Aerial view of the Mercer Stendal pulp mill near Arneburg, Germany

Life-Saving Golden Rule: Fit for Duty. Fit for Life.

Mercer’s first of 9 Life-saving Golden Rules is: I come to work fit for duty without being under the influence of alcohol, drugs and/or other substances that impair my ability to work.

For many of us, this goes without saying; however, it is estimated that one in four workplace accidents in Germany is due to impairment: alcohol, drug, or medication abuse. 25%. While that is a staggeringly high number, it is also important to note that not all impairments are due to substance abuse. 

Not All Impairments are Due to Substance Abuse

Did you know that long-term sleep deprivation can lead to similar signs that mimic excess alcohol consumption? Signs include difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness, becoming distracted quickly, and routine tasks that can take extra effort.

This is a very important issue for those of us in organizations where shift work is required. Changing sleep patterns, moving from nights to days, long hours, and in some cases, lengthy transportation times to get to work and home again are taxing on the human body. These types of work environments may impact our employees’ ability to be fit for duty.

If an employee is tired and not able to concentrate with their full attention it vastly increases the potential for an incident to occur. But as we said at the beginning, successful organizations care about their employees, and at Mercer Stendal, we take that responsibility seriously.

Who is to judge if a person is fit for duty? 

That’s a good question, but like many of our workplace safety initiatives, it is the responsibility of every employee. From the employee’s ability to self assess their mental and physical wellbeing, to the supervisor who interacts and assesses each employee from the first shift meeting and then throughout the shift, to that coworker who works alongside the employee – it is a shared responsibility for the health and wellbeing of each member of the workforce creates a culture of trust. 

The employee and employer need to trust each other based upon their aligned desire to keep themselves and the workplace safe.

A Culture of Trust is a Culture of Safety

We see it as our responsibility to support our Mercer Stendal team members in finding a healthy balance between their work and private life. We encourage and facilitate open and mindful interactions. By doing this, critical safety communications are able to take place. We are then able to share our experiences and thoughts on safety. These conversations often lead to enhanced and improved preventative measures. 

Our Mercer Stendal people are participative in hands-on health management, which has been most evident over the past year as our workplace responded and adopted quickly onsite health and safety measures in relation to COVID-19 protocols. Perhaps nothing has been more impactful to our own workforce at Stendal than the ability for us to offer flexible working hours. 

Remaining Flexible

At Mercer Stendal, we are a pulp manufacturing organization that requires our workers to work on teams in different departments to help us produce our softwood kraft pulp 24-hours per day, 7 days per week. To do this effectively, we utilize a six (6) shift pattern, which is unique. 

Our shift workers work in such a way that they have sufficient days off after seven days of working blocks of the late shift, night shift, and/or day shifts. This allows them to refill their tanks and go into the next work cycle invigorated. 

When asked, Roland Schliefke, a Plant Operator in our pulping caustic area, stated, “I see the advantage in the Mercer Stendal shift system as having more free time compared to before. The 35-hour workweek and the elimination of 12-hour shifts on weekends leave more time for socializing.” 

A teammate of Roland’s, Thomas Nestmann, also added, “We now have more days off between shifts and I find the quick change between early, late, and night shifts within a rotation pleasant.”  

Our six-shift system has proven itself over the years and our team members appreciate the system, just as we appreciate what they do for us safely.

Remembering Your People are People

As our 9 Life-saving Golden Rules are Mercer wide and supported in Canada, Germany, and Australia, we encourage each of our Operations to also be flexible in how they manage these rules within their workplace. Mercer Stendal has the ability to offer flexible working hours, as well as providing workplace challenges and activities to their high-performance team members – some demanding – but always to motivate their team members. 

To remain fit for duty without impairment requires a personal commitment to health and safety. The stress of the day-to-day, life’s challenges and issues, and more can impact an employee’s ability to be fit. That is why Stendal’s Health Management team knew that they needed to provide employees with preventive measures such as massages or the ability to access sports clubs. This offers them the opportunity to keep fit and healthy while away from the workplace – so they are fit for duty when they are at work. 

We are proud that many of our employees are active in our sports club ZS Turbine, which offers soccer, volleyball, table tennis, Nordic walking, badminton, and running. With physical health options for fitness, we did not dismiss the need to provide for true nutrition. 

The Right Fuel – The Right Results

If the fuel that runs a pulp mill is the high-quality softwood chips that we source to make some of the world’s best quality pulp, then the quality of fuel we provide our employees is equally important. That is why we provide daily, freshly-prepared food offered in our mill canteen. Freshly prepared meals, in a modern, open-concept room where an employee is able to have a selection of beverages, meal choices, desserts, and perhaps most importantly, relax – this rounds off the total, healthy package in our company. 

While COVID-19 may have impacted our ability to provide the opportunity to sit, chat, and relax safely in our normal manner, we will continue to take care of our people and look forward to offering our full services in the near future.

We Are In This – and Everything – Together

Of course, our employees are aware of their responsibility to contribute to their own health and safety. This is our shared responsibility. They understand they require sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, and plenty of exercise with fresh air – these are the things that significantly increase our well-being and our personal energy levels, allowing us to go about the day fit for duty and focused on the job. 

At Mercer, “Fit for Duty” is the first of our 9 Life-saving Golden Rules and is part of what keeps us Sustainable. By Design.

Mercer Stendal is a subsidiary of the North American group Mercer International Inc. Mercer operates production sites in Germany, Canada, and Australia. Mercer Stendal produces pulp, bioenergy, and various biochemicals from about 3.5 million solid cubic meters of softwood annually. The company employs approximately 455 people, including 30 apprentices. Mercer Stendal’s annual production capacity of kraft pulp is 680,000 tonnes. The biomass power plant at the site is one of the largest of its kind in Germany with a capacity of 148 MWh. For more information, visit our website at