Voyageur Panel celebrates safety mark

Employees at the Voyageur Panel OSB mill in Barwick were praised Monday and Tuesday for their exceptional safety record.
It has been two years since the mill had a lost-time incident and it was having a party to celebrate the occasion.
Balloons were hung up, punch was made, and employees were treated to a catered lunch—complete with perogies and topped off with cake. And this was done four times, once for each shift.
But that’s not all. Each employee received a gift in appreciation for their efforts to create a safe environment. Everyone got to choose from half-a-dozen gifts, from clocks to fishing rods, and were presented with their selection at the luncheons held at noon and 9 p.m. both days.
And to commemorate two years of safety, the mill decided to give away two complete computer systems, including a printer and flat screen monitor, to two lucky employees.
Brad Hyatt won Monday while Les Caul was the winner of yesterday’s draw.
“This is the first time I’ve won something,” Hyatt said shortly after his name was drawn. “Well, I won a lifejacket once.”
Hyatt is a millwright with the maintenance department, who’s been with the mill since start up. “It’s definitely a safe place to work,” he said. “Really safe.”
Still, Hyatt said he’s a little surprised by the safety record. Despite how safe things are there, two years is a long time to go without a serious injury.
“We had a rough time the first few years,” he said, recalling a fatality in 1998 involving someone on the job (another person had been killed on site during construction of the mill).
“Now, we have more safety people and more safety programs.”
One of those is the SafeTrack Observation Program, where employees volunteer to do a planned observation of a co-worker and ask them questions about safety.
The questions are a refresher.
Mike Lowes, the mill’s Safety, Health and Wellness co-ordinator , said the program has been well-received and very successful.
“In 2003, we will offer a draw to Disneyland for people who do three in a month,” he noted.
Lowes added all new employees go through seven weeks of training, including extensive safety training. Three of those weeks are strictly classroom work.
And all employees get refreshers annually on just about every operation in the mill.
But safety isn’t just a top-down protocol. Employees have a “Go home safe” board at the door leading into the mill. It has family pictures on it—basically a picture of anything someone feels is something they want to make it home for.
“It’s the culture around here,” Lowes remarked. “The expectation is safety. It’s part of your job. The guys [and gals] are committed.”
Even with this commitment, two years still is a real accomplishment.
“I don’t think we had a full year in before,” said Hyatt of the last safety streak.
“We’ve got more experience now,” Lowes remarked. “It [experience] has come up, our commitment to training has come up. We’ve really done well.”
“I think we’ve got a good program in place, good training and people who pay attention to detail,” agreed mill manager Percy Champagne.
He also attributed the extended safety record to the experience of the crew, many of whom have been with the mill since start-up.
“People are more experienced and know their jobs better,” he said. “I’ve been in the industry since 1978 and this is the first time I’ve been part of a two-year, lost-time accident celebration.
“These are the guys that did it,” he added, pointing to the employees lined up for lunch Monday at noon. “I’m pretty proud to be associated with this work group and proud of how they take care of themselves.”