GBP’s Paul Bucek Honored with First SLY Award

Green Bay Packaging’s Paul Bucek was named the first recipient of the Safety Leader of the Year (SLY) Award at the 76th Annual Safety & Health Conference of the Pulp and Paper Safety Association (PPSA), held in San Antonio, TX.

Paper360° sponsors the SLY Award, part of the PPSA’s decision to revamp its awards program. The SLY Award recognizes a single forest products industry leader who has demonstrated unique, engaging, and effective approaches to the safety programs within their company. In doing so, this individual has had a profound and positive effect on safety within the industry.

Bucek is a more than worthy inaugural winner. In his nomination, it was noted that Bucek’s first mission at GBP “was to improve the existing safety culture, which at the time, unfortunately, was to some extent out of control…Paul, with all his energy and dedication to safety, eventually convinced us that we can improve our safety objectives and in due course we all bought in to support and to commit to a healthier and safe work environment.”

Paul Bucek (right) accepts the SLY Award from Graeme Rodden, Paper360° senior editor, North and Latin America. Paper360° sponsors the annual award.

The nomination also notes Bucek’s implementation of lock-out, tag-out procedures that were so successful, customer MillerCoors breweries asked to use the GBP format for its own procedure.

Bucek started his career in 1976 with Hoerner Warner, a corrugated box company then located in Grand Prairie, TX. Stone Container eventually ended up as owner of the company. After more than 10 years of service, he became a production supervisor with Willamette Industries, also in Grand Prairie. It was here in 1993 that Bucek was assigned the responsibilities of managing the safety program for the division. He attended his first PPSA conference that year and has not missed one since.

Bucek remained at the Grand Prairie facility after Willamette was purchased by Weyerhaeuser. He helped the division achieve three diverse years of no recordable injuries while attaining an incident rate of less than one with more than 1 million man-hours worked.

After International Paper took over Weyerhaeuser, Bucek decided to move on and became part of the GBP team in 2009, as human resources/environmental manager at the Fort Worth, TX, plant, a position he holds to this day. In 2014, his responsibilities grew when he was named corporate safety manager, responsible for training and auditing at all GBP facilities. Among the safety achievements Bucek has helped the Fort Worth division reach:
• Most improved safety record, PPSA, 2010;
• Winner, award of safety excellence in converting, PPSA, 2015;
• In March 2017, the division completed 1 million man-hours with no recordable injuries;
• The division has just completed six consecutive years with no recordable injuries.

Bucek says that after attending his first PPSA conference in 1993, the issue of safety became a passion for him. As Fort Worth was a smaller division, he was able to interact with many people on the floor, doing supervisor training and peer audits.

When he joined Fort Worth, it had the worst safety record in the company. Historical data show an annual average of 14 recordable injuries. “The problem was the culture,” Bucek states. “In a short time, we went from worst to first. “

How did this change come about? “My philosophy is to take it a shift at a time, a day at a time; there are always new challenges,” Bucek says. “We investigate near misses as if they were actual incidents. We are hands-on. It’s not luck, as some may think. We do set the bar high. Each and every day we do our darndest to be pro-active. Safety is work.”

Bucek says one of the things he can look back on is that he came from a production background and he knows the demand companies often put on individual mills. “I am able to deal with the front line a lot. Too often, production is put ahead of safety. It takes a dedicated supervisor to care about the people who work for him.”

Bucek practices what he preaches; he is known for going into mills and working with the night shift to show the importance of safety. “I am willing to work the ‘odd’ shifts. When I go into a plant, I work under that unit’s management team even though I am corporate.”

What’s changed over the years about peoples’/companies’ attitudes about safety? “I think as a whole the ship is sailing toward the view that employees are the assets. Equipment has also become inherently safer (for example, the installation of guards) because of the push for awareness of the hazards.”

Bucek continues, “Now, more attention is being paid to the human. There is a lot more focus on the employee, especially in training and new employee orientation. There is no more throwing the newbie out on the floor and letting him or her sink or swim or get trained in bad habits. We are thinking more.”

With GBP’s biggest capex project in its history underway—the installation of a new machine in Green Bay, WI—what is Bucek’s role? “I do audit the paper mills, so I will get to go up there,” he says; however, he will not be involved with the contractors. “Outside resources are hired to oversee the contractors so as not to take us away from engineering operations, but they do follow the GBP operating specs for occupational health and safety.”

Bucek says he was surprised at being named winner of the first SLY Award: “It was humbling.” He adds that it is all part of the journey. He noted that he is proud of GBP’s accomplishments, especially the 1 million man-hours worked without a recordable injury, which was a first for GBP.

Bucek concluded with a story that perhaps sums up his dedication to safety. “I was supposed to interview someone and he drove into the parking lot really fast in a 5 mph zone. When I spoke to him for the first time, I told him the first impression was not good, because he was interviewing for a clamp truck driver’s position. So, how would he drive the clamp truck if that’s how he drove his car?

“Safety is part of the job,” Bucek reiterates. “Know where your moral compass is. You should know when your program is going off course. You can change even if you have bad habits. You can change because it is the right thing to do. It never gets old.”