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Leola Lumber Mill makes safety job one: plant earns coveted federal award for special work place precautions.

THERE'S A COMMON PERception that any job in the lumber industry is a dangerous job.

Well, it's certainly not true at the Leola Lumber Mill, a Grant County outpost of International Paper Co.

The Leola Mill has just been named one of the safest plants in the country, receiving the prestigious "Star" award from the U.S. Department of Labor as a result of its Voluntary Protection Program for occupational health and safety excellence.

The program, administered by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), recognizes companies for maintaining health and safety programs that meet or exceed federal standards.

This honor is particularly impressive because Leola is only the second lumber mill in the country to earn the Star award since it was begun a decade ago.

In an extremely dangerous industry, the Leola mill has found ways to make serious accidents little more than a bad memory.

"Leola has always had a very good safety record," plant spokesman Tim Papa says. "In the '80s they went 5 1/2 years without a lost-time accident. We only had one OSHA-reportable accident in 1992."

The mill harps on a rule called the "zero energy state." It means that before a worker crawls inside a machine to make mechanical repairs, the machinery must be de-energized by physically locking out the electrical breakers.

"Most of the deaths in the industry happen because people clean up machinery and they didn't fully lock it up, and they are sitting there with parts of their body in it when it starts up," Papa says.

Plant workers also have been careful to make sure oxygen is plentiful in any confined spaces where maintenance must be performed. A good supply of air can be a problem in emptied tanks or chambers.

Located about 45 miles southwest of Little Rock in Leola, the mill is a part of International Paper's wood products division, producing southern pine construction lumber used in light framing and treated wood applications for domestic and export markets.

The Leola mill was purchased in 1974 by IP, a worldwide producer of a wide variety of paper and forest products. The company has 29 plants in Arkansas employing a total of 3,500 workers. IP has manufacturing operations in 26 countries and exports its products to more than 130 nations.

The Voluntary Protection Program was launched in 1982 by the Labor Department to promote model programs in occupational health and safety.

There are two levels of recognition in the program, called "Star" and "Merit." Participants in the Star category must meet very strict requirements, which include maintaining a comprehensive health and safety program at least one year. The companies also must establish injury rates ranking below the industry average.

Only 10 companies, on average, receive the Star award each year across the country.

Participants in the Voluntary Protection Program generally have 60-80 percent fewer workdays lost to injuries than the average site of the same size within a particular industry.

This type of accident prevention program is essential in an industry where no one knows what will happen next.

"When the lumber comes out, it is not necessarily a nice straight board," Papa says. "Lumber in the sawmill is inherently unpredictable."

That's why a strict system of following up on accidents is essential.

"Any time there is any incident, we investigate it and find out how we can prevent it in the future," Papa says. "We have the employees watch other employees. It's peer pressure."
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Title Annotation:occupational health and safety measures at International Paper Co.'s lumber mill in Leola, Arkansas
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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