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Story | 03/25/2021 08:59:09 | 4 min Read time

Pandemic precautions: from the identification of risks to practical measures

Fast response with a determined approach and enabling safety culture have helped UPM continue operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

UPM took the COVID-19 pandemic seriously from the very beginning in spring 2020. We received real-time information about the situation early on from our unit in China and quickly established a team to monitor the coronavirus situation and give instructions to our personnel.

Covid-19: Safety and leadership in critical role during exceptional times

“UPM prides itself as a safety-oriented company and we are used to thorough risk assessments, but the scope of this pandemic still surprised us. We were able to respond to the situation quickly thanks to our strong safety culture and experience in sharing best practices across businesses and borders,” says Merja Partio, UPM’s Occupational Health and Safety Director.

Partio says that the company’s global safety network was useful in forming an overall view of the situation and following instructions from local authorities. She finds it especially noteworthy how efficiently the company’s safety guidelines and principles were put into practice.

We were able to respond to the situation quickly thanks to our strong safety culture and experience in sharing best practices across businesses and borders.

Safety is no accident at UPM’s mills

“Our experience in risk management enabled us to come up with solutions in a short space of time and establish UPM’s own guidelines as well as give UPM sites responsibility for implementing the safety instructions. We have all kinds of working environments from offices to plants. Each unit applied the guidelines to best meet their needs,” explains Partio.

Safety and wellbeing

Prioritising hygiene, interactions and transportation

UPM conducted local risk assessments and drafted business continuity plans. Our priority of ensuring our employees stay healthy during the pandemic has been at the heart of everything. UPM’s practical safety measures have included the use of protective equipment, increased cleaning and various special arrangements to avoid the close contact of people.

“Other measures include the establishment of fixed working bubbles within different production environments. We have divided people into teams, so that the same employees work the same shifts and are transported to sites together,” Partio adds.

The adoption of special arrangements has been more challenging at the construction site of a new pulp mill in Paso de Los Toros, Uruguay. In late 2020, approximately 3000 people worked on this site.

“We have been able to keep the construction site running in a safe manner by staggering the employees’ movements on the site by defining dedicated access routes. The high number of employees is not the only challenge faced on the site. A number of external experts, and suppliers are active around the site as well. Visitors have been informed of our safety rules. We have also tested many external employees for the virus,” Partio explains.

Focus on enablement

Partio believes the best lesson UPM has learnt from these unusual circumstances is the importance of finding the balance between guidelines and the resulting measures by treating the matter with the utmost seriousness.

“Our key principle has been to ensure safe working environment and the continuity of our business. We have taken these points into account in our guidelines,” says Partio.

“Our focus has been on finding solutions and enabling continuous operations instead of forbidding everything. Our network of safety experts realised early on in spring that this situation would not be over in just a month or two. We understood that it was important to create long-term plans and find measures that would help UPM pull through this pandemic. Focusing purely on the issues was not conducive to success. This mentality has definitely helped our personnel to take the right approach in this unusual situation.”

Text Timo Nykänen