Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Hidden hazards in making paper
Vol. 27 Winter 2012

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 the hazards associated with roll paper storage that you might not be aware of.  At the end of this article you should consider incorporating this hazard analysis into your pre-emergency plans when you tour a paper mill.

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.” Large roll paper fires have occurred during the history of paper mills; it’s not a question of if it will happen it’s when it will happen. As typical of warehouse fires, they are either very small and are extinguished with a few sprinkler heads or they completely burn the warehouse down. There are several things to consider while pre-planning for a roll paper fire at a large paper mill. Do keep in mind that 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. Be sure and inquire about this when you tour the facility.

One of the first questions to ask is what sort of roll paper is produced at the facility. Typically, the classifications of roll paper are light weight, which consists of tissue paper and other light weight papers, medium weight which is used for some packaging and heavy weight paper which is used more for cardboard and paper plate stock. Another good question to ask is if they apply a wax coating to their paper as this can change some of the dynamics of the roll paper fire. What follows is a break-down of the various types/nuances of roll paper that is stored in warehouses and some of the things to be on the look-out for when you are pre-planning.

The three classes of roll paper tend to act differently in fire situations. Typically, these rolls are stored on their end; some are banded with metal bands while some are not. You will on occasion find some horizontal storage of roll paper. Storage of horizontal roll paper is not considered to be very challenging from a fire risk aspect as it does not have the characteristics that vertical storage of roll paper does. Most all of the vertical roll paper storage will be nested together with rolls touching one another due to space considerations. The heavy weight paper is more difficult to burn and typically your larger issue is collapse, which can happen once these rolls become saturated with water from a sprinkler system or from hose streams. Be aware of this issue for all roll paper as the rolls can actually be too close to the walls and push the walls out once the rolls become saturated. The rule of thumb is to allow three feet from walls for roll expansion. The medium weight paper can burn rather rapidly and can create issues just like heavy weight paper. The lightweight paper and the medium weight paper are both known to exfoliate while they are on fire which will send fire/hot embers all over the area. The light weight paper that is un-banded and not stored in a tightly nested array can create a large scale fire very rapidly so be sure and check for this during your pre-planning of the location.

Fixed fire protection systems, if arranged correctly can assist in the extinguishment of a fire. Typically, wet pipe automatic sprinklers are used to protect areas of roll paper and at times you will encounter a fixed foam system as well. Do keep in mind that if the facility has a structural fire brigade, they will have a good bit of training and knowledge on how to deal with these types of fires. It is not uncommon for a fork truck to be used to remove a smoldering roll of paper to the outside of the building before it becomes fully involved. Be sure and know where there are fire walls/barrier walls, as these are common in this occupancy. Also, be sure and know where all the roll up doors are and how to access them as this could be crucial when bringing in hose streams for final extinguishment.

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.          

Contact this author at or at +1 601-992-3405. 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



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