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Your safety awareness radar

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Martin Fairbank
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Whenever I see an actor on television or movies at the wheel of a car talking with a front seat passenger I cringe when the driver isn’t paying attention to the road in front of him.

Yes, I know it’s probably filmed in a studio in front of a green screen, but my safety awareness radar is hard to turn off! Blame it on a career of walking through unfamiliar pulp and paper mills and trying to spot and avoid any safety hazards.

In many industries and companies, injury rates have dropped dramatically in recent years, including the forest products industry. Is it because we have built safer facilities and wear more/better safety equipment? That may be part of it, but in reading what many companies say about their safety performance, the common thread seems to be raising safety awareness and promoting it company-wide.

There are all kinds of resources available to learn about working more safely, including the Pulp & Paper Safety Association (PPSA) based in Atlanta, Ga, which holds an annual conference. The chemical company Dupont, who claim to have had no workplace accidents in its plants between 1994 and 2004, developed a safety training program called STOP (safety training observation program), which they sell to other employers to help them make safe behaviour part of the work culture.

Another training program in vogue today is called HOP (human and organizational performance). It’s described as a risk-based operating philosophy that recognizes error is part of the human condition. Some of the concepts of HOP are:

  • People are fallible – even the best people make mistakes;
  • Blame fixes nothing – fix the system, not the employee;
  • Error-causing situations are predictable, measurable and preventable;
  • Individual behaviour is influenced by organizational processes and values;
  • Management’s response to failure matters.

Safer organizations tend to be learning organizations. One best practice employed by some companies in the forest products industry is encouraging employees to submit near-miss incident reports. If management communicates these well and makes changes to reduce the risks exposed in these near-miss reports, it does a good job of promoting a culture of safety awareness and thus preventing accidents from occurring.

So be careful, be aware and be safe!


Martin Fairbank, Ph.D. Martin Fairbank has worked in the forest products industry for 31 years,
including many years for a pulp and paper producer and two years with
Natural Resources Canada. With a Ph.D. in chemistry and experience in
process improvement, product development, energy management and lean
manufacturing, Martin currently works as an independent consultant,
based in Montreal. He is also an author, having recently published
Resolute Roots, a history of Resolute Forest Products and its
predecessors over the last 200 years.


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