The paper and forestry industries are considered essential, but still slow down due to COVID-19

- PA Files

Guillaume Roy

COVID-19 is having a huge impact on the world economy, the forest products industry is no exception, as many pulp, paper, and wood producers are slowing down their activities.

While most industries must shut down for a couple of weeks to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Quebec and Ontario governments have designated the forest industry as an essential service to the population.

While Quebec and Ontario have ordered the closure of nonessential services, both provinces have recognized the essential role of the forest product sector to help protect and support the population during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s important our government recognized the importance of the forest product sector, said Denis Lebel, the Quebec forestry council CEO. We needed to keep producing toilet paper, tissue, diapers, mask components, and cardboard for the food industry”.

GR 26march20 2Karl Blackburn, Resolute FPKarl Blackburn, Resolute Forest Products spokesperson, is also glad the government recognized the pulp and paper industry as essential, but acknowledges the need to reduce the production to minimize the spread of COVID-19. “We evaluated all our activities in this exceptional context and we have decided to close the Dolbeau-Mistassini mill on April 1st, the Baie-Comeau mill on March 28th and the machine No. 9 in Alma last night (March 24th)”, he said, adding that 450 pulp and paper workers are affected. Furthermore, three wood engineering sawmills, in Larouche, Saint-Prime and Chateau-Richer are also closed temporarily, touching another 215 employees. For the moment, all sawmill production is maintained in Ontario.

Other Quebec wood producers, like Remabec (3 sawmills, 700 employees) and Chantiers Chibougamau (2 sawmills and one paper mill in construction, 1100 employees) have also decided to shut down their sawmills to a strict minimum.

Meanwhile, Kruger and Cascades announced that all their activities, considered essential, will be maintained. Rayonier Advanced Materials, with five mills in Québec and six in Ontario, is also hiring to support the production needs.

In Ontario, pulp and paper mills remain open to business, as Doug Ford rapidly stated that the wood product industry was essential when he shut down all non-essential activities on March 23rd.

Other provinces have not shut down non-essential industries yet, but the coronavirus has huge impacts on the industry nationwide.

Plummeting demand

With most of the world confined, the demand for wood products has plummeted. According to Moody’s outlook, the global forest product industry will decline by 5 to 7% over the next 12 to 18 months.

With falling markets, many producers are slowing down their activities.

In Nova Scotia, Port Hawkesbury Paper has announced they reduced wood delivery on March 20th due to declining market.

In British Columbia, three major wood producers also announced capacity reduction. Interfor declared it would reduce its production by 60% for two weeks on March 19th. The next day, West Fraser stated production would drop by 18% in Canadian sawmills, while suspending the plywood production until April 6th. On March 23rd, Western Forest Products announced a shutdown of all operations for one week.

“Forestry is essential”, says FPAC

GR 26march20 3Derek Nighbor, FPACOn March 24th, the Forest Product Association of Canada CEO, Derek Nighbor, asked Justin Trudeau to recognize the forest sector as an “essential and critical infrastructure.” In a letter sent to the Prime Minister, he also acknowledges the importance to health and safety for forest workers and proposed these measures:

  • Adoption of ‘work from home’ measures for those who are able to, and no group gatherings 
  • Implementation of systems to support employees facing potential cases of COVID-19 and/or individuals in self-quarantine within the workforce
  • Modifying shift schedules to reduce employee contact between shifts and implementation of social distancing operations-wide 
  • Managing break, lunch, and dinner time to ensure a 2-meter distance between staff members 
  • Suspending international travel and significant restrictions on domestic travel 
  • Restrictions on visitors; thorough screening of on-site contractors, and deliveries 
  • Ramped up sanitation and hygiene measures across facilities, common areas, and all surfaces 
  • Crisis management teams activated and Frequently Asked Questions documents produced to help support staff

Avoiding propagation in paper mills

Logging companies take the health of their employees seriously and are already working hard to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

For example, Resolute Forest Products have introduced special measures to minimize the spread of the virus at its locations, including: putting in place a company-wide risk management committee to monitor the situation and the implementation of preventive measures across all sites; developing a special support website for employees with guidelines, forms, FAQs, and other relevant documents and links; making the necessary accommodations to support the health and well-being of employees and business partners; introducing restrictions on travel; cancelling nonessential visits by external suppliers and other outside support services; and increasing safety measures for visits by service technicians, truck drivers, and delivery personnel.

GR 26march20 4

Kruger has announced that they are working closely with suppliers, contractors, shippers, and customers to maintain their activity and ensure that their products continue to meet the essential needs of North Americans.

In addition, Cascades notes that they are closely monitoring the situation and they introduced comprehensive and rigorous hygiene policies in every one of their operations to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

To protect employees Rayonier Advanced Materials has suspended noncritical business travel and began holding virtual meetings. They have also implemented social distancing, remote work (where possible), and enhanced sanitation protocols. For manufacturing facilities where most employees cannot work remotely, reduced employee density and established engineering and administrative controls to ensure employees’ health and safety are protected. Furthermore, protocols have been developed to make work arrangements for employees with school-aged children.

At West Fraser, a series of actions has been taken to ensure a safe and productive working environment. West Fraser has implemented changes to mitigate potential exposure at their work sites, with a focus on thorough cleaning, strict travel limitations, health education, and appropriate social and physical distancing.

Guillaume Roy,