Pulp and Paper Canada

Training for Safety, for Problem Solving

May 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Neenah Paper’s pulp mill in Terrace Bay, ON, was the winner of Pulp & Paper Canada’s 2004 Safest Mill in Canada contest. For a period of over 100,000 manhours worked per month, the facility posted…

Neenah Paper’s pulp mill in Terrace Bay, ON, was the winner of Pulp & Paper Canada’s 2004 Safest Mill in Canada contest. For a period of over 100,000 manhours worked per month, the facility posted a frequency rate of 1.33%. The mill’s success was largely due to a strong focus on leadership. Mill manager Bob Baxter credits the facility’s impressive safety status with an initial willingness to conduct reviews of what was, and wasn’t, working on a safety level, and to then revamp areas that needed improvement.

“We’ve really worked hard on our leadership roles and responsibilities, and we’ve seen the benefits,” said Baxter. “We’ve reviewed many of our policies and regulations and standardized them. We’ve also reviewed and improved our investigation and reporting methods.”


Not all mills are necessarily on the same track, contends Pulp and Paper Health and Safety Association manager of field services Paul Andre. “In many cases the focus is more on legislative compliance,” he said. “The leadership team needs to make sure that individuals are doing what they’re required to do, and that could be anything from getting the required training, making sure lift truck operators are getting the right instruction, to training supervisors.” Although striving to be certain that employees are meeting regulations from a legal standpoint is a necessary and non-negotiable focus, it may not fundamentally guarantee the best possible results in terms of health and safety. “The focus needs to be on leadership,” Andre affirms. “There needs to be a focus on implementing accountability. Most people tend to look to their OHS performance in terms of outcomes or injury statistics. But the emphasis needs to be brought up a level, so that the leadership team and those working on the floor are all on the same page and focused on those activities that lead to positive outcomes. That will change depending on your role, but could include activities such as coaching, correcting unsafe behaviours and investigating incidents, to name a few.”

This type of approach certainly proved beneficial for Neenah Paper’s Terrace Bay mill, where safety wasn’t only an issue at the ground level, it was filtered through every stage of the operation. “There are active levels of involvement at all levels,” Baxter confirmed. “Safety is a commonality, everyone shares an interest in creating a safer workplace. We’re taking a much more proactive approach, as opposed to a reactive one,” he explained. “The key is in leadership.”

Although emphasis on leadership and direction is key to a successful and safe operation at any mill, not all facilities are created equal, and therefore do not necessarily have the same issues or difficulties to contend with. It is with this in mind the PPHSA has begun to direct its energy towards risk assessment and auditing. Andre feels such evaluations to be an integral part of any health and safety process, as they allow for characteristics unique to a particular mill to be called to attention. “Some of the key issues facing the industry right now are continued cost restraints due to a rising Canadian dollar, increased energy and chemical costs resulting in the potential for closing of inefficient facilities and further amalgamations. With these cost restraints, preventative maintenance to support an efficient operation is crucial. Many facilities are looking at shorter shutdowns, there are more people on site for intense periods of time, creating opportunities to deal with contractors. So we base much of our focus on up front evaluations, whereby we take into account the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to a particular facility and by doing an evaluation, we try to figure out what could affect health and safety at that location.” Andre explained the analysis looks at occupational health and safety leadership, training, communications and program development, as well as health and safety practices on the floor. From that point, the PPHSA determines what the impacts of all these factors are on injury and illness, and then assesses the results in order to outline a strategic response.

A very specific safety procedure the organization has worked on with many pulp and paper companies, is that of the lockout. The practice of lockout procedures can mean a difference between life and death for a worker and, as Andre explained, the development of extremely defined protocol is a must. “We’ve assisted many firms to assess their hazards and to develop specific procedures for lockouts so that when people are doing maintenance or shutdowns, all of the energy sources are isolated. Those experiences have been very positive, and had very positive outcomes.”

The time crunch

In an industry where time is of the essence and skyrocketing costs constantly squeeze resources tighter and tighter, companies can be reluctant to invest heavily in training. Mills are finding it increasingly difficult to take people off the floor and send them to training sessions because there just aren’t the resources to replace those individuals while they’re gone. This phenomenon is evident all across the board, from slashed travel budgets, to the move to hold previously annual conferences every 24 months, to staff reductions at all levels. And so companies that specialize in creating training programs for the industry have had to respond to the characteristics of such an environment and have arrived at what president of Humeng International, Rob LaBrie feels is a pretty good compromise.

“As a supplier of training content and training management tools, there are two issues that come up when we’re putting together a program, and those are content, and process,” LaBrie explained. “Some health and safety topics can be treated as stand-alone, such as how to use a fire extinguisher, and others should be embedded into other training content, such as how not to injure oneself when changing doctor blades. Health and safety issues must be part of all operations and maintenance related training programs. In the context of mills becoming leaner and leaner, training suppliers have also needed to adapt. We offer eLearning because it does not require mills to take many employees off their jobs at one same time, does not require travel and decreases training time,” LaBrie added. “eLearning has proven to be a very efficient and popular training mode, despite concerns about computer literacy.” A case in point is an eLearning program Humeng put together last year only to discover after the fact that 42% of the people using it had never touched a computer before. However, due to its learner-friendly format, 96% of the individuals who used the program confirmed it to be ‘very good’ and preferred this format to the traditional classroom style training.

But how can an entirely computer-based system provide the same sort of coverage in its training as a more hands-on type approach? “The supervisor must be involved in the process,” LaBrie claims. “The key is to ensure the process, not just the content, is in place. You have to manage change. The supervisor must ensure that the skill is transferred onto the shop floor, that the employee applies it.” Humeng places heavy emphasis on supervisor-initiated follow up, but without an intermediary step between practice and the practical, how can one be certain that employees truly grasp what a computer screen is teaching them? “Again, this is where the supervisor comes in. He must ensure the employee is able to apply the skill. Depending on the training content, practical training may also be required to supplement the eLearning training.”

The method has worked for Norampac, confirmed regional health and safety coordinator for central divisions Marshall Greensides. Although he acknowledges the hands-off factor implied by computer-based training (CBT) indeed leaves something to be desired, the attitudes towards safety carried by the company’s employees compensates for this potential pitfall. “The main problem with eLearning programs is definitely the lack of hands-on trai
ning and although there are more of these programs available, it has not yet become the norm in the industry,” he established. “To tackle the problem of practical training for employees, some of our facilities have started to mandate train-the-trainer programs for supervisors. In other words, the supervisor becomes the internal expert related to health and safety. This strategy seems to be gaining momentum and popularity since the supervisor is in the best position to communicate expectations to employees and to correct or commend a subsequent behavior. This also fulfills the company’s obligation to appoint a competent person as a supervisor, someone who is trained, experienced and aware of the hazards in the workplace. It also provides a form of due diligence for the supervisor as long as the training is delivered consistently and unsafe conditions and behaviors are monitored and corrected in the field.”

For some jobs in the industry, however, a safety program delivered entirely by a computer screen is leaving too much to chance and other options become necessary. Honeywell Process Solutions provides some of its employees with hands-on training, something that simulation training product manager Pete Henderson feels is critical to an effective operation. “Learning to operate a plant is a process of monitoring conditions, recognizing events, evaluating the interrelationships between operating variables and reacting accordingly to meet operating objectives. Training simulators are often used to allow the trainee/operator to experience real plant dynamics and to allow them to try things that they would not do in a real plant,” Henderson explained. “This allows them to make mistakes and to work through problems in a safe environment without damage to plant, personnel, and the environment.” Henderson feels this hands-on component of a safety program, “dynamically reinforces other forms of training in the overall curriculum.”

The pitfalls of over-training

Although the value of training in some instances is indisputable, Alan Calvo, a principal with workplace performance-consulting firm Luminance, cautions against its overuse. “We tend to look at training as the ultimate problem-solver,” he says. “And sometimes, it happens that we’re doing too much training. There are often many non-training interventions that need to be looked at, and we counsel our clients to look at all the factors. There may be motivational barriers, missing tools, or responsibility confusion, which have nothing to do with training,” he explained. “People get carried away with trends, and one of the most difficult things we do in our business is to try and get people away from the mindset that training is always the best course of action. It’s not.”

So how can those in a position to decide whether or not to implement a training program to address a specific problem or particular need is a good idea? According to Calvo, evaluating if the problem is in fact worth solving is a crucial first step. “You first need to identify the problem, then decide whether it’s even worth fixing from a financial standpoint. It may not be. Then look to see if you can apply fast fixes, ascertain that the people involved have everything they need to do their job, do they get feedback on their performance”? The result of the answers to all these questions is that over-training may actually be part of the problem, or in some instances, is prohibiting it from being resolved.

If after careful consideration, a training program still looks like the best route, Calvo offers further precautions. “Throw away all the irrelevant content,” he counsels. “Oftentimes technical training has more information than is necessary, so getting rid of what’s not needed is a very important time-saver, and what you’re left with will be absorbed better.” Although he acknowledges the predominance of CBT and concedes that in many instances it offers attractive advantages due to its flexible nature, Calvo admits he takes a “dim view” of classroom setting training. “It’s very ineffective,” he claims. “How do you troubleshoot obscure problems? You put them into peoples’ hands. The old-fashioned stuff works.”

Calvo also takes issue with the fallback claim that CBT is the ultimate time-saver solution. “If you’re training 1,000 people on a particular program, and that program takes one hour to complete, you’ve already lost 1,000 manhours. How are you saving time?”

Smurfit-Stone’s mill in La Tuque, QC, uses eLearning or CBT. It also considers the training of its employees to be one of its primary tasks. However, a whole host of other factors occupy significant space on the mill’s radar, and work conjointly to ensure maximum safety, productivity and efficiency. Employees are required to remain up to date on all relevant safety procedures, and training is done in such a way that both time and resources are optimized. Although this is often accomplished through the implementation of a CBT program, Jules Morissette of human resources at the mill recognizes the advantages and limitations of such methods. “From an economic standpoint, it’s a good method,” Morissette contends. “Workers appear to be more receptive and their chances of retaining information are increased. The problem lies in the diminished opportunities for human interaction, and the depersonalization of the training itself,” he said. The mill also ensures that measures are put into place to make certain that particular protocol are upheld through this type of training and that employees have processed the necessary material in such a manner that they will be able to access it when needed on the job.

Age supply

One of the biggest challenges that lies ahead for the industry has little or nothing to do with safety, and can’t be overcome with training, or a lack thereof. In the next decade, the industry will experience a momentous overhaul in personnel, which will inevitably usher in an equally notable amount of issues. “Since the pulp and paper industry will undergo a major demographic change over the next ten years, somehow tapping into the wealth of knowledge of 25+ veterans and passing it along to the younger workforce will be even more challenging than simply finding the time to train them,” Norampac’s Marshall Greensides reckons. Humeng International’s Ron LaBrie agrees, and contends that precautions need to be taken now, to ensure the valuable knowledge of industry veterans isn’t lost in the transition. “We’re going to be coming upon a changing of the guard,” he said. “We need to put those best practices in a time capsule, to capture the safety practices of the older, wiser employees and make sure they’re given to the younger ones. In some mills, this is being done in a very strategic and deliberate way, and it needs to be done in more of them, otherwise very important knowledge and information gained with experience may be lost forever,” he said. But as Alan Calvo warns, a perceived need for training doesn’t indicate an explicit need for training, meaning, first find out whether the employee in question can perform his job or task. If he can, he doesn’t need to be trained. How can a manager or supervisor be sure a worker knows how to do his job safely and productively? “It might sound awful,” Calvo said, “but when all else fails, if you put a gun to someone’s head and say, ‘can you do this?’ you’re going to find your answer pretty quickly.” Enough said.

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