Nov 19, 2018 9:58:43 AM
Integrating contractors into a safety culture is already difficult. The ongoing retirement and loss...
For most people working with paper, the worst injury we can expect is a nasty paper cut. However, pulp and paper workers are going through a much more dangerous manufacturing process that goes far beyond the paper cut.
The paper mill is one of the most dangerous work environments there is, but technology is making it safer.
Rolls of paper weighing as much as cars. Corrosive chemicals. Constantly moving mechanical and electrical equipment. Highly flammable dust that can cause explosions and lung issues. Confined spaces that present a number of risks. These are just some of the risks that workers in the pulp and paper industry face each day. Many of these dangers are not new, dating back more than 200 years to the origin of an industry that is older than Canada itself, and remains an integral component of the Canadian economy.
Over time, the pulp and paper industry has made many upgrades to equipment, processes, training, and regulations to protect workers and make them much safer at manufacturing and processing plants.
As the improvement in safety plateaus, more emphasis is being put on the actual implementation of the law by governments. In short, having processes and procedures on paper is no longer enough.
Alberta and Ontario recently reviewed their labour laws for the first time in a generation, and others provinces will certainly follow. Within the changes put forward, we will see much more of a focus on companies taking concrete steps to ensure that their employees are following the right safety procedures. There will also be a big push around enforcement with fines set to rise.
Protecting the workers who do dangerous work is not only an employer’s legal and ethical obligation, but is also good for business as it cuts down on missed days and prevents shutdowns.
Canada’s pulp and paper industry directly employs more than 61,000 workers, generates $3.5 billion in wages and salaries(1), and yields more than $17 billion in exports(2). And through all this, the safety performance has improved. Ontario’s Ministry of Labour(3) reported no fatalities in the pulp and paper industry between 2015-2016, but seven workers suffered critical injuries. This figure accounts for only reported incidents; actual numbers are likely much higher. During the same period, the Ministry conducted 252 field visits, issued 379 orders, and registered 45 complaints.
Between 2014-2015, musculoskeletal disorders topped the injury list, accounting for 47% of all lost-time claims in the paper, printing and converting industries. This was followed by hazardous contact with equipment and objects, which made up 24% of such claims, and slips, trips and falls at 14%(4). These are avoidable risks, and manufacturers can readily minimize the associated human and economic consequences.
The digital revolution changed the paper industry more than any other, but it is becoming an increasingly vital tool in keeping workers safe.
Protecting workers requires an ongoing process of detailed safety performance interviews with each employee:
Many plants also rely on contractors. This workforce may be less familiar with the plants and as a result are more at risk. It can be extremely difficult to guarantee that this pool of workers is fully trained and qualified, with their certifications current and in good standing. This process can be very time consuming, mistakes are easy, and it is very difficult to keep up to date.
This can have major consequences on plant operations, exposing workers to preventable health hazards, and the company to major liabilities and reputational risk.
Pulp and paper mills can reduce workplace hazards and potential for injury by ensuring that they hire and approve only those workers who are fully trained and qualified, in total compliance with all industry regulations, and whose credentials have been formally verified. Not many people carry this information around with them.
Having this information easily accessible, without having to sift through piles of forms, and emailing back and forth, benefits everyone.
With today’s technology, as a contractor management system, companies can now check instantly if contractors visiting a site have all the required qualifications. It also ensures that there is no ambiguity about what is required, and who is responsible for making sure those individual contractors have the right training and credentials, before they enter a site.
Pulp and paper have made huge strides in improving safety at plants across Canada. More is going to be expected in the near future and this will require better use of digital tools to keep workers safe.