Safety Orientations Always Come First

Annual outages at pulp and paper mills are undertaken with great care and extraordinary planning. Along with the mills’ regular workers, outages usually mean hundreds, and possibly thousands, of contractors from around the country arriving onsite to perform required maintenance and servicing.

While outages constitute the largest influx of external labor, mills also face a daily need for contract workers. At Green Bay Packaging’s Kraft Division in Morrilton, AR, Senior Safety and Security Director Ray Craven notes his “family of contractors” usually averages about 100 per day onsite. Before he began using the online safety orientation and verification program TAPPISAFE, Craven said monitoring the safety competency of his contractors meant spending a lot of time in the field doing direct audits.

“Before, I’d be asking why someone was doing this or that, or monitoring whether they had safety glasses on and ear plugs in,” Craven said. “During an outage, I probably spent 25 percent of my time correcting things I never should have had to.”

Thanks to the industry-specific online courses, Craven says that now all his family of contractors take a base set of courses to ensure safety competency. These are followed by site-specific courses that are updated regularly and required annually, focusing on policy and procedural updates for his Morrilton facility. The best part, Craven notes, is that the technology aspects take “assume” out of the equation. “Now, when we have an outage with anywhere from 600 to 1,500 contractors onsite, we know they’ve each taken a baseline set of safety orientations and that they know the correct procedures for our mill,” he says.

Additionally, because their badges are encoded with the orientations they’ve taken, contractors simply arrive at the gate and swipe them. If they register green they are good to go. Yellow means they need an annual orientation soon, and red means they can’t work onsite until their safety orientations are up-to-date.

“What we do can be very dangerous,” noted Craven. “If I’m taking 25 percent of my time trying to ensure that our contractors have the basics in safety, then I’m not focusing on the other important areas I need to be.”

For Jason Young, health, safety, and security manager at Domtar Ashdown, using TAPPISAFE has improved efficiencies in contractor recordkeeping. “When a contract employee shows up at the gate, security takes their TAPPISAFE number, which is integrated into our system, and is able to look up their safety history to make sure they meet the necessary orientation criteria to come onsite,” said Young. “And because it’s also integrated into our emergency response system, I can get an immediate count of the number of contractors onsite—even for a (family) emergency.”

While there are many requirements in managing safety programs, Young notes that safety managers must always have the right records available for the right amount of time. He also says he now understands why there are so many rules in place at paper mills.

“I used to think that all the safety manager did was sit in his office, but now I know all the requirements—and recordkeeping is one of the biggest,” said Young. “Our work is based on OSHA requirements and, if I need to prove something, it’s that focus on recordkeeping that enables me to complete the task.”

For example, Young says an auditor can walk in and ask for multiple employee-related safety histories. In the past, some would take a lot of digging to find. Now, he can search TAPPISAFE records either by company name or employee. Internal audits also help verify orientation status of every contractor onsite—as many as 2,000 at a time during major outages.

Young says it’s not only for safety records that he uses the system, but also for the annual mill-wide evacuation they conduct in partnership with their contractors. “It’s included in our site-specific orientation,” Young says, “and is part of their work scope. When we do roll call and can’t account for someone, we call security and send them directly to where they are assigned to work.”

Whether for outages, evacuations, or general safety maintenance, accurate, accessible records are an absolute necessity. Today’s technological advances in electronic record keeping allow safety programs to have instant access to all mill staff and contractors. That’s one less worry for those who have the most important job in the mill: keeping everyone safe!  

TAPPISAFE is a web-based orientation program that allows the workforce to take industry-specific training online so they arrive at the mill ready for gate entry; learn more at