Like most companies, Södra is no stranger to contingency planning but the scale of this pandemic has taken everyone by surprise. Like most, we have had to learn and act fast, and all new risk evaluations today now relate directly to COVID-19.
Our Corona taskforce was established in late February to evaluate the risks that coronavirus might pose and to plan contingency measures, involving all departments from Procurement, IT and Logistics to HR, MRO and communications. Our job is to facilitate any changes necessary for us to move quickly if we need to. Initially we met every day to translate the authorities’ rapidly evolving guidelines into practical measures for our operations and we were looking a month ahead.
We now meet several times a week with a focus on the medium term (3-6 months), updating our risk assessments every 1-2 weeks. Our initial fears of severe disruption to the supply chain have fortunately proved unfounded with the outcome better than anticipated. We continue to look for ways to minimize any future disruption however, and the taskforce set up to ensure that decisions could be made quickly where needed is working. For example, we were able to implement new procedures for loading and discharging within a few days.
We’re pleased to report that it has been business as usual at the mills. Absence due to sickness was slightly raised at the end of March but has returned to normal levels, and production is stable across all operations. And while we have seen increased costs in some areas of our supply chain, the reduction in passenger numbers on Sweden’s domestic rail routes, for example, has freed up more space for freight, shortening delivery times.
During this crisis, governments around the world are designating pulp mills as an essential service for society. They recognize that we play a vital role in the manufacture of many products for the healthcare and hygiene sector, but that the energy we deliver to local communities and the national grid is essential, too. As consumers turned to panic buying in the face of uncertainty, one of the first essentials to disappear from supermarket shelves was toilet roll, but there is a growing recognition that we also play a vital role in many important products for hospitals and care.
With this in mind, one of the Taskforce’s subgroups has been conducting an inventory of equipment to see where else we might be able to contribute to Red Cross supplies, with voluntary donations towards personal protective equipment, for example, where our stocks are considered suitable. As well as maintaining output of our existing products, we have sought to make an extra contribution where we can. We have started making hand sanitiser at both Värö and Mönsterås while the latter is also making surface disinfectants (using chemicals we already have on site). We’ll be supplying all Södra operations ensuring we don’t deplete external resources and any surplus will be donated.
Everyone has been eager to cooperate, and we are finding new ways of working together and slashing implementation times for new procedures. We know there will be plenty more to do over the coming months, but rest assured we will keep up the momentum and do all we can to help.
Lotta Björnström, Group Risk Manager
Johan Sjögren, Work Environment and Safety, Södra Cell