A positive chemical reaction – changed attitudes towards chemical safety

Published 26 April 2017
Protective clothing, gas meters, regular trainings, informative posters and labels on doors, pipes and containers – the importance given to chemical safety is immediately obvious in every Stora Enso mill. Since chemicals are essential for our production processes, chemical safety has always been an important part of our sustainability agenda, but over the past decade our customers and employees have taken even more interest in the issue.

Using and producing chemicals safely

Various chemicals are needed to enhance the quality of Stora Enso's renewable products. "Starch is used to strengthen paper, for example, and fillers are used to enhance brightness; while chemicals are also needed in the pulp making process to extract cellulose from wood fibre," explains Ulrika Ljungberg, Stora Enso's Chemical Safety Manager.

Stora Enso also produces bio-based chemicals. "Useful tall oil, turpentine and lignin can be extracted as side streams during pulp making. To make the best use of all the chemicals and side streams, our production must be smart and responsible," Ljungberg adds.

The underlying safety mentality is the same across all Stora Enso's 63 production units: everybody must get home safe every day. This goal can be achieved by ensuring that all personnel carefully follow well thought out procedures.

Integrating safety into routines

To ensure a healthy work environment and sustainable environmental practices, chemical safety has to be a fundamental part of everyone's everyday work. "Every shift starts with a steering meeting to share information, where safety – including chemical safety – always tops the agenda," explains Viktoria Sundqvist, Development Engineer at Kvarnsveden Mill, Sweden.

"We have a lot of tools in use both at the mill level and the group level," explains Terttu Heinonen, Environmental Manager at Sunila Mill, Finland. "At our mill, for example, we've launched a concept 'Think before you act'. This means that before you start any new task, you have to ask yourself questions like: do I have the proper protective gear on, and is the environment I'm entering safe?"

Sounds simple? It's supposed to be. The key is embedding these safety practices to make them integral to daily decisions and workplace culture.

New attitudes

Ljungberg, Heinonen and Sundqvist have seen a clear shift in employees' behaviour with regard to chemical safety over the last ten years. "One good example of this change can be seen in the way people react to the safety observations we've been making for many years. If, for example, someone reminds a colleague to put on protective glasses, their reaction will be to show gratitude, whereas earlier they might have been offended," says Sundqvist.

"There is definitely a new culture of open discussion of safety issues at the mills," echoes Heinonen.

More information about chemicals

Ljungberg, Heinonen and Sundqvist also see a growing need to provide customers with more information on chemicals. "We receive a lot of enquiries about the chemicals we use," Heinonen says. "Thanks to initiatives such as the EU REACH regulation, we're now able to get more precise information on the chemicals we use from our suppliers, so we can also now inform our customers better about them," Ljungberg adds.

Nevertheless, in the ever-evolving area of chemical safety procedures, our task will never be completed. "Chemical safety is an endless learning process. We need to continuously share information internally and externally, renew routines, and evaluate our chemical safety check-lists," emphasises Sundqvist.