11/15/2023  |  Atlas Stories, ESG

ESG Spotlight: Millar Western

Atlas and the Millar family, who previously owned Millar Western, shared many core values, including safety, which established a strong foundation for our partnership. In 2017, Millar Western joined the Atlas Family and we also completed the Bolt-on of Spruceland Millworks (“Spruceland”), a value-added wood products manufacturer. The safety transformation which occurred at Spruceland is a prime example of how to effectively instill foundational safety culture at an acquired company that is a playbook for all Atlas portfolio companies.

Millar Western completed the sale of its wood products assets, including Spruceland, to Canfor Corporation in December 2021 and continues to operate its pulp mill in Whitecourt, which boasts an outstanding safety record. Sustaining world-class safety requires continuous attention by company Leadership Teams – and Millar Western has pursued this objective relentlessly notwithstanding routinely exceptional safety performance.

The Whitecourt mill’s world-class safety record is a testament to the Leadership Team’s commitment to investing in its people, which in turn drives superior operational and financial performance. At the end of the third quarter, the mill reached its 615th consecutive day without a recordable incident and its 1,634th consecutive day – nearly 4.5 years – without a lost time incident. Despite already boasting an impressive safety record, the Leadership Team in recent years doubled down on efforts to improve performance. Concerted efforts to consistently monitor known points of risk in its processes brought improved performance, and further improvement was achieved through a heightened focus on culture and the processes themselves via modified training practices. Specifically, the Leadership Team hired an additional operator on each crew to provide training in various areas, including hazard identification and chemical awareness. The knowledge gained through this exercise was then shared with contract employees through improved site orientation training to ensure that every individual that walked through the door – whether employed by Millar Western or not – benefitted from the accumulated institutional awareness surrounding safety best practices.

The results of Millar Western’s investments in resources to reach world-class safety performance are best measured in the fostering of a community of engaged, highly skilled associates that is evident to anyone who visits the mill. This foundational focus on safety has, unsurprisingly, gone hand-in-hand with Millar Western’s robust operational and financial performance. This year, record-high electricity prices in Alberta have forced the Leadership Team to take production downtime to avoid peak pricing levels. During this downtime, many associates who otherwise have no work to complete in their designated role have been engaged in preventative maintenance measures. These actions have helped to strengthen production reliability and drive outstanding financial results.

Despite the Millar Western team’s achievements in safety, their journey is far from complete. In the fourth quarter of 2022, the company purchased a small Epsom salt facility utilized predominantly to supply the Whitecourt pulp mill with an essential chemical production input. Though a small facility with far fewer associates than the Whitecourt mill, the Leadership Team has been actively engaged since acquisition in aligning safety procedures to match Whitecourt’s – just as they did previously at Spruceland – and we are confident that the new facility will soon show comparable results.