The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world in a permanent way. Over the last few months, Canada’s forest products industry has overcome unprecedented operational challenges, even as we moved to embrace our designation as an ‘essential’ Canadian service.
The challenge before us was threefold: we needed to ensure our people’s safety, keep our critical supply chain moving, and provide Canadians with basic necessities. We immediately recognized that protecting the health and safety of our workers would be essential to meeting these challenges head on.
As a first step, Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) convened a working group comprised of the Human Resource leaders within our membership. FPAC’s HR Committee became a meeting place where companies checked their competitive interests at the door in an effort to pursue a common vision to keep everyone safe while sustaining operations. During weekly meetings we shared ideas and leading practices even as our understanding of the pandemic, and associated impacts, evolved. While social distancing and increased sanitation measures became the norm, other ideas and initiatives emerged, including:
• Regular updates of company COVID case response management processes and self-monitoring forms (for both on-site personnel and external suppliers).
• Control rooms within mills were locked to all but those deemed essential, and those essential staff members were required to request access.
• Shift changes were adapted to consider safety in maintenance requirements and general operations to avoid any physical overlap of employees.
• New measures were introduced to distinguish between “vendors/contractors” and “visitors”. Visitor access has been restricted and contractors are now required to complete a questionnaire upon arrival at the site to ensure they are not a COVID risk prior to entry.
• Safety protocols for the use of equipment such as coveralls (e.g. frequency of changing and cleaning) have been reviewed and revised.
• Shifting to online tools for employee onboarding has been accelerated.
While the above list of measures is not exhaustive, it does shed some light on the creativity and flexibility that HR professionals across Canada’s forest products sector have been employing over the past few months. The true magic has been not only getting this done – but getting more than 200,000 workers in over 600 communities to buy-in and execute on these measures. It is a testament to the commitment of our people and our sector’s deeply ingrained culture of health and safety.
As this important operational work continues, we are shifting gears to enable recovery by working with the federal government on some key priorities:
• Ensuring forest sector workers, families, and communities get the support they need as we push through this pandemic.
• Fast-tracking innovation to further transform our industry and expand our product offerings.
• Growing markets for Canadian wood and wood fibre-based products here at home and around the world.
• Kick-starting capital investment and job opportunities by securing greater certainty and long-term access to the working forest while advancing our world-leading sustainable forest management credentials.
As Canada and the world gets moving again, Canada’s forest sector and its people are in a unique position to drive economic recovery. This is particularly true in our rural and northern communities. Fortunately, and given the nature of our work, we prepare for the unexpected and are resilient in the face of disruption. Canadians can rely on forest professionals to move forward and provide the essential needs that will sustain our communities through this turbulent period. It’s what we do.
Joel Neuheimer – VP International Trade, Transportation, HR, Corporate Secretary
Forest Products Association of Canada