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COVID-19 precautions in place for mill shutdown

Hundreds of contract workers to arrive on site for three-week closure
The Port Mellon mill is set to shut down its operations from Jan. 31 until Feb. 21.

COVID-19 protocols are in place in advance of Paper Excellence’s Howe Sound Pulp and Paper mill’s large annual shutdown, which sees hundreds of additional contract workers arrive on site to complete the work.

The Port Mellon mill, which is running at capacity, is set to shut down its operations from Jan. 31 until Feb. 21, according to Paper Excellence Canada’s communications VP Graham Kissack. About 900 people are expected to be employed for the duration of the operation, though not all will be on site daily, he said.

“All contractors have been required to submit their COVID-19 protocols prior to coming onsite to confirm that they meet our standards and align with current recommendations from the Provincial Health Officer,” Kissack told Coast Reporter in an emailed statement.

Howe Sound Pulp and Paper representatives met with contractors to discuss that theirs and the mill’s precautions “also need to remain in place while offsite to help ensure the safety of our community,” he said, adding there is “zero tolerance” for rule breakers.

The mill’s protocols have been developed with WorkSafeBC and a pulp and paper advisory group, said Kissack, and additional measures are in effect at the Port Mellon site, including daily mandatory temperature readings of all contracted employees, added janitorial services, installation of hand washing stations, the purchase of “large quantities” of 101 Brewhouse and Distillery hand sanitizer, increased signage, virtual meetings and daily safety meetings.

Spaces have also been re-engineered to allow for more physical distancing and Kissack said the mill is outfitted with an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. Crew start and end times have been staggered to avoid congestion in change rooms at shift change.

In October the mill held a shutdown of its water wash operation over three days, with 150 contractors brought on site. That was followed by a 10-day shutdown of its power boiler in November, with 300 additional crew at the mill.

As of Jan. 22 there had been no COVID-19 cases among staff at the mill, according to Kissack.