Seamless cooperation for preventing coronavirus infections

The coronavirus brought a considerable number of special arrangements to the annual maintenance shutdowns of the pulp mills of Metsä Fibre, part of Metsä Group. The healthcare services provider Terveystalo set up testing stations at the mill sites, carrying out almost 2,000 coronavirus tests during the four shutdowns.
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  • Sustainability, 2020

The major test effort was a masterpiece of functioning cooperation.

The efficient and safe operation of Metsä Fibre's pulp mills is ensured with regular annual maintenance shutdowns. During shutdowns, which take approximately one week, the mills carry out the required servicing, cleaning and maintenance work.

Proactive safety work

“At Metsä Group, we all follow strict hygiene and mask instructions, and observe physical distancing rules, avoiding close contact. To prevent infection chains, a health survey was implemented for every person who participated in the work during shutdown, emphasising that work at the mill site was only allowed for those with no symptoms,” says VP Jaakko Anttila, responsible for Metsä Fibre’s pulp production. “Smooth implementation of the shutdown always requires careful advance planning and preparations, but this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic it required exceptionally extensive arrangements and precautionary measures.”

Some shutdown workers were already tested by their own OHC services before entering the mill locality. Most of the workers’ coronavirus tests were implemented by Terveystalo, which always erected its test stations at the mill site a couple of days before the shutdown started.

Huge joint effort

“For the annual maintenance shutdowns of Kemi and Joutseno mills, we tested all those who had arrived from abroad during the preceding 14 days before they were admitted to the mill site. However, just before the shutdown at the Äänekoski mill, the coronavirus situation worsened in both Central Finland and Finland as a whole, so we decided to quickly extend the scope of coronavirus tests to apply to all other persons coming from outside the mill as well,” Anttila says. “Every external shutdown worker was required to have a negative Covid-19 test result before entering the mill site.”

“Organising the tests for the mills for the extended scale and to such a quick schedule wouldn’t have succeeded without seamless cooperation between Metsä Fibre and Terveystalo, substantial allocation of resources, close communication and people exceeding themselves. The fact that the situation coincided with the popular autumn holiday period brought its own challenges. Terveystalo did a really great job, and was able to organise the required professionals and equipment for the site. Our own personnel also exceeded themselves brilliantly in this exceptional situation. A good cooperative spirit was maintained by all throughout the project,” says Anttila.

Almost 2,000 tests

“During the shutdowns at Metsä Fibre, Terveystalo carried out almost 2,000 Covid-19 tests. Because the tested people had no symptoms, a sample was also taken from them all for PCR tests in addition to the rapid test,” says Piia Aarnisalo, the director responsible for laboratory diagnostics at Terveystalo. “We used rapid antigen tests, carried out with ArcDia’s mariPOC equipment, and PCR tests, carried out at the lab of Synlab Finland Oy. We introduced parallel rapid tests for this project, gaining valuable information about the new test method.” The rapid tests produce results just a few hours after the sample is taken.

“The testing requirement allowed the tracing of a symptomless coronavirus infection at the mill at a very early stage. Department-specific access routes and segregated social premises and canteens had been organised for the mill to minimise close contact, and other strict precautionary measures were also in place. However, even a single person carrying a Covid-19 infection into the site would have led to having to quarantine several persons or teams critical for implementing the annual maintenance shutdown, for example,” stresses Sami Sabour, the OHC physician in charge at Terveystalo.

“Safety culture is very advanced at Metsä Group, and Metsä Fibre's mills introduced precautionary measures exceeding the official requirements at an early stage. This has proved to be the correct approach, and we’ve avoided any spread of infection,” Sabour continues.

Safety is a team effort

Organising the tests was a major effort for both Metsä Fibre and Terveystalo. It also required many practical arrangements such as water points, electrical power, telecom connections, and suitable facilities using cargo containers and tents.

“Organising the rapid antigen tests at the localities required test equipment to be transferred, official permits to be applied for, personnel to be trained and a process of high quality and safety to be created. Tests were analysed around the clock. We also succeeded in achieving quick PCR sample transport and results. The project was planned well and was in general a great demonstration of teamwork and extra effort by all involved,” Aarnisalo says.

“This was a very good practical example of how safety is above all a team effort,” says Anttila.

The 2020 annual maintenance shutdowns at Metsä Fibre’s pulp mills have been completed for now, but the uncompromisingly proactive work to prevent Covid-19 infections and infection chains continues.