Ardent Advocate: Q&A with New WPAC Safety Committee Chair Julie Griffiths

We recently sat down with Julie Griffiths, newly appointed chair of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada’s (WPAC) Safety Committee.  She replaces Scott Bax, who served as chair for 12 years and supported many of our sector’s ground-breaking safety initiatives. A big thanks to Scott for his leadership and we look forward to his continued participation on the safety committee.

In this interview Julie shares her philosophy on safety leadership and her thoughts on WPAC’s recently released 2023 workplan. Julie holds an undergraduate and master’s degrees in earth sciences from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and currently works as the quality, sustainability and environmental program co-ordinator for Shaw Renewables in Shubenacadie, N.S.

Tell me what made you agree to take on the role as chair of the Safety Committee?

I was excited to take on a new role. I’ve worked with the WPAC team on a couple of projects over the last few years and have gained a lot of knowledge and skill from participating. The Safety Committee is providing top notch, front of the line research and resources to industry, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Tell me a bit about your background and experience in safety?

Early on in my career at Shaw, I was taught that safety is the top priority. So really, it’s been at the forefront of everything that I do. About a year ago, I took on role as chair of Shaw’s Dust and Fire Management Team. Our team commits to goals of zero fires by continuous fire prevention improvements. I’ve learned that there’s always opportunities to better our safety systems.

What do you think you will bring to the committee in your new role?

The role of the Safety Committee is to share best practices as the industry evolves. I try to engage people through brainstorming so I’m hoping maybe I can bring more great ideas out of people.

Who is the Safety Committee? Is it just companies or can anyone join?

The Safety Committee includes everyone that can contribute to making our industry safer. We are always open to new members, ideas, and initiatives. The committee helps industry stay on the leading edge of safety. We don’t want anyone to be left behind. Ideally, we’d like to see the committee grow to have full representation across Canada and across sectors. So, I would ask, who is representing your team?

Do you see any challenges trying to bring multiple provinces together to talk safety?

We’re all one industry making one product. We’re either exporting it or we’re selling it locally. And yes, we may use different equipment and fibre, but in the end, we are united by our shared commitment to safety.

Why should companies participate in WPAC’s Safety Committee?

The advantage of participating in the WPAC Safety Committee is that industry can address challenges and opportunities together, rather than just reinventing the “safety wheel” at each company. The monthly one-hour meetings are efficient, well run and packed with valuable learnings and resources to bring back to your teams. Through the committee, members can help build new safety initiatives from the ground-up while participating in pilots and accessing vital information along the way.

Do you think there’s a link between safety culture and attracting good workers?

Absolutely. Having a safety culture and a proven track record for your organization is going to be high on the list for prospective employees. It’s important to show your employees that you care and have an invested interest in their safety.  Basically, a strong safety culture drives a positive reputation with our workforce, customers, regulators and the public.

Tell me about the 2023 workplan – what are the key priorities and why are they important?

The committee’s annual work plan focuses in on a range of topics to elevate industry safety. The key objectives for this year’s work plan include:

  1. Sharing learnings on improving dryer drum safety;
  2. Continuing to develop core Plant Operator competency resources;
  3. Supporting activities for the implementation of Process Safety Management;
  4. Reviewing process safety incidents and identify key learnings; and
  5. Holding monthly meetings and expanding our safety network.

In terms of the workplan what stands out for you?

It’s really the ongoing commitment to continuous improvement. Status quo just isn’t an option. The workplan reflects what the companies and employees are concerned about. For example, the plant operator resources will be game changers in streamlining operator training. The shared safety learnings that came out of the committee’s belt dryer project were remarkable, so I’m also looking forward to the work on dryer drum safety.  I also believe the work on process safety management is advancing industry safety.

In the past year, several safety initiatives hands on participation at the plant level; why is this important?

Employee safety is the organization’s responsibility, and we owe it to our teams to show up, participate, and inform. The work that was done on Critical Control Management, for example, in B.C. was a huge success because almost every plant invested the people and time to learn and build processes that worked for their plants.

When it comes to attending the monthly calls, giving an hour of your time to provide input for the greater good of safety for the whole industry isn’t a big ask. Something you’ve learned in your pilot plant could be a big learning that everybody can benefit from, or something that you learned on this call might save someone’s life.

How are we getting the message out about all the great safety research initiatives?

A part of it is holding people accountable, you know, checking back in to ask, “What is your response to this? Did you take it any further than your inbox?”

Being a part of the Safety Committee is an opportunity for people to share information that makes a difference on so many levels and directly impacts frontline employees.

To be successful in safety as a sector, and for you personally in your role as the new chair, what do you need from the committee members?

Let’s keep it real: there are no shortcuts to safety. If you aren’t already on the committee, then get on board, or get someone on your team to join. One hour a month is a small commitment for the extensive safety knowledge and resources that you’ll take away from the committee.

At the end of the day, it’s your employees and their families who will benefit from your organization’s participation. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Help us to make safety a part of our industry’s shared culture.

To read the Safety Committee’s 2023 Workplan click here.

This article was originally published by Canadian Biomass, a national media brand providing coverage of the emerging biomass, bioenergy and bio-products markets. See for more information.