The Äänekoski bioproduct mill is taking the strictest of precautions against the coronavirus – all personnel are involved in developing new working practices

​At Metsä Fibre's bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, exceptional practices are being implemented at work to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections. Some of the new procedures have been found to be so good that they will continue even after the crisis.

​The world has undergone a major change during the past two months with the spread of the coronavirus and the pandemic has had an impact on the operation of Metsä Group mills.

Ilkka Poikolainen, mill manager of the bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, is responsible for the work of approximately 150 employees. He says that the fight against the COVID-19 virus was started immediately at the mill.

"We have a crisis management team for this kind of situation, and the chief shop steward and industrial safety delegate have now been included in the team. The team has three meetings concerning the coronavirus situation every week, and is closely monitoring the development of the situation", Poikolainen says.

"We have implemented a lot of measures to prevent infections and the spread of coronavirus, and it is great to see that the work has produced results. Production at the mill is running as usual, and chains of infection have so far been avoided."

The procedures apply to everyone working in the mill area

The instructions and communication at the Äänekoski bioproduct mill during the coronavirus situation consist of three main points: employees must not come to work when they are ill or experience even mild flu symptoms, hand hygiene must be observed at all times and close contact must be avoided. The instructions apply to everyone working in the mill area.

Face masks are used in situations where contact cannot be fully avoided. For instance, if two people are travelling in the same car, both must wear a face mask.

In addition, the personnel have been divided into smaller working groups, additional space has been arranged and partition walls have been constructed in control rooms and other facilities. New meeting rooms and backup control rooms have been set up in portable buildings.

Some office employees have switched to working remotely. Specific pairs of employees work in turns so, one of them works from home for a week, and then the roles are switched.

"Meetings are primarily arranged through Teams or Skype during the coronavirus situation. This has also provided us with positive benefits, for instance, at the mill's morning meetings: we have in fact had more participants than before! This is one example of an operating model that we may make use of in the future."

Visitors are not allowed in the mill area at all. Drivers of chemical trucks carry out the handover of freight by telephone with the control room and leave the waybills in a closed room where the mill staff will retrieve them at a later date.


Small things make the difference under exceptional circumstances

The procedures are communicated effectively and through several channels. Illustrated instructions for the exceptional circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been placed in elevators, along corridors and on the doors of toilet facilities.

Special attention has been paid to improving the level of hygiene at the mill. The frequency of cleaning has been increased and surfaces are cleaned and disinfected rigorously in the control rooms.

"Keyboards in common use are one potential cause of chains of infection. Because of this, the keyboards are protected with a plastic film that is replaced whenever the shift changes. This has been such a clear improvement in the level of hygiene that we are also considering continuing this after the coronavirus situation."

Towards the end of the year, an analysis will be made of which good practices, used under these exceptional circumstances, should also be observed in the future.

"This is a team activity that requires discipline and cooperation. Everything works when everyone follows the instructions. And this not just a question of doing as you are told; we have received many good proposals for action from our personnel that we have already implemented", the mill manager says.

Ensuring the safety of employees is the most important task

If an employee is experiencing even the slightest symptoms of flu, the employee is put in quarantine to wait for the result of a coronavirus test. Potential chains of infection are investigated at the same time. According to Poikolainen, tests are carried out with a low threshold, and the overall amount of sick leave has been low.

The easing of these exceptional measures has not yet been discussed, since it is difficult to predict the progress of the pandemic.

"Even though society is slowly beginning to be re-opened, we will follow our own programme at the mill and closely monitor the situation. The most important thing is that we will be able to eliminate potential chains of infection and keep people healthy."

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