Health & Safety
How pulp and paper mills are keeping workers safe during COVID-19
By Kristina Urquhart
While many businesses are temporarily shuttering across the country, Canada’s forest products sector is busy producing pulp for some of the mission-critical goods necessary to combat COVID-19 – such as medical and personal care supplies – as well as tissue and paper products to ease consumer demand.
Several provincial governments, including Quebec and Ontario, have deemed pulp and paper and associated forest products producers as essential businesses exempt from closures mandated to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
What are our pulp and paper producers doing to ensure their workers stay safe from infection while they continue to operate? In the interest of sharing best practices, we’ve rounded up some procedures being implemented by mills across the country.
Mercer Peace River Pulp
Shane Bolduc, health and safety manager at Mercer Peace River Pulp (MPR), shares some of the ways MPR is keeping workers safe:
- Posted signs on all conference and boardrooms indicating maximum number of people allowed in the room
- Encouraging call-in meetings instead of in-person
- Hand sanitizing stations around the facility with “how to” signage
- Hygiene signs posted in washrooms, lunchrooms, control rooms, etc.
- Staggered breaks and lunches
- Re-assigned the maintenance department: Rather than a 4-10 schedule for all maintenance personnel, is split into two shifts (7 on and 7 off).
- Many MPR staff are now working from home
- Visitors and contractors are to call into MPR prior to accessing the site for COVID-19 self-assessment over the phone
- Daily update shared with all MPR team members followed with a Q & A document that is up dated daily
- Increased the cleaning duties with cleaning staff, with admin handrails, doorknobs, office tables and chairs cleaned twice a day.
“During this period of uncertainty, we are appreciative of the dedication of our teams,” Mercer International says in a statement. “Through their efforts, we are addressing these surmountable challenges with confidence.”
Resolute Forest Products
Resolute plans to operate its business segments according to demand – so pulp and tissue production will likely ramp up as paper and wood products segments reduce their capacity.
“The temporary capacity reductions will be implemented over the coming days and will be announced locally,” the company says in a statement.
Safety measures at Resolute mills include:
- A company-wide risk management committee to monitor the situation and the implementation of preventive measures across all sites
- A special support website for employees with guidelines, forms, FAQs and other relevant documents and links
- Restrictions on travel, cancelling non-essential visits by external suppliers and other outside support services
- Increased safety measures for visits by service technicians, truck drivers and delivery personnel
“These are certainly unprecedented times,” says Yves Laflamme, Resolute’s president and chief executive officer.
“The COVID-19 situation is evolving very quickly, and there is a sense of stress and concern weighing on everyone. I want to especially thank our employees for their support. Your hard work and dedication are particularly appreciated given the uncertainty the economy is currently facing.”
Cascades is continuing to produce its critical packaging and hygiene products while prioritizing health and safety.
“This crisis involves many uncontrollable factors and risks, but we are confident that we have taken all the necessary steps to mitigate the impact of the virus on our operations,” the company says in a statement.
Some of Cascades’ measures include:
- Strict hygiene procedures and encouraging behaviours such as distancing and shift isolation at every plant
- Rigorous procedures regarding visitors and restrictions regarding business travel
- Sourcing recovery materials from different regions in Quebec, Ontario, and the U.S and maintaining high inventory levels
- List of potential employees in key production positions from different plants has been drawn up to potentially bring assistance to the company’s most critical facilities that may experience staffing shortages
West Fraser has deferred its maintenance shutdown for the Cariboo Pulp and Paper Mill in Quesnel, B.C. due to risk from the virus outbreak.
“Absences due to COVID-19 policy are increasing at some of the company’s other pulp mills and it is possible that curtailment of operations at these mills may be necessary due to key technical resources not being available,” the company says.
Some of the company-wide measures include:
- A focus on thorough cleaning
- Strict travel limitations
- Health education for staff
- Appropriate social and physical distancing at all company sites
Rayonier Advanced Materials
The company has announced production curtailments at seven of its locations for at least two weeks and has introduced a number of steps similar to those listed above to protect its workers.
“We will continue to operate all staffed facilities in a safe and fiscally responsible way to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak while supplying customers with critical materials required to support the battle against the virus,” says Paul Boynton, chairman, president and chief executive officer.
“Additionally, we are providing key raw materials to state agencies to produce hand sanitizer due to severe supply constraints for this product.”
What is your mill doing to combat COVID-19? Email our editor and we will add it to this list.