The Boldt Company had a narrow window of time to rebuild a paper machine for ND Papers—just 45 days, to convert a bleached, lightweight, coated paper asset into one that would produce an unbleached linerboard and corrugated medium. The tight schedule meant shutting down production for over a month while they brought in skilled tradespeople to complete a broad scope of work from the “wet end” to the “dry end” of the machine. In those early days, no one knew we were on the verge of a global pandemic.
Pre-planning for the project started in fall of 2019 and was followed by construction crews arriving on-site in January of 2020. The work plan called for hundreds of tradespeople to join the 350 workers currently employed at the Biron Division in Wisconsin Rapids during the next five months. Precautions such as social distancing, wearing protective masks and daily temperature checks suddenly had as much importance as job site safety and technical machine specs.
Despite Pandemic, Work Continues
ND Paper and The Boldt Company leaders were marshaling their COVID response teams on parallel tracks. Both companies had the same goals—maintaining the safety of their workforces, while advancing the work for the benefit of their customer. ND Paper made the decision to continue the work on the machine install.
“Our precautions were not just about protecting the health of our employees, but also about protecting their livelihoods,” said Dave Falk, vice president and general manager of the ND Paper Biron Division. “It was essential that we moved forward with this project as speedily as we could, but also in a safe environment from a COVID standpoint.” With that in mind, teams started solving the problems of how to work effectively within a pandemic.
Boldt Creates Center of Excellence
For Boldt that meant creating a task force to address facilities and technology, then tapping experts in its own technical services division to pull together a center of excellence. “We quickly accessed the best thinking in the industry to address all the issues surrounding the pandemic,” said Will Lichtig, Boldt’s executive vice president, performance & innovation.
“Our guiding principles were the health of the individual and the health of the organization,” said Holly Lifke, Boldt’s executive vice president of human resources. To make a complicated situation more complex, guidelines needed to be established for craft workers at job sites in states with varying rules. Boldt teams worked closely with project owners, many of whom were also operating as essential industries.
ND Paper was one of those essential industries and its leadership soon convened a corporate team that met daily—weekends included, to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 policy. Team members then adapted corporate guidelines for specific situations at the Biron mill. “To be successful, you need a leadership team that believes the pandemic is a serious matter and takes rapid action. We had that from the top down in our organization,” Falk said.
In addition to preparing the mill for their own employees, ND Paper also had to consider the health and safety of the 650 tradespeople, working across three shifts, needed to convert the B25 machine to produce unbleached paper. At the peak of construction there were as many as 900 mill employees and contract workers on site over three shifts. “Everything we did was about risk mitigation, we didn’t make any differentiation between contractors or our team members,” Falk said.
Protective Protocols Put in Place
Mill employees and contractors were all required to go through health screenings, temperatures were taken prior to entering the facility, anyone exhibiting symptoms was required to report to a supervisor and return home to quarantine. A mandatory face-masking policy was instituted well before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masking. These provisions also applied to all skilled trade workers.
The Boldt Company was responsible for mechanical and civil work on the paper machine, requiring a team of millwrights, ironworkers, carpenters, concrete workers and general laborers. “It required understanding, willingness, flexibility, and a keen focus on the well-being of the team in order to maintain the viability of the project,” said Ken Wilson, Boldt project manager. “Construction had to be planned around worker placement and proximity to one another in order to achieve social distancing wherever possible.”
Boldt crews used corporate guidelines and ND Paper requirements to augment safety protocols on the job site. Among the changes that were made:
- Pre-employment screening for worker origin, previous work locations, potential exposure and personal habits
- COVID information/requirements added to onboarding/safety orientation
- Posted signage and informational materials
- Dedicated tools and additional PPE supplies for each employee (gloves, masks, face shields, fall protection)
- Additional break areas to maximize spacing of individuals
- Sanitizers and cleaning solutions available project-wide
- Staggered breaks reduced the likelihood of people congregating
- Crew-specific safety meetings (in lieu of all-hands)
- Frequent daily cleaning and disinfection of office trailers/break/work areas
- Additional portable toilets with increased cleaning frequency
- Dedicated hand wash station with heated running water
- Minimized meeting attendee numbers and utilized online meetings where possible
According to Wilson, Boldt coordinated between trades to prioritize activities that needed to occur within the 6-foot distance. If distancing could not be maintained, trades workers added face shields and masks to their usual PPE.
Boldt Delivers On Time and Under Budget
“When we implemented the mask policy; they had masks ready to go,” said Mitch Wayne, ND Paper project manager. “We didn’t have to change our deadlines and we were able to keep working in the same manner prior to the pandemic.”
The results speak for themselves. Boldt was able to deliver its scope of work under budget and several days ahead of schedule.