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Essity Takes Steps To Protect Staff During COVID-19

Essity Makes Donation To Mercer County Health Department

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Essity recently donated supplies and PPE to the Mercer County Health Department to distribute to local schools. From left: Safety Manager Pete Petersen, Health Department Interim Director and Environmentalist Cathy Akins and Administrative Specialist and MRC Coordinator Stacy Blacketer.

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

Last week, Essity donated $2,500 worth of supplies and personal protective equipment to the Mercer County Health Department, but that’s not the only thing the company has done to battle the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Thursday, Essity—formerly known as Wausau Paper—donated 3,000 masks, 20 one-gallon bottles of hand sanitizer and 20 face shields to distribute to local schools when they reopen.

In early March, Nick Ruof, Essity’s operations manager for converting lines, reached out to the Mercer County Health Department to ask for guidance on COVID-19.

On April 27, the health department toured Essity’s Harrodsburg plant.

Since the tour, Ruof and Pete Petersen, the safety manager, have continued working with the health department to ensure that Essity is up to date on all changes in county and state compliance.

The company also monitors federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The company, a leading global hygiene and health company, has also taken extensive steps to protect its employees, including approximately 500 people who work at the Harrodsburg paper plant.

John Wells, site manager for Essity’s Central Region, said the corporation does business in 150 countries around the world. He said that worldwide reach gave the corporation a jump on handling the pandemic.

“In early March, the Harrodsburg site encouraged employees to stay home if not feeling well; required face coverings at all times, checked temperatures; and encouraged proper (and increased) hand hygiene

In addition, the Harrodsburg plant put the following protocols in place:

• Rearranged meeting rooms to support social distancing

• Installed floor markers indicating six-foot increments around the time clock area

• Implemented contactless shift changes with designated entry and exit points so that groups do not cross

• Increased cleaning and disinfecting of common surfaces and touchpoints

• Reconfigured lunch and break areas and meeting rooms to designate 6’ spaces for social distancing

• Separated break spaces for individual production groups; groups do not cross with each other

• Limited visitors to business-critical events; all visitors are kept separate from ongoing business and must complete an entrance check and questionnaire

• Continuing to remain understanding, flexible and agile.

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One of the ways COVID-19 gets spread in industrial settings is by workers shouting to be heard over machinery. Where appropriate, Essity encourages employees to text, email or tele-conference.

“We are continually looking at new innovations and technologies to help us best manage COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing requirements, that will help keep our employees as safe as possible,” Wells said.

One of the ways COVID-19 is spread in factory settings is by people talking loudly to be heard over machinery and people leaning in to hear. 

Wells said Essity has taken steps to change the ways people behave within the plant.

“Everyone is much more aware of even the simplest natural actions, such as talking and being in close distance to other employees,” he said. Wells said they have challenged employees to be more aware.

If employees need to have talk while the equipment is running,  Wells said they try to hold the conversation  where it is quieter.

While workers are not permitted to use their phones while operating production equipment or wheeled vehicles, Wells said they are encouraged to text while on the floor as well as to take supporting photos and videos.

“This is especially handy for discussing machine maintenance or as an alternative to physical conversations during the workday,” he said. “It is a very useful and efficient tool.”

He said they moved the break rooms to areas further from the noise so that people don’t have to yell.

Wells said the manufacturing floor is well suited for social distancing.

“There is already substantial space between staff around the machinery and between various production lines,” he said.

In addition, Essity no longer conducts in-person meetings. Wells said Essity is a largely digital company and has many communication options. From texting, email, instant messaging and in-house message boards.

Recently, Wells said the company trained employees on a new piece of equipment using a socially distanced outdoor ‘auditorium’ with a screen and speakers.

“In general, we are utilizing video more than ever,” he said.

Wells has been in the paper business for 35 years. He was asked how the COVID-19 pandemic ranked compared to other pandemics the company has faced.

“I have never seen anything that has brought so much uncertainty in the safest way to operate for such an extended period of time,” he said. “COVID-19 takes on a new twist every few weeks.”

Wells said the biggest challenge Essity faces due to the pandemic is uncertainty.

“The safety of our employees is our top priority, and not knowing what the next development will be, was (and continues to be) the most difficult aspect of the pandemic,” he said.

He pointed out that Essity’s Harrodsburg plant—as well as all of its sites in the US and Canada—had a solid month’s head start on implementing global safety policies in the local workplace well before they were required to do so by the state of Kentucky or other states, because Essity sites in other parts of the world were already experiencing the pandemic.

“Our leadership was very proactive, and our local teams were all very agile, creative and responsive and took the situation very seriously,” Wells said. “No one waited to see what would happen in the United States, it was assumed that the situation would be like Asia and Europe. In early March, the plant was actively updating its protocols around product safety and employee safety, even preparing a ‘what does it mean to socially distance?’ memo to Harrodsburg employees.”

Bare shelves in the toilet paper aisle have become a common site to shoppers both here and across the nation. Wells said once Essity became aware there was going to be an increase in demand for paper products they began adding shifts and adjusting schedules.

While Essity has operations around the world, he said there have been no disruptions to the company’s supply chain due to the pandemic. Wells said Essity has taken steps to avoid any disruptions.

“Where appropriate, we have increased inventory levels of raw materials to ensure supply,” he said. “Our products are made with recycled paper fibers, so to mitigate risk, we stocked up on wastepaper used in our recycled paper production processes. We also stocked up on boxes and packaging materials. These were areas we expected could be impacted. Not knowing how long the pandemic would last, we worked to secure inventory.”

Essity’s headquarters are in Stockholm, Sweden. The company employs about 46,000 people worldwide.

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