Pulp and Paper Canada

Send them home safe, every day

April 1, 2010  By Pulp & Paper Canada

For Sonoco’s paper mill in Brantford, Ont., safety literally comes before everything else. “Not one pound of paper or one minute or production is worth putting an employee at risk,” says Jim Maloney, …

For Sonoco’s paper mill in Brantford, Ont., safety literally comes before everything else. “Not one pound of paper or one minute or production is worth putting an employee at risk,” says Jim Maloney, plant manager. “In Brantford, there is a trust between employees and management and everyone works together towards the common goal of all employees returning home to their families every day safely.”

According to Tom Bailey, manager of forestry and utilities, industry and labour services for WorkSafe BC, it is this commitment and dedication that ensure safety. “Above all, the employer must demonstrate that they genuinely and honestly care about the well being of their employees, that they value the employees, and they will invest in their health and safety. In short, the employer must demonstrate the ‘value’ of health and safety in the workplace and that this value will not be compromised regardless of economic conditions.”


When asked if a tough economic climate makes safety investments difficult, Michael McIllwraith, health, safety and environmental manager for Irving Tissue in Toronto, responded with “absolutely.” “But Irving Tissue will not compromise safety during times of financial challenges. Good business continuity integrates safety requirements and related costs into business planning that allows for efficiency and profitability without compromising the safety of our biggest resource -our people!”

Business continuity is another challenge for Canada’s forestry industry. In an operating environment that experiences frequent shutdowns, attention to safety-related detail becomes increasingly important. Sonoco has taken a number of steps to ensure that safety continues to progress and adapt to an operating environment that frequently stops, changes, and restarts. The Brantford facility typically undertakes a maintenance shutdown every six weeks, and conducts safety discussions with work crews before the work begins. A dedicated “safety point person” is also identified during the shutdown to perform continual tours to audit work areas.

Longer shutdowns adopt somewhat different procedures, but the emphasis on safety culture remains. Irving Tissue’s McIllwraith explains: “During longer shutdowns due to business conditions or over holidays, we still have the safety talks and we also increase employee interactions with the supervisors to keep everyone focused. Another item which works for us is setting up safety games, which start before the downtime and continue after the mill starts back up. This way the employees are discussing safety during their first days back and we keep safety at the forefront, resulting in better employee awareness.”

Sonoco takes a similar approach, albeit under somewhat different operating conditions. Noting the mill has some planned shutdowns, but that production is by and large continuous, the facility makes use of Current Best Approaches (CBAs), Job Safety Analysis (JSAs) and risk predictions that are reviewed daily. When restarting a machine that has been idle, Sonoco respects machine-specific procedures and references its CBAs.

Bailey suggests a number of processes that have been shown to lead to reductions in accidents and industrial diseases on the job.

1 Conduct risk assessments of all phases of the work process. Where possible, ‘engineer out’ the on-site risks. Where that isn’t possible, plan work (risk reduction plan) and establish work procedures that reduce or eliminate the risk. Communicate these procedures through training and follow-up coaching to ensure all workers are aware of the risks and the methods available to overcome them.

2 Establish a quality control process and put it in place to ensure safe work procedures that have been established are used in the field. Supervisors must take corrective action if the work isn’t being conducted according to the risk reduction plan and safe work procedures.

3 Emphasize the positive. When the work is being done correctly, supervisors should compliment folks who are performing the work correctly and safely.

4 Finally, audit the process and deliverables in the field to adjust the standards of performance where necessary and evaluate the implementation of the risk reduction program.

While accident rates in forestry in B.C. have plunged dramatically over the past two years, Bailey notes that in times of fiscal restraint, it is critical to not become complacent when it comes to safety, regardless of favourable accident frequency rates.

“When times are economically tough, adherence to the basic principles becomes even more important,” Bailey cautions. The benefits of doing so are multiple, he notes. “In addition to accidents and industrial diseases declining, financial benefits arise because the things which cause inefficiency and dollar losses on the job, are virtually identical to the things which are underlying causes of worker accidents. Studies of ‘best in industry’ employers demonstrate that the leaders in ‘business’ are also leaders in safety and health.”

At the end of the day, promoting a safe work culture makes sound business sense too.


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