The world has changed in the last few weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Those of us who live in a city are dealing with the lockdown by working from home and only emerging to exercise and buy groceries. But what’s it like for large companies operating production facilities in the forest products industry?
This week I interviewed Karl Blackburn, Director, Canadian Public Affairs and Government Relations for Resolute Forest Products, to learn about their approach to the crisis.
First of all, Resolute is making sure it respects government directives and guidelines. It established a committee made up of staff from head office and operations to monitor the situation and implement preventive measures across all sites, using a risk management approach. It has established clear, efficient and transparent protocols to help preserve the health and safety of its employees. A support website with FAQs, links and other documents has been set up to enable employees to have their concerns addressed, and visual guides on protection measures have been developed. The objective is to help employees carry out their duties with confidence and to provide the latest information on recommended prevention measures.
Resolute’s head office in Montreal is physically closed but operating fully, with employees working from home. Activities such as meetings and training sessions take place virtually.
For employees at Resolute’s production sites, including pulp, paper, tissue and wood products facilities, measures are in place to preserve social distancing. If employees need to be less than 2 m apart, the use of personal protective equipment is required. In each operation, visual guides have been developed and posted to provide instruction on procedures such as hand washing protocols, social distancing and disinfection of equipment used by multiple employees. For essential meetings such as daily production meetings, when it’s not possible to hold a physical meeting due to social distancing guidelines, virtual meetings are being held using various software tools.
Although government directives differ by jurisdiction, the protocols being used in all the company’s operations across North America are similar; as Karl said, “health and safety has no borders”.
To get more details from the front lines, I contacted an employee at Resolute’s Thunder Bay mill. While some employees working in non-production related roles are able to work completely from home, he, as a superintendent, works 50% from home and 50% at the mill. Some of the measures in place at the mill are: control room operators have plexiglass shields between their stations, since they cannot sit 2 m apart, and access to control rooms is generally restricted to employees that work there and their supervisor. At the beginning and end of their shift, operators disinfect surfaces such as their computer keyboards, desktops and doorknobs. Employees have to check into and out of other departments by phone or radio. Face shields are now standard personal protective equipment around the mill. Maintenance staff are paired up to always work with the same partner and wear face shields. Any visitors to the mill face a pre-screening health questionnaire, and employees self-monitor for Covid-19 symptoms, at which time they are tested and go into self-isolation, with any recent close contacts of that employee notified to also self-monitor for symptoms. Some physical meetings are taking place, but there is a limit of ten people to a conference room, with distancing in place.
Resolute has had to temporarily shut some of its newsprint capacity during the lockdown due to reduced demand from the shrunken economy, but demand for pulp and tissue is strong. Although many sawmills across Canada are also shut down, most of Resolute’s sawmills in Quebec are still operating. According to Blackburn, there is a fragile balance between the supply of sawmill woodchips and the current needs for pulp and paper, constantly changing as businesses adapt to the pandemic.
Martin Fairbank has worked in the forest products industry for 31 years,
including many years for a pulp and paper producer and two years with
Natural Resources Canada. With a Ph.D. in chemistry and experience in
process improvement, product development, energy management and lean
manufacturing, Martin currently works as an independent consultant,
based in Montreal. He is also an author, having recently published
Resolute Roots, a history of Resolute Forest Products and its
predecessors over the last 200 years.
Martin Fairbank Consulting
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