Keeping a safety focus during an extended shut in Richards Bay
The Richards Bay annual shut in 2021 was the longest shut period experienced at any of our paper mills. Not only were we conducting the regular repairs, maintenance and replacement of equipment as per normal annual shuts, this time, it included the demolition and rebuild of one of the recovery boilers.
From the start, it was clear that this was a huge project needing much focus and preparation not only on the engineering side but also on risk, safety and health. With more than a year to the start of the shut, the Richards Bay leadership and safety and health department worked closely with Mondi Group and the Uncoated Fine Paper safety and health teams. The fact that there was a high probability that the shut would be conducted with COVID being a reality had made it more challenging.
For the year prior to the shut there was a drive to align the contracting companies involved in the shut to ensure that the risk, safety, health and legal requirements would be understood and adhered to during the shut. Pre-shut assessments were conducted with the contractor companies as well as Mondi leadership to ensure work methods were agreed upon and precautionary measures were accepted for the high-risk activities.
During the shut, around five thousand people were on-site (Mondi and contractor employees) conducting work in congested areas at multiple levels above each other. This took continuous efforts and ‘boots on the ground’ providing guidance and support to those conducting the work.
Some of the initiatives that contributed to the efforts and performance of the shut included daily engagement sessions with Mondi and contractor safety and health specialists to ensure alignment, sharing of concerns and good practices. All leaders conducted regular site walkabouts and management risk focused audits. Live demonstrations were conducted related to the risks of working at height. In addition, leaders’ WhatsApp groups for safety and health, placed a lot of effort on continuous communication via video recordings so that issues could be shared and addressed immediately. Other social media options were also used to share videos and important information.
Our focus was not only on the physical conditions and controls, but also on the mindset of the individuals as well as the dynamics of the working teams. Recognition for hard work was provided in the form of token gifts and lunch vouchers, to name a few. To focus on the psychological elements, we held stretching exercises in the “Safety Tent” every Wednesday morning. The safety and health professionals then repeated these stretching exercises with their respective company teams.
COVID was a reality as expected and as a result, all precautionary measures were implemented to protect all persons involved on the shut. This included keeping safe distances, wearing masks and COVID testing at the entrance to the mill. Additional safety controls were implemented to contain the spread of the COVID Omicron variant as much as possible. As part of the drive, we conducted three on-site vaccination sessions for those wishing to be vaccinated.
In summary, all the efforts over the years in improving our Contractor Management systems and engaging with contractors have contributed to our preferred contractor companies aligning to Mondi requirements, which contributed to a safe shut and rebuild of the recovery boiler.