Making a move on Kinetic Energy safety

Nov 05, 2020

One of West Fraser's core values is to make sure our employees are safe, and to do that, we need to think of innovative ways of protecting the people in our mills. At Quesnel Sawmill, we’ve been piloting a program to better safeguard against the hazards of kinetic energy in our machinery. The project has been up and running since September 2018.

Kinetic energy is the energy an object has due to its motion. All of our machinery has several moving parts, and those parts may still have stored kinetic energy (i.e., movement), even after a machine is turned off.

"Let's say we broke a belt or a driveshaft on the canter," explains George Kelly, the Electrical Supervisor at Quesnel Sawmill. "Maybe the motor stopped, but that rotating head or mass hasn't stopped moving because it's now coasting to a stop."

If someone was to go in and repair the equipment and those parts moved, it could mean a serious issue. That was the case in 2017 when an employee had a serious incident, which led to this safety initiative.

The Quesnel Sawmill approached the Manufacturing Advisory Group (MAG) in British Columbia to assist with this project. The mill received a grant for the initial assessment of the canter and brought in two consultants to figure out what controls were needed at different places. The pilot project was installed on the mill’s canter one.

Essentially, the machine only allows you into the area if all potential hazards have come to zero energy: kinetic, pneumatic, hydraulic, and electrical. First, a large fence was placed around the canter, and there are specific access points with magnetic locks on the doors that won't open until the safety system says it's safe to enter.

The system monitors the EMF feedback (residual voltage) on all the motors for rotation. And then, the team uses proximity switches to monitor the cutting head to make sure it has come to a complete stop. There are two, placed 180 degrees apart on a starwheel, so if the wheel is rotating, the proximity switches will switch on and off.

Only when no movement is detected, and everything else is locked out to a zero-energy state, does the gate open, and you can enter the canter area.

Last year, WorkSafe BC visited the mill and created a video about the pilot project. Chris Finch, the general manager of the mill at that time, said, "I think the employees have really embraced this whole thing. There's a great sense that we've taken steps to make it that much safer. When that gate opens, they feel a sense of comfort that they're going into something that's really at zero energy."

Want to learn more about this pilot project? Check out the video here.