Two workers killed in fire at North Carolina paper mill

Two contractors at the Evergreen Packaging paper mill located in Canton, North Carolina were killed this week when a three-alarm fire broke out in a tank under repair in the processing wing of the facility. The fire reportedly started shortly after 5 a.m. EDT and was said to be under control around 8 a.m. EDT. A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Commerce confirmed that the department’s “Occupational Safety and Health Division is investigating.”

According to the plant manager, Wally McDonald, at approximately 5:15 a.m. EDT on September 21, 2020, a fire occurred in a process vessel at the Canton Mill. This tank was being repaired as part of a maintenance outage within the mill. McDonald said the families of the victims have been notified, but the names of the workers have not yet been made public.

This is not the first time the Evergreen Packaging plant has experienced workplace injuries and attracted the attention of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division. (NCOSH).

In 2002, Blue Ridge Paper Products, the company’s name up until 2010 when it came under the ownership of New Zealand-based Reynolds Group Holdings Limited, received 33 initial violations, later reduced to 30. The infractions ranged from employees being struck by falling objects to falls due to lack of preventative measures. On August 23, 2012, NCOSH reported an incident at the plant. The report stated, “Employee #1 was standing in the basement under #19 paper machine installing new rope on the dryer cans when a dryer can cover (manhole cover) weighing approximately 35 lbs. fell approximately 20 feet and struck the employee on his head.” The overwhelming majority of the 2002 violations ranked “serious.”

According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, the state had 59 workplace fatalities in the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from October 2019 to August 2020. Of those workplace deaths, 23 were in construction and 11 in manufacturing. The Asheville District office is located only 20 miles from Canton and covers the western half of the state. It recorded five fatalities during that time period. The Occupational Fatality Inspection Review listed 54 fatalities for the state in 2019, with 18 deaths in construction and nine in manufacturing. 2018 totaled 49 fatalities, with 24 in construction and seven in manufacturing.

Evergreen Packaging has conversion facilities and mills spanning the globe, with a presence in countries such as Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. A mill located in Pine Bluff, Arkansas had reported 63 COVID cases just under two weeks ago, its most recent report to date. The website had reported five cases at Evergreen’s Athens, Georgia plant on September 3 and on August 26, 10 cases at its Plant City, Florida facility.

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