Saying it’s taking a "safety break," Resolute Forest Products has temporarily shut down operations at its Thunder Bay-area sawmill.

Resolute’s director of communications said it's not uncommon in mills where accidents are happening on the job.

“At the Thunder Bay operation this year, there have been three ... incidents, two that happened in the last month,” Xavier Van Chau said.

But the union that represents about 175 workers at the mill, which is on the Fort William First Nation, calls the decision to send employees home without pay Tuesday morning, "bizarre."

“There's a whole number of questions that arise in my mind,” said Marvin Pupeza, a spokesperson with Unifor.

“How [do] they expect that mill's gonna get safer by sending everybody home? That's not conducive with getting people to be happy about going into the workplace.”

'Safety is our first priority'

Resolute said it's not sure how long the shutdown will last.

"It's a health and safety matter ... [and] safety is our first priority,” Van Chau said. “We feel that it’s very important to take the time to take a pause and focus on what we need to do, from a planning perspective, to prevent any further incidents."

In the meantime, the company is evaluating remuneration options for the nearly 200 workers affected

Pupeza said the most recent incident involved “an outside contractor [who] was climbing up a ladder and our member was below the ladder waiting for him to clear … [when] a wrench fell out of his pouch and broke his nose.”

Pupeza said he has never heard of anything like “sending everybody home for an indefinite period” in his 32-year history in the labour movement.