Previous work done at the Mercer Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar. Photo: Submitted

Previous work done at the Mercer Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar. Photo: Submitted

Mercer Celgar unveils COVID-19 precautions during maintenance shutdown

About 500 extra workers will be brought in during the shutdown March 6-26

Mercer Celgar management is trying to ease public fears over the influx of workers headed to Castlegar for the pulp mill’s maintenance shutdown next month.

Celgar’s annual shutdown is scheduled for March 6 to 26, and the company says about 500 workers will be needed to complete the required maintenance work. The mill will be spending $20 million over 20 days.

Celgar has been operating as an essential service since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in order to remain open, pulp mills in B.C. are legally required by Technical Safety BC to routinely complete planned and extensive safety inspections plus cleaning and maintenance of boilers, pressure vessels and safety-critical equipment every 18 months.

Members of the company’s management team met with Castlegar city council on Feb. 16 to explain their plans and answer questions. Most of council’s questions centred on how the company was going to keep the community safe from a potential COVID outbreak brought in by outside workers.

As of the middle of February, it had been five weeks since a positive COVID case was diagnosed in the Castlegar area.

The mill has already been operating using an extensive COVID-19 safety plan for its 418 employees and has only had one positive case since the start of the pandemic. That plan has now been expanded to include the operations and people necessary to complete the shutdown projects.

The mill’s director of business excellence Lori Ketchuk told council the work planned for the shutdown had been pared down to only the items that were absolutely necessary.

They have also made an effort to use local contractors wherever possible including Chinook Scaffolding, Midwest Mechanical, Impact Equipment, Striker, Pacific Rim Installations, Venture Mechanical and West Kootenay Cleaners.

Celgar’s managing director, Bill MacPherson, said the contractors hired for the shutdown are long-term partners with the mill that have developed trust with the company.

“They understand the importance of maintaining that relationship,” said MacPherson. “We wouldn’t, for example, bring a contractor in to do this digester overlay that we hadn’t already worked with for many, many years.

“We have confidence they are going to do all the things they need to do in our community because they are part of our community.”

The company does not have exact numbers at this point, but they expect at least half of the extra workers (250) will be from the West Kootenay area and a majority of the remaining workers will come from within B.C. Throughout the shutdown, the number of extra workers on site will fluctuate, peaking at 500.

Two specialized workers from the United States and one from Sweden will be arriving for inspection services and to oversee the installation of a new piece of equipment. In addition, 10 highly specialized welders from the U.S. will be arriving to perform welding in the mill’s digester. The person arriving from Sweden will be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in Canada. However, those arriving from the U.S. as essential workers may not be required to quarantine.

“Mercer Celgar employees, contractors and visitors are expected and encouraged to follow all travel and safety regulations laid out by the provincial health officer while both inside and outside of the workplace,” said Ketchuk

All contractors are required to sign a waiver stating they will follow Celgar’s COVID safety plan.

As for community fears regarding these workers roaming around the West Kootenay’s stores and restaurants, safety manager Jeff Fish said that all restaurants, hotels, etc. are required by WorksafeBC and the province to have their own COVID safety plans and that those plans should be sufficient to mitigate exposures.

“We only have so much control,” said Fish. “We have to rely on the contractors to be professional and we have to rely on the businesses within our community to uphold the laws and regulations that they are held to as well.”

With contractors working 12-to-16 hour shifts, the company expects that interactions between workers and the community will actually be minimal, limited mainly to finding food and accommodations.

Fish also pointed out that pulp mills across the province have been running maintenance shuts downs during the pandemic and that lessons learned at other mills have been incorporated in the Celgar plan.

In a follow up interview with Castlegar News, MacPherson said, “I think we will be successful and effective. I think we understand the risks and I think we are doing everything we can to mitigate them. We are spending lots of time, including right up to the minute we shut down, to figure out if there is more we can do to keep our whole site safe and healthy.”

Employee procedures

Workers are required to complete a daily self-assessment. The company is using an app for the assessments in order to further limit personal contact between employees.

On the advice of the company’s medical director, a Lower Mainland physician, temperature checks will not be used. He advised they can actually increase risk as they require employees to be in close contact with each other and can give both false positives and negatives, giving some people a faulty idea that they are not carrying the illness.

On-site precautions include masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, extra sanitization and staggering of shifts and breaks.

Any employee who is suspected of having COVID-19 will be immediately removed from the work site and quarantined. Cleaning and sanitizing of any areas the person has been in will then be conducted. Close contacts of the suspected case will be notified. Employees will continue to be paid while they await test results in order to discourage anyone from trying to work while sick.

Rapid testing will not be used. MacPherson said they don’t see the tests as useful at this point since anyone with symptoms will be quarantined and undergo testing through Interior Health. He also has concerns over the number of false results rapid tests produce.

Teams of auditors will be on site to ensure protocols are being followed.

MacPherson says both he and the company have a vested interest in ensuring COVID-19 does not spread in the community.

“I live here, my family lives here, we do business here,” he said.

“I think we have a good plan.”

READ MORE: MY COVID STORY: From typical teen to suffering patient



betsy.kline@castlegarnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

castlegarCoronavirusforestry

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Members of the Nelson Nordic Ski Club show off their new snowcat. Photo: Submitted
Nelson Nordic Club celebrates new snowcat

A community fundraising effort led to the purchase

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
Kootenay-Columbia MP supports motion condemning Uighur genocide

Rob Morrison says labelling Uighur persecution as a genocide sends a message to Chinese government

The Skinny Genes Foundation is raising awareness and funds for a rare genetic disorder that claimed both his father and uncle.
NHL players, local businesses help Kootenay man raise funds and awareness for rare genetic disease

Signed NHL jerseys and local business donations up for auction in Skinny Genes Foundation fundraiser

An architectural design proposal from June, 2020, illustrates what a re-developed Hall Street Pier might look like. Illustration: City of Nelson
Nelson receives $1M grant for Hall St. Pier project

The design and extent of the project will be decided in the next few weeks

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Most Read