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A sterling safety performance and record production go hand in hand for FRASER


September 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

In recent years, names such as Weyerhaeuser (Grande Prairie, AB, Dryden, ON) and Abitibi-Consolidated (Kenora and Fort Frances, ON) have dominated the Class A standings of the Safest Mill in Canada Co…

In recent years, names such as Weyerhaeuser (Grande Prairie, AB, Dryden, ON) and Abitibi-Consolidated (Kenora and Fort Frances, ON) have dominated the Class A standings of the Safest Mill in Canada Contest. In 1999, however, the Fraser Papers Nexfor pulp mill in Edmundston, NB, capped off years of steady improvement in its safety record by earning the Class A shield.

The pulp mill is part of a complex that consists of groundwood and sulphite mills in New Brunswick and a paper mill in Maine. Besides the sulphite and groundwood pulp mills, there is also a 160-tonne per day (t/d) paperboard mill in Edmundston that uses a 100% recycled furnish. (The paperboard mill won the Class C shield in 1986.) Fraser’s fine paper mill is situated across the river in Madawaska, ME. Edmundston sends all its pulp to this mill in slush form via pipeline.

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Built in 1917, the Edmundston mill has seen numerous improvements implemented in the past few years (Pulp & Paper Canada June 1996, November 1987). It can now make about 700 t/d of magnesium bisulphite pulp as well as 360 t/d of groundwood pulp. Mill vice-president and manager Gilles Volp said that 1999 was a record production year for the mill with an average production of 574 t/d in the second quarter. The paperboard also set a one-day production record in 1999 of 230 tonnes. This proves that safety does not have to be sacrificed for production. Also, increased production does not necessarily mean people have to work harder. It can also reflect less downtime. Therefore, there is less exposure to risk. On the flip side, if safety means reducing production at times or overtime to implement safety measures, the mill does not hesitate to do it.

Volp said that production and safety have to be integrated “on a daily basis. We believe we can push on production and efficiency as well as safety and the environment. We also believe we can manage safety. And, if you can manage safety, you can manage the others.”

Employee participation is, of course, an important part of the mill’s safety programs. There is a strong health and safety committee active in the mill, comprising both unionized and management personnel (16 members in all, split evenly). In 1999, safety representatives were named for each shift in each department. When issues arise, the representative speaks to the staff person responsible. These representatives are the voice of the employees.

Monthly safety meetings are scheduled with representation from across the mill. The maintenance personnel have weekly “toolbox meetings.” Volp is hoping to have this type of arrangement in place across the mill by summer’s end.

The ongoing objective is to continue raising safety standards. In 2000, all programs are being revised. Fraser is hoping to lower its OSHA incidence rate from 2.03 to 1.5.

Fraser also looks closely at the type of accidents suffered. It discovered that injuries to the hands and fingers had increased (In 2000, 48% of incidents up to March were related to hands). A special focus was put on preventing these injuries. One slogan stated: “Where no hand has gone before . . . Keep your hands out of machines.” Another focus for 2000 will be near misses, including nicks and cuts.

Volp admitted that keeping up the momentum once a good safety record has been achieved is difficult. “It’s what’s bothering me most. It has to be done on a daily basis.”

The mill follows DuPont’s renowned STOP safety program. DuPont recently audited Fraser’s performance. Safety goals are set according to the STOP program and Volp said these can improve safety records by 50% annuallly. There are also incentive programs in place to help motivate the employees. “You can’t stop and rest on your laurels,” he added.

For example, for every three months without a recordable incident, an incentive is given. In March, the mill was in a countdown for 500 000 hours worked without a lost time injury. The incentive programs provide an opportunity for individuals or departments to be recognized for their achievements.

Although targets are set and incentives are offered, Volpe said the end goal is very simple: to have everyone go home healthy at the end of their shift. “It has to be watched on a daily basis or performance can slide backwards.”

40-50 LTIs/y

The man directly responsible for safety is Hermel Landry, manager, environment, safety and technical services. He said that in the early 1980s, 40 to 50 lost time injuries per year were not uncommon. The number of incidents has also dropped dramatically. In the mid-1980s, 500 to 600 were common. In 1999, there were fewer than 150.

In the mid-1980s, the STOP program was adopted. Union and management representatives were sent to DuPont in Maitland, ON, to learn the program. “Where we are today can be credited to that program,” Landry said. “Especially in the past five years, we have seen the fruits of this work.”

According to Landry, the STOP program taught employees how to observe, advise and act on safety issues. “It taught us how to approach a person. It is not there to ‘catch’ people doing things wrong, but to observe and change their behavior.”

“Excellent procedures” are also part of the mill’s safety program. These include safe entry procedures (tag and lock), pipe labeling, tank entry (with back-up), the use of protective clothing and a good understanding of WHMS programs. “It all helps awareness,” Landry added. “It means taking all the necessary precautions.”

Colette Levesque is director of communications for the mill and plays a key role in ensuring employees are informed about the safety programs and results. “Increased communication is a way of life.” She added that this means going through the mill, including the clerical staff, to ensure that all aspects of safety are understood. The mill’s newsletter is used as an important source of safety information.

Landry said that all people coming into the mill to work for the first time — students, new employees, contractors — must go through an orientation program. Contractors and their employees receive information on risks, proper procedures, equipment, evacuation routes, etc. Contractors and their employees receive a certification card and their work sites are inspected regularly to ensure that they comply with Fraser’s regulations. “Follow-up is crucial,” Landry said. “People are tempted to take risks. They have to be aware at all times.” Shutdowns used to be a problem, but no longer.

In terms of lost time injuries and light duties, Landry said that employees want to work. “We have support from the union on this. These employees do meaningful work. It is not done just to make our stats look good. Even employees who have been injured outside work want to come in and do other jobs if they can’t do their own.”

Levesque said that proof of the success can be seen in the fact that often as the workers approached a safety milestone an injury would occur. This meant starting over again at zero. This could be very discouraging and low morale could be expected. But now, Levesque added, the momentum is rebuilt quickly. The mill can also be considered high-risk. It is older. It uses acid, chlorine and chlorine dioxide. Its pulping processes are groundwood and sulphite. There is a maintenance crew of more than 175 people. Still, other mills come to Edmundston to study its safety programs. And, Fraser spends a lot of time reviewing its safety performance as well as studying serious accidents at other mills.

Details are not neglected. Over the past few years, the mill has done thousands of “fix-alls” — roofs, stairs, railings. This was prompted by a serious accident where a worker went through the roof a few years ago. Since then, the mill has spent almost $1 million annually on roof repairs.

The mill has first response teams for rescue, HAZMAT and fire. Landry called this a good example of employee involvement. Extensive training is done mostly on the employees’ days off, yet this has not been a problem, Landry added.

Landry said that success is the culmination of all the things the mill does but has to include the
employees’ commitment to the programs and management’s support. He noted that these programs didn’t “start in a day” and that there was some initial skepticism.

“The more you investigate, the more you realize that most (accidents/near misses) are preventable and the more that employees accept it and why it’s being done,” Landry explained. “It’s done to prevent re-occurrence.

“Safety is part of the business. If we can make safety an integral part of the business, then we can do the same for the other aspects – production, quality and the environment.


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