As the pandemic broke out in 2020, much of the focus was on hand hygiene, socialising and mobility. As understanding of the mechanism of transmission has improved, the focus has shifted to close contacts, safe distances and the use of respiratory protection, not forgetting good hand hygiene.
All measures are based on risk assessment and local conditions. Testing has been carried out by actively seeking the most appropriate methods available on the market. The pandemic will continue to affect congregations between countries.
The success of the Uruguay workshops will require a rigorous COVID protocol
In Uruguay, at the Paso de los Toros pulp mill construction site and at the Montevideo port terminal, work is progressing well despite the COVID-19 situation. More than 6,000 people are currently working at the various construction sites. The robust and comprehensive COVID protocol, which has been in place since the beginning of the pandemic and is being continuously developed in line with local and international best practices, has ensured smooth operations.
The large number of workers and the large number of experts and suppliers moving around the region make the Uruguayan sites a challenge. The sites have been kept running normally without compromising safety, for example by staggering people's movements, demarcating access routes and providing testing.
"The protocol covers the entire site, including the entrance to the site, the canteen and the offices, as well as their cleaning. The aim is to distribute and differentiate all site traffic. Labour transport will take into account bus capacity, air conditioning and seating arrangements. Cleaning of accommodation will be intensified and accommodation capacity will also be limited. Those who test positive will be accommodated in separate buildings," says Gerardo Galimberti, Director, Safety & Security of the Paso de los Toros project.
Each area has prominent signage on hygiene rules and safety distances. Contractors were assigned separate COVID coordinators at the beginning of the pandemic to facilitate communication. External experts hired by UPM assessed the functionality and timeliness of the protocols. Close cooperation, testing and timely communication have reduced the number of infections.
"The screening strategy and capacity has been developed from the early stages of the pandemic to the present day. We started with an external testing service for all employees and soon added our own testing equipment to support this. We added rapid test kits for symptomatic cases and, most recently, our own PCR laboratory to support these efforts," says Galimberti.
The testing strategy covers all workers, suppliers, drivers and others who come to the sites. There are clear criteria for access to the site and monitoring has become routine. During the peak of the pandemic, the entire site was tested every two weeks and a 24-hour health service was set up. Returning from holiday requires sampling before starting work.
During 2021, around 40,000 coronavirus tests were carried out in Paso de los Toros.
UPM has also participated in a vaccination campaign with the national health authorities to increase the number of vaccinated workers.
German mills had their own vaccination programme
UPM mills in Germany and Austria have been working under the guidance of locally established crisis teams.
"We immediately introduced comprehensive hygiene regulations, safety distances and contact minimisation. We also offered free face masks and tests to all our employees," says Stefan Felsl, HR Manager at the Augsburg mill in Germany.
Contact tracing has been routinely carried out. In case of possible and confirmed cases of infection, immediate quarantine measures have been followed. The measures have required close internal communication within the mills and cooperation with doctors outside the mill.
UPM started its own vaccination campaign in the spring to support the national vaccination programme.
This required first establishing the necessary infrastructure and then procuring the necessary medical equipment, the vaccine itself and additional medical staff. UPM’s own doctors administered the vaccinations and they were assisted by external medical staff and volunteer colleagues.
"We offered free vaccinations and vaccinated around 1,400 people at various sites, including employees and their family members."
According to Mr. Felsl, the measures have been successful in preventing internal chains of infection. The vaccination campaign, combined with comprehensive hygiene measures, flexible teleworking, safety distances and the use of face masks, have helped to control the pandemic. "Our local crisis teams have done an excellent job in managing the situation," says Felsl.
Intensified testing in Finland
Throughout the pandemic, UPM has encouraged its employees to test themselves with the lowest possible threshold. A weekly testing point was set up at the Group head office in Helsinki, where those without symptoms have been able to get tested. The testing point has received positive feedback from employees. The testing point has been the only one of its kind. The head office employs nearly 600 people and has been the focus of business-critical operations.
Following the start of major renovation work at the Lappeenranta biorefinery last May, an efficient and extensive testing and screening system was set up on site. The biorefinery used PCR testing for the diagnosis of viral infections by the healthcare system, as well as home testing.
UPM offered the sports hall at the Kaukas mills in Lappeenranta to the occupational health department for six days for vaccinations. In Rauma and Pietarsaari, UPM's occupational health services provided vaccinations at the occupational health care facilities.