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2021 Safest mill in Canada: Q&A with Domtar, Dryden pulp mill

June 14, 2022  By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

Photo: Domtar Dryden mill

The annual Safest Mill in Canada contest recognizes the outstanding safety records of participating mills by ranking total recordable incidents (mill frequency) from lowest to highest.

For the 2021 contest, Domtar’s Dryden mill was the winner in its category.

CATEGORY B (Between 50,000 to 80,000 worker hours per month)

Domtar Inc., Dryden, Ont.
Total recordable incidents: 1
Total hours worked: 741,079
Mill frequency: 0.269


The mill’s team shared the details of its safety program with Pulp & Paper Canada.

Pulp & Paper Canada: What makes your safety system successful? How do you achieve success?

Domtar Dryden: A successful safety system is driven by workplace culture which should see a high level of engagement with the goal of continuous improvement.  We put a great deal of effort into proactive safety management utilizing tools, programs, and campaigns to reinforce this.

We utilize the Human Performance Improvement process at our mill.  This is built on the foundation of a just culture that holds the individual worker and the organization to an equal level of accountability.    It changes the way that we react to systems failure through an understanding of latent conditions, worker context and active errors.   Human error is inevitable, so our goal is to minimize the consequence of the error.

Involving employees in the investigation and improvement process has strengthened our Internal Responsibility System (IRS) where employees have the freedom and confidence to bring forward safety issues to any level of management.

Our communications and awareness campaigns have increased over the last year with a focus on embedding the proactive safety mindset in all of our employees.    Better utilization of various media tools and quarterly promotions have been used to encourage employees to take charge of their safety and of those around them.

We want every worker to go home safely at the end of the day, so it is our job to learn from past and current events to build proactive approaches that will help achieve this goal.      Success is earned one proactive step at a time; when the work performed mirrors the work as it is imagined, you know you are on the right path.

P&PC: What has been the top safety priority for your mill in 2021? What are the major highlights for the year?

Domtar Dryden: In 2021 we rolled out three key awareness campaigns at the site.

Our “Big 8” campaign was developed to increase awareness of the activities that have the potential to result in a serious injury or fatality (SIF). The key Big 8 components consist of:

  1. confined space entry,
  2. lock-out tag-out,
  3. electrical,
  4. powered industrial trucks,
  5. hoisting and rigging,
  6. hot work,
  7. working at heights, and
  8. breaking into the process

We kicked this off with a promotional video where employees who worked regularly in these high-risk areas provided examples of how they work safely when performing these tasks. This was followed by leadership conducting ongoing “Big 8” safety audits throughout the site to promote and ensure understanding.

Additionally, a quarterly “Code Blue” campaign was introduced to encourage employee engagement related to safety. The concept behind Code Blue parallels that of the health sector where a Code Blue is deemed as critical.  Code Blue proactive topics such as housekeeping, hand tool safety, the Big 8, proper labelling and hazard identification were all derived from industry trends. These Code Blue programs invite employees to provide their input in a variety of ways and have a chance at winning a prize. Leaders are then able to review the input and put improvements in place.

Domtar’s Dryden mill has a robust five-year safety roadmap in place. (Photo: Domtar Dryden)

Early in 2021, we rolled out a mental health awareness campaign to help our employees through the difficult pandemic.   Each day of the week saw a focus topic with tools related to various aspects of mental health.   We also engaged employees mid-year in a challenge where employee volunteers danced to celebrate our 1-year RI free milestone and enjoy some much-needed fun.  A video reel was compiled and set to the song “Jerusalema”, a South African inspired gospel-influenced song, and was posted on our internal intranet for everyone to enjoy.

Highlights in 2021 include achieving one year of recordable injury-free (RI) operations in May 2021 and hitting the milestone of 1 million hours worked without an RI in September 2021.  The year ended with no lost time injuries, however a recordable was experienced in November of 2021.

P&PC: How has the pandemic impacted safety programs in your mill? Are any changes made during this time permanent?

Domtar Dryden: Without question, the pandemic demanded a great level of attention and proactive programming at the Dryden Site.  This was particularly challenging over the last couple of years while executing two major and one minor outage which saw a large number of contractors attend the site.  Strengthened contractor management and safety protocols were put in place along with stringent PPE requirements and introducing some staggered shifts to reduce contact.

Enhanced cleaning devices, programs and products were also introduced and are still implemented today.   The site continues to closely monitor the most up-to-date provincial and local requirements and continues to have a very robust contractor management program in place.

Most importantly, these learnings over the course of the pandemic have put processes into place that can be revisited quickly if the site ever needs to pivot quickly with changes.

P&PC: What are your safety plans for 2022? Any specific goals to achieve?

Domtar Dryden: A five-year safety roadmap is already in place, and we will continue following its path for continual improvement and proactive program management.

Part of that roadmap focuses on training to develop both leaders as well as younger workers.  We see changes with an aging workforce and the introduction of many new employees.  As a result, we are putting a great deal of effort into new employee training and succession planning to ensure that we are capturing the experience and knowledge from these valued employees to pass on before they leave the site.

Our roadmap also focuses on participating in the Ontario Workplace Excellence Program through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to help build a strong workplace health and safety culture.

Our Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC) has seen a revamp over the last year and we continue to work collaboratively focusing on continual improvement.

This year will also see us transition from lagging to leading indicators to inform our proactive practices.

We will also continue with our communications and campaigns looking for creative ways to engage employees and continue to develop our proactive culture.

P&PC: Domtar Dryden accomplished a 547-day injury-free record before experiencing an incident at the end of 2021. What attributed to this success?

Domtar Dryden: Employees at all levels have a strong individual focus on safety and as we progressed towards the injury free milestone, it was evident that there was a collective growth which resulted in more encouragement and support within the workforce to help each other stay safe.

This coupled with effective programs, daily management meetings, daily tailgate discussions and a commitment to pre-task hazard assessments keep everyone engaged.

This culture and these practices keep safety top of mind to ensure all work and activities are planned and executed safely.

See the full list of 2021 Safest Mill in Canada winners in our Spring 2022 issue. 

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