Corona times in a Swedish mill

Husum produces folding boxboard, white kraftliner and bleached hardwood and softwood kraft pulps. Photo: Metsä Board.

Sören Back

Sweden, like the rest of the world, is hit by the Covid-19 virus and makes strong efforts to minimise the spreading and effects of it.

How does this influence the daily life in a mill and which actions are taken to minimise spreading and at the same time keep production running? I contacted Metsä Board’s board mill in Husum in northern Sweden to find out.

To many countries’ big surprise Sweden has not locked down the country completely. Instead a different way has been chosen, based on very strong recommendations and bans from the health authorities coupled with the Swedes’ common sense and trust in authorities. In practise this e.g. means that travelling is minimised, meaning that hotels and restaurants are hit very badly, and all sport and cultural events have been cancelled as gatherings with more than 50 people is forbidden. Many companies have reduced production and have had to temporarily layoff people. Personal hygiene, social distance and stay at home even if you are only slightly ill as well as if you are 70 years or above are mantra on everybody’s lips.

So, how does all this influence the daily work at Metsä Board in general, irrespectively if the mills are in Finland or in Sweden?

“As a starting point we have defined three key targets in this situation,” says Marjo Halonen, VP Communications, Metsä Board. “Employee safety, preventing the spread of the virus as well ensuring service continuity to our customers remain our key focus areas. Safety and health cannot be compromised in any way. The spreading of the virus must be limited, and this can be influenced by all of us by being responsible and careful. Now, more than ever, we have a big role to play as part of the global food and healthcare chain, with our safe and pure paperboards.”

Metsä Board Husum mill in Sweden is an integrated board and pulp mill producing fresh fibre folding boxboard, white kraftliner as well as bleached market pulp. The capacity is 400,000 t/a folding boxboard, 250,000 t/a white kraftliner and 730,000 t/a bleached hardwood and softwood kraft pulps. The mill has 670 employees.

1june20 2BM1 at Metsä Board Husum has a capacity of 400,000 tonnes of folding boxboard. Photo: Metsä Board Husum.

“Our way of working in the mill is based on clear guidelines from our head office and recommendations from Folkhälsomyndigheten, The Public Health Agency of Sweden,” says Olov Winblad von Walter, Vice President and Mill Manager at Metsä Board Husum. “At a very early stage we established a special Corona crisis group which meets every Monday and Friday to check up on the situation and to take necessary steps. We have continuously updated Corona information on our intranet and on our information screens in different parts of the mills as well as during our monthly manager meetings. Needless to say, the same information and instructions are given to any external company operating at our mill site.”

“Our daily work has changed in many ways. To keep social distance visits in the process operator rooms are forbidden and any conversation or meeting with process operators must take place outside these rooms. Shift changes are done without close physical contact​. We have a general ban on external visits and the only mill visitors allowed are the ones crucial to our operations like maintenance and investments.”

1june20 3“Our way of working in the mill is based on clear guidelines from our head office and recommendations from Folkhälsomyndigheten, The Public Health Agency of Sweden,” says Olov Winblad von Walter. Photo: Metsä Board Husum.

Travelling is drastically reduced on the back of the authority recommendations and due to that most countries have closed their borders. Travelling abroad is forbidden in Metsä Board except in the situations which are essential to the continuity of the business. Permission from the business area head is needed. ​All meetings are taking place via Teams, which under the circumstances works very well.

Social distance is one of the mantras preached during the daily national press conferences held by The Public Health Agency of Sweden. In the mill steps have been taken to support this so in the mill’s canteens the distance between the tables has been increased, queues to the microwave ovens are “stretched out” and hand disinfectant is available. In the nearby restaurant, The Bear, the food is now served by the staff instead of customers taking it themselves and the salad buffet has been taken away. The customer queue is stretched supported by markings on the floor and hand disinfectant is of course available.

“Whenever possible working from home is recommended by the authorities as well as by Metsä Board,” Olov Winblad von Walter continues. “In our case this means that our white-collar people work 50 % at home and 50 % in the mill, depending on needs. Where the work allows, we apply remote work in full. So far production or supply has not been hit by the Corona pandemic and I am happy to say that we continue to have a very low sick leave in our mill.”

During such a serious pandemic the cleaning is very important, not only in hospitals but also in mills like Husum. Therefore, Husum has increased the cleaning frequency in areas more critical to the operations. Husum’s employees have got clear cleaning instructions for common working place surfaces and in operator rooms, vehicles and other common areas surface disinfectants is available. To make sure that there is enough availability of disinfectants and cleaning detergents a weekly check-up is done.

“Most important is that we continue doing what we have done so far, i.e. stay at home if we are ill or have any symptoms of illness, keep a good hand hygiene and cleaning as well as keep the social distance. By doing that and applying new recommendations and instructions from the authorities and from Metsä Board, we will be able to fight our way through this difficult period,” Olov Winblad von Walter finishes.

Metsä Board Husum is one of many mills in the Swedish forest industry and without asking every mill how they combat the Covid-19 crisis one can assume that they apply similar actions and restrictions. The general recommendations are the same; stay at home even if you are only slightly ill, keep social distance and a good hand hygiene and avoid traveling.

Due to these restrictions I have done the interview for this blog contribution by email, written it at home and now I will wash my hands and continue keeping social distance to everyone but to my wife.