Reports show unresolved health and safety issues at Howe Sound Pulp and Paper

Worksafe BC

Recent inspection reports from WorkSafe BC show health and safety issues are still a serious problem at Howe Sound Pulp and Paper (HSPP).

WorkSafe filed two reports in late October, and one this week, detailing 13 outstanding orders.

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WorkSafe also makes a connection between the shutdown of the paper side of the Port Mellon mill, which was announced in July of 2015, and the effectiveness of the joint health and safety committee (JOHSC).

“They are the backbone of any safety program,” one report says. “However, the JOHSC used to be more effective than they are at present. Prior to the closure of the paper side it had several sub-committees. The sub-committees were casualties of the recent layoffs associated with the elimination of the paper side of the mill since many of the members on the sub-committees were no longer employed.”  

The report goes on to say that while the situation is improving, “a common concern was the length of time it takes from when hazards are identified and when the issue is resolved.”

Earlier this year Unifor, the union representing workers at HSPP, took the unusual step of going public with concerns about how HSPP parent company Paper Excellence was dealing with health and safety.

In a May 26 letter to Coast Reporter, Scott Doherty, executive assistant to Unifor’s national president, said: “Our union has bent over backwards to find compromises and improve a worsening situation at the mill. Improving health and safety is a basic element of good management, and clearly, we need the community’s help.”

Last month’s WorkSafe reports outline situations “where items which should have been identified through an effective inspection program but have fallen between the cracks.” They include seatbelts not being regularly used on site, a leaking acid pipe that hasn’t been properly repaired in three years, and a “near miss” incident where a loader was buried in a cave-in while unloading a chip barge.

The reports aren’t all negative, however. For example, WorkSafe praises HSPP’s fire department. “The on-site fire department has responded exemplary numerous times over the years proving their worth, at least one of which occurred between the conclusion of this inspection and the writing of this report.”

Two of the outstanding orders specifically criticize how internal inspections and accident investigations are handled. One notes that “full investigation reports for four lost-time accidents have not been submitted to the board within 30 days of the incident,” and another says, “as evidenced by the number of violations observed, and orders written, it is clear that this employer has failed to ensure that effective regular inspections are made of the workplace. The conditions on this site are such that they clearly accumulated over time without being addressed... The employer has failed to ensure that regular inspections are made of all workplaces, including buildings, structures, grounds, excavations, tools, equipment, machinery and work methods and practices, at intervals that would prevent the development of unsafe working conditions.”

Unifor Local 1119 president Don Rheaume said the union and the company are addressing the outstanding issues.

“The union is monitoring the progress of each of these orders, including how the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee is working,” he said. “The safety committee and our joint policies and procedures are key to keeping people safe and reducing the risk of injury and must be fully supported by everyone. The union is in discussions with the employer on a number of fronts and we are working together to make those improvements.”

Kathy Cloutier, communications director with Paper Excellence, said the WorkSafe inspections were planned as part of a commitment to ensure that health and safety programs meet or exceed provincial requirements.

“Our JOHSC is a critical component of our safety program and our success in safety,” she said. “The committee sets annual targets for safety improvement and meets monthly to review our safety program elements and make recommendations to both the union and management on ways we can improve. Sub-committees are rebuilding with increased activity monthly on critical committees.”

A follow-up inspection by WorkSafe on Nov. 16 found the company had properly addressed three of the orders in the earlier reports.

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons told Coast Reporter this week that HSPP workers and their families have been contacting him regularly with worries about the situation in Port Mellon, and he was sent copies of the WorkSafe reports.

Simons, who’s been trying to get a meeting with company officials since Unifor went public in May, said there’s a marked contrast between the situation at HSPP and at the Catalyst paper mill in the Powell River part of his riding.

“I have not had the number or level of concerns that I’ve heard about Paper Excellence anywhere else. I meet regularly with people from Catalyst and I talk regularly with employees from Paper Excellence, and this seems to me – and I hope it is – a temporary situation that’s going to be fixed.”

– With files from Coast Reporter archives

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