Pulp and Paper Canada

Bowater Thunder Bay: Safest Is Not Good Enough

May 1, 2002  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Zero lost time injuries in 2.49 million man-hours worked would seem to most companies worthy of recognition. For Bowater Thunder Bay Operations, this achievement was worthy of the Safest Mill in Canad…

Zero lost time injuries in 2.49 million man-hours worked would seem to most companies worthy of recognition. For Bowater Thunder Bay Operations, this achievement was worthy of the Safest Mill in Canada Award (Class A) for 2001. But for the Thunder Bay operation, the second time recipient for this award and the recipient of the Safest Mill in Ontario award for the last two years (PPHSA), the achievement does not meet their own target.

“We constantly focus on a lower injury frequency rate with a vision of zero injuries per 200,000 man-hours worked,” says Don Campbell, vice president and resident manager. “This requires the combined commitment and effort of all in the workplace from senior management to the worker on the floor.”


Using the total recordable injury frequency measurement versus measurement of lost time focuses the employees’ attention on all injuries. Pat Miller, Superintendent Health and Safety, emphasizes that, although there has been only one lost-time accident in approximately 5 million man hours worked, Bowater Thunder Bay continues to focus on its goal to attain an injury frequency of zero. “One of our most important objectives at this site is a safe workplace. This is not something that comes easily. Safety must be foremost in the mind of each employee during every task, and our job in the Safety Department is to ensure that the programs are sound and the emphasis, promotion and focus is constantly there,” notes Miller.

Bowater’s health and safety program is managed by its senior team but greatly influenced by its workforce. The Joint Health and Safety Committee is made up of a combination of enthusiastic union and management representatives who work towards the common goal of going home healthy and injury free. Doug Brown, labour co-chair of the committee, acknowledges that no single event or individual can take credit for the success achieved thus far. “Total understanding and involvement by all workers is key,” Brown said. “Everyone must know and understand what is expected of them in regards to safe work and program maintenance.” The Joint Health and Safety Committee of Bowater Thunder Bay has recently expanded its role to include education, mentoring and promotion of safe work practices outside of the industrial site. Last year the committee, along with the company and each of the 5 unions, co-sponsored the presentation of SMARTRISK. SMARTRISK is an education program on safety presented to area high school students. They also have actively promoted safety at the Thunder Bay Annual Trade Show and Fair which sees over 40,000 persons from Thunder Bay attend.

When trying to define some of the components that help Bowater Thunder Bay maintain a safe workplace, one would have to point to a combination of things. The ownership of safety resides with each employee, with regular reviews completed at the department level. Unionized Crew Leaders make everyday decisions on safety, environmental issues, production, quality, and costs. There is a safety representative on every shift in every operating area who is an intricate part of managing the safety program. The Health and Safety Department has two unionized safety co-ordinators that work closely with department superintendents, crew leaders and safety representatives. Creative databases and worker accessibility play a major role in communicating information that ranges from work instruction to safety standards. The training department provides a variety of programs including Occupational Health and Safety training, which was developed by workers and focuses on standards, policies and procedures, incident investigation, workers rights and responsibilities. In addition, a safety awards program is in place that recognizes personal involvement in the health and safety program. The participation rate in this program is 80% and the result is a more informed and involved workforce.

Bowater Thunder Bay has adopted a zero tolerance to non-compliance of the mill’s safety standards. These standards are enforced site-wide even to the point of discipline if deemed appropriate for the infraction. Staff and union employees understand that they will be held accountable for an action or lack of action that may cause an undesirable event, or worse, an injury to themselves or a fellow worker. Every precaution that is available has been taken to ensure all workers understand and accept their responsibility to safety.

An operation that holds the distinction of safest mill in Canada must have programs that are innovative and responsive to individual needs. The Key Learning Bulletin is one such example. When a serious accident or near miss occurs, the Safety Department develops and electronically issues a bulletin to all Superintendents, Supervisors and Crew Leaders. The Key Learning Bulletin has proven not only to be an effective way to communicate serious accidents, but also is a valuable learning tool. As well, this information is kept on record for follow-up, should that be necessary.

Pre-Shutdown Tailgate Meetings and Post-Shutdown Critiques are other examples of Bowater’s safety regimen. Critical projects are discussed with specific safety emphasis around crane usage, overhead work and lockout or confined space entry. Both Crew Leaders and Safety Representatives participate in this meeting and play an integral role in ensuring safety is foremost in everyone’s mind. The Safety Co-ordinators also tour the shut down area and file a report with the Superintendents. In the days following, a critique meeting takes place to discuss what went well and where improvements can be made to make it even safer the next time.

The safety program at Bowater Thunder Bay Operation is constantly evolving. The goal of this operation is not to rest on its past accomplishments but to use these recognition awards to motivate them to become even safer in years to come.

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