From the Treetops to Paper Rolls, Fall Protection in Forestry, Lumber & Paper Production

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A sheet of paper makes a wondrous journey. It grows from its roots in the forest into a full-fledged tree and then winds through a sawmill and paper mill before it lands on a magazine rack, printer tray, or on your kitchen table as a napkin. No, the digital age has not meant the end of paper trails.

The risks faced when working at heights are never-ending for the workers in forestry, sawmills, and paper mills.

In the harvesting stage, workers are outside in what could be harsh weather that increases the chance of a slip and fall. They work from tree canopies with ropes and harnesses, on elevated platforms—often uneven or muddy terrain—and overhead for loading flatbeds.

Loading and unloading stock continues in the mills, which also have large machinery. Employees may perform tasks from overhead or inspect, maintain, and repair the equipment. Since the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) considers sawmills and pulp and paper mills particularly hazardous, the trail of fall protection must follow.

See the trees through the forest.

Forestry workers scale trees to prune, trim, or cut branches, which places them at dangerous heights without stable footing. Lifeline and anchor systems, supplemented by fall protection training, will help mitigate the risks.

For overhead access to heavy-duty forestry vehicles or to reach other elevated working heights, various safety systems can be employed:

Out of the woods and into the mills.

Sawmills and paper mills have large machinery where employees must work at height for production purposes and routine inspection, maintenance, and repairs.

Sawmills have log debarkers, carriages, saws, edgers, planers, sorters, stackers, conveyors, and drying kilns. Pulp and paper mills have woodchippers, digesters, bleaching towers, pulp washers, paper makers, calenders, reelers, slitters, steam boilers, turbines, and roll-handling machinery.

Both facilities have elevated storage areas, platforms, and mezzanines that require fall protection. Handling raw materials, paper rolls, and other heavy materials can increase fall risk. Wet surfaces from lumber and paper processing exacerbate conditions.

Guardrails, work platforms, and overhead rail systems with lifelines and anchorages are primary ways to help keep mill workers safe.


OSHA has several guardrail requirements, notably that the top rail must be 42 inches high (+3 inches) and capable of withstanding a 200-lb. (890-N) load applied downward or outward.

Modular, pipe-fitted guardrail systems constructed of aluminum or galvanized steel for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance will provide OSHA-compliant fall protection for stairs, walkways, mezzanines, platforms, and open areas on machinery. They install easily without welding or drilling, and the modular design allows for on-site reconfiguration if the working environment changes.

Work platforms.

Elevated work platforms are ideal for accessing large machinery and reaching storage areas. They enable workers to perform production, inspection, cleaning, or maintenance tasks with outstanding freedom of movement and fall protection.

Featuring a modular design for easy adaptation to the work area, work platforms—like guardrails—can be constructed of aluminum or galvanized steel frames and guardrails. They feature anti-slip, non-bounce, self-draining treads for steps and platform decks.

  • Static work platforms are ideal for frequent use at a single station.
  • Mobile work platforms are fitted with heavy-duty locking casters to move from station to station.
  • Custom work platforms can be furnished with services (e.g., electrical, water, shop air) and adjustable height.

Overhead systems.

Safe access from above in sawmills and paper mills can entail reaching confined or wide-open areas for loading and unloading, machinery servicing, and other hazardous tasks. A wide range of overhead fall protection systems are available to provide personal fall protection.

Take the next step for safety.

If workplace safety and fall protection are your responsibilities, contact Safeguard Industries. Our services include a discussion and evaluation of your needs and concerns about regulatory compliance, a site visit to conduct a safety audit, and then developing a plan of action. Our services can include as little or as much as you need, from design, engineering, and fabrication to installation, training, and other support.

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