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Safety: At Fraser Papers, Managers Take Responsibility for Safety


July 1, 2002
By Pulp & Paper Canada

A general misunderstanding of many behaviour-based safety programs is that ownership and responsibility for injury prevention lies solely with employees and does not involve management.Yet if safety i…

A general misunderstanding of many behaviour-based safety programs is that ownership and responsibility for injury prevention lies solely with employees and does not involve management.

Yet if safety initiatives are to truly succeed long-term, management must visibly demonstrate its concern for worker well-being with ongoing support and leadership. Lacking this key ingredient, safety programs which had been successful can lose momentum and “plateau.”

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In 1999, following almost a decade of safety improvement at Fraser Papers, President Bert Martin at the company’s Stamford, Connecticut headquarters, felt that the annual decline in injuries across the company had levelled off despite continuous efforts in safety. To assess the strengths and weaknesses of all of their safety programs, he contacted DuPont Safety Resources in Canada whose consultants are all current or retired line managers.

They found all seven Fraser Papers locations had good safety systems and programs in place with various degrees of success. Consultants issued several recommendations pertinent to each mill, some for immediate action, others for longer-term implementation. These included training for managers and first line supervisors on safety management techniques and methods currently in use across DuPont worldwide. One important recommendation, which is believed to be one of the key factors by which companies can continuously achieve safety excellence, was to strengthen line management’s commitment to safety.

After implementing the recommendations and safety management training, the sites once more began to improve their safety performance. Of greatest interest is how one location — the Thurso, QC, pulp operation took the recommendations to heart, and within 12 months achieved dramatic results.

Impetus to change

The 425 Fraser employees at the Thurso Pulp Operation each year manufacture 244,000 metric tons of bleached hardwood. Five pulp grades, including a specialty pulp for making photographic base paper, are marketed throughout North America and Europe. The mill is registered ISO 9002 for its quality systems and ISO 14000 for its environmental controls.

By 1999, the Thurso Operation had one of the better injury frequency rates within the Fraser organisation — its 5.89 rate equivalent to 20 injuries a year. Until that time, the safety effort had been led in most part by the site’s Safety Superintendent Gaston Labb, a 17-year safety veteran. The injuries sustained by workers were typical of the pulp manufacturing industry — burns from splashing steam, chemicals like caustic and acid, inhalation of chlorine and chlorine dioxide, and the occasional back sprain.

From October 2000 through March 2001, consultants from DuPont conducted a series of training seminars for senior managers, superintendents and first line supervisors. They learned how to observe and audit workers’ behaviour, investigate incidents, and communicate effectively and appropriately whenever employees needed to be encouraged or corrected. In light of the need for safer equipment testing and risk evaluation, the mill’s engineering and technical services group also received training in process hazards analysis.

The training yielded results almost immediately. By the end of 2001, the Thurso operation was the leading safety performers within Fraser Papers, having almost halved its injury rate. Even though they are still not completely satisfied with their current performance, the Thurso mill has become one of the safest pulp mills in the entire province of Quebec. But most significant to Thurso’s management is that fewer workers got hurt over the previous 12 months.

Felt leadership

“Felt leadership” is a DuPont term for management’s visible and meaningful involvement in the health and safety of its employees. Managers deeply committed to safety become effective leaders by observing and auditing employees’ behaviour, and influencing them to perform safely.

“Every manager must realise that injuries are preventable, and that they have responsibility and accountability for safety in a major supporting capacity. Only then can management learn how to influence changes in behaviour that respects the individual yet ensures compliance,” explained Herb Tessier, senior consultant with DuPont Safety Resources.

Safety Superintendent Labb cited management’s new-found ability to conduct safety audits as the most valued cultural change. Although the Thurso location has had a “behaviour-based” safety program in place since 1995, the renewed management commitment to safety has helped re-energise this worker-lead observation system. “Under the old system, management did not audit employees to see if they were working safely,” he said. “The exception was a corporate audit once a year to assess emergency preparedness and lock-out and tag procedures. Today the plant general manager himself audits for one hour twice every week. It is a drastic change to our culture.”

Every member of line management is expected to conduct scheduled safety audits. They audit, observe and record four measures:

Unsafe behaviours

Unsafe conditions

Non-respect of safety procedures

Safe behaviours

Graphs depicting these measures show where workers are performing well, and where they need improvement. In this way, said Labb, “managers are more aware of what’s going on and are able to make better decisions when evaluating and correcting risks.”

Labb said Benot’s attitude toward safety was crucial in shaping management behaviour. “Benot demands accountability from his managers for productivity and safety,” he explained. “Once managers were seen to lead, employees proved willing to change. They have recognised that the company is not only after improved statistics, but are taking action to ensure people won’t get hurt. It’s a strong message that says management is not afraid to confront and address unsafe behaviour.”

Personal influences

Labb credits Tessier’s 25 years of operations experience as a key reason why the DuPont safety management approach gained the support it did among mill management.

“The main difference between DuPont and other consultants is the hands-on experience of those doing the consulting,” said Labb. “While others know the theory, Herb made his career managing various aspects of safety in different line management roles. His experience and credibility quickly overcame any scepticism among our managers.”

In the new culture, every manager takes responsibility for safety, according to Tessier. “Gaston’s dedication could have inhibited the safety management process,” he said. “But to his great credit he was willing to back off from personal ownership for safety, and transition the responsibility to the managers. “His job today is to coach others. That’s why this safety journey is working.”


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