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Weyerhaeuser plant maintains clean safety record

COLUMBUS — Workers at Weyerhaeuser Company’s Columbus Modified Fiber operation and their families recently gathered at the plant in the Columbus-Lowndes Industrial Park to celebrate a milestone. In addition to food prepared by the management team, there was a moonwalk for the kids and a 52-foot obstacle course for old and young alike. No one was hurt.

That’s not surprising. After all, safety was the reason for the celebration. The Columbus Modified Fiber plant has now gone 11 years without a single lost-time accident. That accomplishment is even more impressive considering that the facility has been open only 11 years. That’s right — since the plant first went into production in May 1993, it has never seen an employee miss work due to an injury sustained on the job. During this string, the workers have logged more than 1.8 million hours and produced more than 1.2 million tons of product. And the plant is working on another “clean run.” At press time, team members had worked more than a year — 570-plus days — without a recordable injury. (The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a recordable injury as one serious enough to need a doctor’s treatment.)

The plant manufactures a pulp-based, cross-linked fiber, which is used by other manufacturers in absorbent personal products. Much of the material is sold to diaper manufacturers not only in the U.S., but Europe, Asia and Africa, as well.

Weyerhaeuser’s operations are extensive — approximately 1,000 facilities employing 55,000 employees. In Mississippi alone, the company employs approximately 1,700 workers. Stephen Fields, safety director at Columbus Modified Fiber, was not sure whether the 11-year run was a company record, but, considering the potential hazards of the plant’s work, with all the workers and all the equipment involved, he does know that it is significant.

“I can say that 11 years with no lost-time accidents for a facility in the pulp, paper and packaging industry is an outstanding achievement,” he said.

Columbus Modified Fiber said its workers have been able to avoid both types of at-work injury due to a “high-performance organization design, modern work processes, established safety systems and teams who are accountable for their own safety.”

“Everyone at Columbus Modified Fiber is accountable for safety. It’s part of our culture for everyone to work safely, and never to put production ahead of safety,” said mill manager Greg Parchello. “In addition, safety is part of every team member’s personal goals and is rewarded in the operation’s incentive plan. In other words, workplace safety helps employees meet their work goals and can lead to bonus pay.”

Workers established safety systems and safety practices early in the life of the facility. “We have highly capable team members who are committed to, and believe in, the objectives and vision of the facility, including a commitment to a safe workplace,” Fields said.

At the center of the safety systems and practices are Weyerhaeuser’s Health and Safety Exchange (HS&E) internal and external audits, which measure safety processes and practices. HS&E is a diagnostic tool used to assess health and safety processes at Weyerhaeuser plants. It looks to identify health and safety risk exposures or potential losses within the workplace; define controls to effectively manage these risks if they exist; evaluate and monitor the implementation of health and safety control measures; and promote health and safety performance with the goal being an injury-free work environment.

The formal external audits are conducted by at least two auditors external to, and independent of, the location being evaluated. The internal assessments are informal audits using on-site personnel. These internal audits are performed annually except when an external audit has been conducted or is planned.

Efforts do not end there. Every work-cycle rotation begins with a safety meeting and ends with stretching exercises. And new team members have two to four weeks of safety training before they begin work in the operations.

In addition, employees helped create, and now administer, the Columbus Modified Fiber’s safety observation process called Safety Excellence in Action (SEA). Under SEA, unsafe work practices are identified and addressed through an observation effort, and is designed to change potentially hazardous processes to consistently safe practices utilized by all workers.

Fields said that as the plant’s safety run continues, so does the employee’s commitment to remaining safe. No one wants to be the one that breaks the streak.

Fields said, “CMF’s team members are very proud of the safety milestones that we have achieved since start-up in 1993. We also realize that we must continue to work toward our ultimate goal of an injury-free workplace through leadership, safety systems and team member involvement.

“Team members working at Columbus Modified Fiber are committed to doing their part in continuously improving all aspects of workplace safety. The habits and practices utilized by team members at the workplace have helped them become more conscious about safety in their personal lives.”

Columbus Modified Fiber employees will have another group watching them at work and asking them to work safely. During the company celebration, employees’ children were photographed with safety gear. These pictures will be used to create a safety calendar for 2005. It’s a way for the company to remind its employees that there are more important bonuses to staying healthy and safe than money and company parties.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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