The Gem County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Wednesday’s incident was an accident not requiring a criminal investigation, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid a visit to the mill later in the day.
The injury happened just after 7 a.m. Wednesday while the 24-year-old was working at the Gem Forest Products sawmill in Emmett, said Donnie Wunder, Gem County chief sheriff’s deputy.
Tim Denton, operations manager at the sawmill, said the employee was standing on the sawmill’s floor when, for unknown reasons, he put his hand in the head of a moving conveyor.
The Sheriff’s Office first reported that the man was injured while cleaning a machine, but that was a misunderstanding, Wunder said Wednesday afternoon.
A sawmill employee called dispatchers at 7:10 a.m. The injured man was taken to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
The man’s name and condition aren’t expected to be released until later this week, officials said. No other mill employees were injured. Workers had the injured man in their thoughts Wednesday.
“We’ve got a job for him when he gets recovered,” Denton said.
OSHA has six months from the time of an alleged safety violation at a worksite to investigate and decide whether a civil citation is warranted, OSHA Area Director David Kearns said.
“We always have concerns when we hear that there’s a serious injury,” he said.
OSHA describes working in a sawmill as one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., enough so that the agency has devoted a section of its website to the industry. The agency also highlighted hazards around conveyor belts in a 2007 publication on avoiding amputations.
It appears the accident is the first investigated by OSHA at the Emmett sawmill since Gem Forest Products reopened it in 2014, according to an online database of OSHA records. Gem Forest Products is a subsidiary of Alabama-based biofuel company Greenfuels Energy LLC, created to buy and operate the mill.
The sawmill was built with help from federal stimulus funds in 2009 by Dick Vinson, a Montana timber entrepreneur and owner of Emerald Forest Products. His company operated it in brief stints in 2010 and 2012, but it was never efficient enough to be viable. Gem Forest Products announced plans to replace or refurbish all of the mill’s equipment when it took over operations.
OSHA records show Emerald Forest Products was cited in 2011 for a violation regarding general safety standards for floors and work surfaces.