Plum Creek Timber Co. shut down operations at its plywood plant in Columbia Falls Monday following two on-site injuries that occurred last week within 24 hours of each other.
Tom Ray, vice president of Plum Creek's Northwest Resources and Manufacturing, released a statement explaining that the injuries prompted a temporary closure of the plant to review safety procedures.
"The Columbia Falls plywood plant is taking downtime, but will be running again on Wednesday," Ray stated. "While the company was considering taking a short period of downtime at this facility due to market conditions, two recent injuries have prompted us to take this time to review safety procedures to ensure the continued safety of our people."
Plum Creek communications director Kathy Budinick said the first injury occurred last Thursday and the second on Friday.
One current plant employee and one former worker with knowledge of plant operations said an unsecured forklift load injured a worker's fingers in the first incident. The other injury also reportedly involved a forklift. The men spoke to the Missoulian on condition of anonymity.
Budinick said she would not discuss the injuries out of respect for the injured workers' privacy. She confirmed that both incidents were forklift related, but said reports that a worker was run over and "crushed" by a forklift were inaccurate.
It also is not out of the ordinary for Plum Creek managers to review safety procedures, Budinick said, particularly in the wake of an injury or accident.
"We regularly review our safety program and adjust it as needed," she said.
The Columbia Falls plant employs roughly 140 workers.
Christine Webb, Montana area director for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said it is not required that the workplace injuries be reported.
"They are a private company and don't need to let us know when there is a shutdown," Webb said. "They can stop production and regroup by conducting a safety check. It's not unusual for a company to do that."
Webb said the only workplace incident that must be reported to OSHA by law is a fatality, or a "catastrophe" in which three or more people are hospitalized.
Chuck Roady, who serves on the board of directors of the Montana Wood Products Association and is vice president at F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber, said market conditions are indeed cause for concern in the timber industry, and plants are increasingly slowing operations.
"It's pretty dismal, and it's not going to get any better in the near future," Roady said. "Our most immediate problem is finding sufficient timber and logs to operate our facility. There is a real lack of infrastructure out there as far as logging crews, operators, truck drivers - they're all going to work in the oil fields because it's dependable and it pays."
Roady also said consumer confidence in general is eroding, and there is a marketwide reluctance to build and remodel homes.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.