Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Hidden hazards in making paper
Vol. 26 Fall 2011

The basis of this series of articles has always been pre-emergency planning and the emergency responders. The intent of this particular article is to discuss paper mills and some hazards that are present that you might or might not be aware of. At the end of this article you should consider incorporating these hazards into your pre-emergency plans if you have the potential to respond to a paper mill or at +1 601-992-3405.                    

Paper mills have been around for quite sometime. The process used to make paper has changed slightly, process hazards and by products of the process have not changed significantly as well. When asked what they would consider the most likely event they would respond to at a paper mill, most emergency responders would reply, “A large roll paper fire.” While large roll paper fires have occurred during the history of paper mills, there are other types of hazards that are located within them. Some paper mills have complete structural fire brigades and some rely upon the local emergency responders which is important in many ways as there have been times when even the large structural fire brigades have had to reach out for additional assistance during a crisis. Also, keep in mind that the paper mill may be part of a mutual aid organization if they are in an industrial park.

Paper mills are basically a chemical plant. Located at these facilities you can expect to find large pressure vessels of many types sizes and shapes, boilers, digesters, and paper machines just to name a few. Typically, they are very congested and can be a challenge to maneuver around inside the mill fence. The things you may not know about that exist are methanol storage, turpentine storage, rubber tires, scrap cardboard, large hydraulic systems, enormous wood chip piles and log yards and many other non-obvious hazards. What follows is a brief review of one of these hazards and what you would be expected to encounter at a paper mill. I touched on this subject in brief during one of the earlier articles but felt like it was worth expanding on. The next and last article relative to paper mills will cover roll paper storage in paper mill warehouses.

Hydraulic hazards associated with paper making operations are located all over the paper mill itself. You can find these high pressure hydraulics at the woodyard where the debarker is located, on the paper machine floor, below the paper machine floor and in the power/recovery area. All of these areas will have large tanks of hydraulic fluid which is needed to operate high pressure hydraulic equipment. It is not uncommon for a high pressure hydraulic line to rupture, find a nearby ignition source and create a huge fire ball which will last as long as the hydraulic fluid supply lasts. Some of these hydraulic units will be out in the open, like at the debarker which would be easy to attack and extinguish. However, some other ones can be located in a basement which is dimly lit and is very hard to get to. Some facilities have even started using infrared cameras in these areas to better identify where the source of these type fires is located. In general, things to look for would be, interlocks for automatic pump shutoffs, dikes trenches or drains arranged to handle spills and leaks, automatic fire protection systems and in some cases fire barriers. Keep in mind that some facilities will have a fire retardant hydraulic fluid which has a higher flash point than a typical hydraulic fluid would. All of the aforementioned items should be included in the pre-emergency plan so you know what to expect and where the issue is upon arrival.

Something not relative to all paper mills but most, is that they typically have a good layout of hydrants in and around these areas. Also, they have a considerable amount of water as it is critical to the operation of the mill, this would need to be searched out as an available suction source. Paper mills, in most cases have a good layout of interior hose connections. When establishing a pre-emergency plan, know where these are located as this can save a considerable amount of time stretching out hose versus being able to carry it in and make a connection near the incident.

Paper mill operations sometimes appear to be well managed and simple from the roadside but if something similar to what is mentioned above happens, you need to be prepared and know what can happen relative to these events.

Feel free to contact this author at

Jeff Roberts, CFPS is with XL GAPS, a leading loss prevention services provider and a member of the XL Group of companies.  XL Insurance is the global brand used by XL Group plc’s insurance companies and underwriting divisions offering property, casualty, professional and specialty insurance products throughout the world. More information about XL Insurance is available at  XL Group plc, through its subsidiaries, is a global insurance and reinsurance company providing property, casualty, and specialty products to industrial, commercial, and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises on a worldwide basis. More information about XL Group plc is available at


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

Content & Feeds

Download Magazine
Download Media Kit


Feedback Form
Privacy Policy
Ads & Marketing

IFW Sites

IFW Store
IFW Gallery



Thank you for visiting! Join us in our mission by subscribing to IFW magazine, using our Web accessible resources, becoming an advertiser, or sharing your personal input.