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Identifying hazards: Irving Tissue’s new approach to safety

Irving Tissue uses benchmarking to implement a comprehensive safety program that gets employees engaged

April 16, 2020  By Kristina Urquhart

From left: Craig Samson, senior process engineer, Justin Kingston, tissue machine operator and Allison Bent, safety advisor. Photos: J.D. Irving, Ltd.

In 2018, Irving Tissue in Saint John, New Brunswick had been seeing its recordable incident rate (RIR) fluctuate for several years. In 2013, the mill’s RIR was 3.38, then it dipped down for a couple of years, and by 2016 it had climbed back up to 3.43.

“RIR is just a number, but we were realizing we were sending people home hurt,” says Allison Bent, safety advisor at J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI)’s Irving Tissue.

In a presentation at PAPTAC’s PaperWeek Canada conference this past February, Bent and tissue machine operator Justin Kingston shared how staff worked together to develop and implement a new safety program for Irving Tissue that targeted a RIR of 2.5 or lower.


Defining the process

To start, the health and safety team assembled operators and managers to discuss the mill’s biggest impediments to safety.

“We asked, ‘What is getting in the way of us having a safer day?’” Bent says. The focus group determined that while the workplace culture of the mill and the level of commitment to safety were factors, they were hard things to overhaul right away. Some other identified factors included communication, training and risk management.

These factors were easier to change – and once those areas saw improvement, they were likely to lead to positive changes in the workplace culture. From this focus group, the team decided to focus on improving the mill’s approach to risk management.

“We asked, ‘What is getting in the way of us having a safer day?’”

With an objective to design a program that would offer more leading indicators to head off incidents before they happen, the safety team held a two-day kaizen event to identify gaps in their process.

The team also travelled to other JDI mills in the province to benchmark processes. The year prior, Lake Utopia Paper had implemented a visual, user-friendly system called Hazard Identification, which assigns codes of varying importance to work orders in the mill’s system.

Irving Tissue’s team liked that the Hazard ID program was measurable, but found some work orders had been issued even if the solution was unclear, which led to a bottleneck in the maintenance department.

They also visited JDI’s Atlantic Wallboard facility in Saint John, which was using software to quantify and compare risk, and a team to develop solutions when the risk was unknown. But they weren’t formally logging all hazards.

Developing a new program

Irving Tissue ended up amalgamating the best parts of those two systems, creating a trackable, measurable Hazard ID program that would have a separate category for hazards with unclear solutions. To develop those solutions, the Irving Tissue team employed Atlantic Wallboard’s practice of quantifying risk and addressing hazards when the solution is unknown.

Irving Tissue’s system, which encourages interaction between operators and supervisors, is predicated on feedback and communication. Hazard ID forms are placed all around the mill, and in common areas such as lunchrooms and control rooms.

Irving Tissue ended up amalgamating the best parts of those two systems, creating a trackable, measurable Hazard ID program that would have a separate category for hazards with unclear solutions.

Employees fill out the top of the form to identify the location of the hazard, what was found, and what has already been done as an initial response to control the hazard. Then they give the bottom of the form to their supervisor, who logs the information in the database.

The form is then filed on the large Hazard ID board at the front of the mill, in the Hazard Identified section. As steps are taken to rectify the issue, the form moves along to the In Progress and finally the Hazard Controlled sections – and any employee can check for progress along the way, either on the board itself or in the database.

Component #1: Hazard IDs

Irving Tissue established three categories for its Hazard IDs at the mill.

  • Just Do Its are situations that can be safely handled by an employee, such as a hose lying on the ground. These move quickly from Hazard Identified to Hazard Controlled. Even if minor, the team wants to track all incidents.
  • Fix Its, or Corrective Action Known, are work orders where it is clear what needs to be fixed, such as a missing handrail or machine guard. Work orders are further prioritized by what needs to be dealt with right away.
  • Risk Assessment Required, or Corrective Action Unknown, is when the solution to a hazard is unknown and the risk teams needs to evaluate the risk. The mill’s cross-functional risk assessment team meets bi-weekly to review.

Component #2: Risk assessment

When a Hazard ID comes in tagged as Risk Assessment Required, the individual members of the risk assessment team complete a Gemba walk and then rank the hazard based on its risk, evaluating the severity, exposure and occurrence.

“We wanted to empower people so that they feel they have a role in safety at the mill.”

The team meets to compare their individual scores and decides as a group what the final risk score is. Then, they brainstorm solutions and make recommendations to management through an action-priority matrix that ranks ease versus impact. Management reviews the files at the managers’ safety meeting and provides approval or feedback.

Risk assessment in action

A new staircase replaces a hazardous set. Photos: J.D. Irving, Ltd.

An Irving Tissue operator flagged the ladder used to access the top of Tissue Machine 2’s whitewater shower chest as a fall hazard (pictured, opposite).

The ladder had smooth rungs made of steel, which were very slippery when operators needed climb to the top of the chest to clean before a shutdown.

The risk assessment team evaluated the issue and implemented a number of short-term actions, including immediate controls such as grip tape on the ladder rungs and a safety chain at the top of the chest.

Operators must now wear hard hats with chinstraps and ensure a second worker is present to supervise trips to the top of the chest.

As a long-term solution, the risk assessment team recommended installing a forward descent ladder, a safety gate at the top of the shower chest, and a hose station for the top as well. All were installed, and a work order to modify the overhead piping was also completed.

Lessons learned

The Hazard ID and risk assessment program at Irving Tissue enables a proactive approach to safety, opens a new line of communication with employees, creates engagement and trust and offers measurable results.

All risk assessments are saved on Sharepoint, the mill’s internal site. Any employee can read parts of the file approved for access, including the logged hazards, their risk rankings and management’s approval notes.

Bent says the mill’s new safety program is successful because it builds employee culture – they want to follow up to see items move from hazards to completion.

“We wanted to empower people so that they feel they have a role in safety at the mill,” she says.

As of June 2019, 110 Hazard IDs had been reported at Irving Tissue with 75 work orders entered. Fifty-six of those work orders have been completed, with communications going out to employees about the longer-term projects. Seventeen hazards went to risk assessment and have been approved by management.

The value of the program is obvious, says Bent. “We now have 110 hazards at the mill that are not going to hurt someone.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Pulp & Paper Canada.

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