced hearing loss or respiratory tract diseases as this occurs over a period of time and is not noticed immediately.”

A new trend in safety wear is the focus on PPE for women.

Naidoo highlights that eye protection used to guard against flying particles (for example, wood chips and dust), as well as the risk of paint splashes and other chemical hazards, is often misemployed. “Often spectacles are used but it should in fact be goggles and should be rated for impact as well. Most workers who use a face shield don’t think it’s necessary to wear a dust respirator under the shield, Naidoo points out.

Another key element that is overlooked is the need for optimal communication. “3M believes that to ensure you have the right equipment for your site, it is vital to adopt a holistic approach. Such an approach encompasses the actual conditions of each site, complies with all applicable legislation and policies, and pre-eminently, promotes the safety of your personnel at all times,” says Cilliers.

Skills development and training is an ongoing battle for many timber companies, says Berman-Jacob, adding that most training currently takes place ‘on-the-job’ and often this comes in the form of trial and error. “In addition to this, the work is physically demanding, and workers typically live on low nutrient diets. This naturally results in fatigued and unfocused workers which leads to errors and injuries.

“There are no ‘quick fixes’ to problems such as these, however, companies like SAPPI are leading the way by implementing initiatives such as ‘Stop Think Act’ (STA). A critical factor that is leading the success of the initiative is the proactive engagement, consultation and communication between all stakeholders. Visual stories and images play a key role in overcoming language barriers.”

The smart future of PPE

As we move towards the fourth industrial revolution, PPE is becoming more intelligent and connected. “Connected safety technology is enabling businesses to protect workers more effectively and helps them achieve a competitive advantage by reducing many safety management-related costs,” says Naidoo.

She adds that innovative design and product development is being used to improve PPE. “We understand that having to wear a hard hat, face shield or eyewear, respiratory

Technological advancements in PPE is revolutionising safety for future protection.

protection and hearing protection at the same time can be very uncomfortable and cumbersome. 3M is moving towards providing integrated PPE systems where the user just has to don one item to provide the required protection.

“Many companies have, over the years, implemented databases to record and monitor their employees’ exposure levels and better manage and maintain the safety equipment they use. Yet, this has traditionally been – and continues to be – a paper-based process of manually inputting occupational safety and health data, despite the availability of software applications to simplify the task.

“3M is also investing in ‘smart safety’ where products currently available use smart technology and are able to collect and collate data and conduct personal monitoring. The latest industrial smartphone apps also offer functionalities such as on demand training with clear visual instructions and provide both the worker and safety manager with information on which PPE is needed for a specific task.”

Berman-Jacob says one of the many great things we’re seeing across the protective wear industry and in companies is a new focus on PPE for women.

“More often than not women have to ‘make do’ with whatever clothing their employer has on hand and most of the time these garments are made for men which results in a bad fit. As many people know, badly fitted protective wear can cause a lot of harm. For example, because women have narrower faces so protective eyewear designed for a man leaves gaps at her temples and allows wood chips and dust to fly in. New eyewear is therefore being specially developed,” explains Berman-Jacob.

He continues, “There are several exciting developments underway in PPE thanks to ‘Industry 4.0’, the term given to the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. Wearable tech has started to take off internationally with companies experimenting with a number of things such as work boots that can monitor and regulate the worker’s temperature, pick up if the worker is fatigued and authorise or restrict access to various work areas. Rumour has it they even glow in the dark.”

PPE in timber manufacturing and woodwork

  • Hard hats, safety glasses, goggles and face shields
  • Gloves (including chemically protective gloves)
  • Padded kickback aprons
  • Steel-shanked, steel-toed safety shoes with slip-resistant soles
  • Earplugs and earmuffs
  • Particulate-resistant and/or chemically resistant overalls
  • Respirators

Main causes of injury and illness in timber manufacturing

  • Blows to the head from stock and equipment.
  • Threats to the eyes and face from flying wood chips, splinters, dust and machine parts.
  • Cutting and tearing hazards, particularly to the hands and arms, during equipment operations.
  • The threat of kickback blows to the body, groin and legs during stock-cutting and shaping.
  • Crushing and laceration threats to the feet, particularly around loading equipment (for example, forklifts) and hand-held power tools (such as chain saws).
  • Irritation of the skin, mouth, nose, throat and lungs from dust, paint, adhesives and other chemicals.
  • The constant threat to one’s hearing from machine noise.