The difference a union makes: Responding to fatalities in the pulp and paper industry.

Paper roll

In 2010, two fatalities occurred in the pulp and paper industry: one at a unionised workplace, the other at a non-unionised site. The difference in the responses was striking, writes Denise Campbell-Burns, National Coordinator, Pulp and Paper Industry, Health, Safety and Environment Unit. 

How a unionised site deals with a fatality

At a paper mill in NSW a pedestrian was fatally injured after colliding with a forklift carrying pulp bales.

As this was a unionised site, the union was notified of the incident within 20 minutes of it occurring.

The company and union immediately established a joint investigation team. With the union involved, the investigation was transparent, accountable and focussed on the root cause of the tragedy.

Following a five week investigation, 12 key recommendations were presented back to company and union, all of which were accepted. The recommendations were quickly implemented and actively involved senior union delegates at the site.

A Safety Alert was issued and distributed by the Pulp & Paper Industry Health, Safety and Environment Unit across all businesses in the sector, with the aim of improving safety knowledge and practice.

Since this incident and the implementation of the investigation’s recommendations the workers and management at the site collectively improved their safety performance, significantly reducing their first aid & medical incidents.  Last year was no time lost to injury at the mill.

How a non-unionised site deals with a fatality

At a paper finishing and converting plant in NSW an observer was fatally injured when a 400kg reel fell on him as a truck was being unloaded.

As this was a non-unionised site, it was difficult to ascertain and confirm any facts about the incident.  WorkCover NSW were reluctant to share details of the incident, citing the privacy of the company and individual.

It was also impossible to be confident that appropriate preventative actions had been taken. What is known is that no pulp & paper industry Safety Alert was produced – a key way of lifting safety standards in the industry, especially following such a serious incident.

Eight weeks after the incident, the CFMEU Pulp & Paper Workers District Federal Secretary wrote to the Heads of Department, WorkCover NSW requesting a comprehensive review of traffic management practices in the sector following this and a number of incidents in a short space of time. No response was ever received. 

Stand up. Speak out. Come home.

CFMEU members, including in pulp and paper industry, work in some of the most dangerous industries in the country – where a worker is seriously injured or killed every six minutes. Unions play a vital role in standing up and speaking out on health and safety so that workers can come home safely to what matters most.

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Ian Young

“I was worried I’d lose my job. Look where it got me.”

The CFMEU is Australia's main trade union in construction, forestry and furnishing products, mining and energy production.

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