Safety in the workplace in the tissue sector: some basic elements

Safety in the workplace is the subject of specific and wide-ranging legislation. It establishes the rules which all companies must follow in order to guarantee their personnel the best possible level of safety.

Ing. A. Mazzeranghi

For the countries part of the European Union, legislation concerning safety in the workplace derives from a mutual origin.

Therefore, we can affirm that all countries of the EU guarantee their personnel a minimum level of such safety. The principles through which the aims of safety are pursued are the same also beyond the communal boundaries, although the legislative dispositions can present strong differences.

In any case, there are laws and regulations on safety matters in the workplace which treat aspects of general interest.

Somehow, these aspects could be defined as transversal; that is, they refer to more than one industrial department. We could cite some examples, such as: chemical hazards, acoustic pollution or danger deriving from the handling of work tools. On the other hand, there are no specific documents for individual industrial sectors, unless they are very particular ones, or environments that are strongly subjected to risk situations, i.e., mines, building sites or shipyards.

Consequently, it is up to the companies, with the support of field associations and of individuals who have matured specific experiences, to interpret laws and regulations in relation to their own specific issues on safety. In this article, in order to highlight the major issues and to find the proper methods to adopt for their possible solutions, we would like to first give a general view on safety in the tissue production field. Subsequently, we hope to further examine each single aspect in the coming editions of this magazine.

SOURCES OF RISK IN THE TISSUE SECTOR. For the personnel, each industrial sector (some more, some less) presents professional risks like accidents or illnesses: there are no “risk-free” work situations. Of course, the entities of these risks vary noticeably according to the work situation. It is natural to think that in a foundry there are more hazards than in an office. The tissue sector is situated at an intermediate level: unfortunately accidents happen, even if not with the same frequency and gravity compared to other sectors. Therefore, it is necessary to act vigorously in order to improve the safety of the sector, in the workplace, aiming at a long-term target of no hazards. This target will not be easy to reach without real involvement on the part of all interested parties, from the employees to the employers, not excluding the boards of directors of the larger groups.

In order to initiate this line of thought, we have to focalise our attention on the typical risks of the sector, such as those elements inherent in the industrial process, which constitute significant sources of risk. Such risks can be mitigated and kept under control through the adoption of the proper measures, but the first step must always be their precise identification. To sustain this ‘logical priority’ we have summarised the possible flow of the risk evaluation process and the identification of safety measures, re-elaborated based on the UNI EN 1050.

Therefore, the question is: what are the principal sources of risk and the correlated dangers, which can be found in the tissue sector? Or: what are the stages of the global production process where it is possible to find significant sources of risk?

Unfortunately, in almost all the stages of the production processes which convert raw material into tissue paper, elements of risk are present. So let’s try to follow the production process, starting from the unloading and storage of the raw material up to the delivery of the finished product. In this flow it is possible to find two actual stages of production, in italic, amongst which are interposed stages of material handling and storage.

Essentially, the flow of the process stages is the following:

1. Receipt and warehousing the raw materials

2. Transfer of raw materials to the tissue production process

3. Production of tissue

4. Transfer of the reels to the warehouse and storage

5. Transfer of the reels to the converting lines (rolls, table napkins, handkerchiefs and inter-folded products)

6. Converting and packaging of the product (including palletizing)

7. Transfer of the finished product to the warehouse

8. Shipment (loading the finished product on transport means)

Examining all the stages of handling and of storage it is possible to verify the presence of historically renowned sources of risk, very important also for the amount of accidents which have taken place recently. There are two main themes: methods of storage and transportation and handling of the materials.

FOR EXAMPLE, CELLULOSE IN BALES, STORED IN WAREHOUSE YARDS, HAS BEEN A CONTINUOUS SOURCE OF SERIOUS ACCIDENTS. Despite efforts to prevent humidity from penetrating into the bales, inflating them, therefore making them unstable on stacks, the risk of falling of the stack continues to exist unless the height is restrained. But the problem does not stop there; in some cases, stored piles have fallen due to a water leakage which, again, created humidity in the stacks at the bottom of the pile. Therefore the situation, as much as it appears trivial, must be kept under control, keeping in mind that in raw material warehouses, there can be some people who circulate on foot. Obviously a similar problem can be found with recycled raw materials.

The situation regarding the intermediate reel warehouses is different, because material rarely falls, except in some cases of bad manoeuvring of the forklift or overhead crane. However, it is certain that if a reel situated in the second or third level of a pile happens to fall, the potential damage that it could cause to a person could be very serious. The hazard is more frequent when the finished product is stored on surmounting pallets. In this case, if the product is ‘full of air’, it is possible that the palletized product situated on the lower pallet of the pile gives in, making the whole pile unstable. In this case, particular external conditions are not necessary, unlike in the case of cellulose, but everything depends on the constitution of the pallet. Even in this case, we cannot exclude the possibility of people transiting on foot in the finished products warehouse, except in unusual cases when the product is stored in automatic warehouses, which is a very rare solution used in this sector.

ANOTHER ELEMENT WHICH HAS CAUSED A NUMBER OF SAFETY PROBLEMS is the mechanical handling of material through forklifts and also through overhead cranes. In this specific sector the safety risks caused by the forklift prevail, also because it is more widely used. One of the most critical aspects is that often the load restricts the driver’s rear view (bales of raw material, reels, or pallets of finished product). Therefore, conditions of poor visibility must be resolved. On the other hand, there are fewer accidents caused during the manoeuvring of the overhead crane, but the possibilities of hazards are high. What could happen if a reel fell off during the shift from the paper machine to the rewinder? Often, during the manoeuvre, people can be operating in that area, therefore become exposed to possible accidents.

If we could calculate some accident and near-accident statistics in the sector, we would realize that today many of these accidents happen in relation to the situations previously described. In Italy, at least, such accidents prevail in number, but also in gravity, with respect to those deriving from the use and maintenance procedures of machines, themselves characterised by considerable sources of risk. This demonstrates how, in the last ten years, the safety aspect of machinery has noticeably improved.

LET’S SEE ALSO THIS SECOND ASPECT OF SAFETY IN DETAIL. As mentioned previously, both paper machines as well as converting machines can be quite dangerous. Hazards are created by mechanical devices in motion (mainly by rotating rolls), sharp elements (for example, log saw blades), pressurized fluids (mainly, steam in the yankee), residual energy in case of maintenance (pneumatic and/or hydraulic), etc. Furthermore, the risks deriving from electricity must be considered, although with the correct functioning of the systems, only assigned maintenance people should be exposed to such danger, and we assume that these are people adequately informed and trained.

In the past, the most serious accidents with paper machines took place during major maintenance operations or during interventions like wire change or felt change, which require a strong interaction between man and machine, associated with materials handling and with work done on elevated platforms. During normal machine operation, the most dangerous element is the pope shaft: being partially accessible, it can be the cause of dangerous accidents during the release of the reel, if a person is present in the area. Still regarding paper machines, it is important to highlight harmful accidents tied to the collapse of the yankee, an event which, fortunately, rarely happens. But it is nonetheless important to never neglect such a source of danger.

With converting machines, on the other hand, the most frequent accidents were caused during the operation or the preparation of moving devices or machine devices that, due to human mistakes or to the release of residual energy, have made quick and sudden movements. Many of the accidents caused by machine devices were not very serious, but some did have serious consequences. This made machine engineers adopt increasingly effective solutions in order to reduce the possibilities of interaction between dangerous elements and the machine operators. There have been great results for normal machine operations, but because of the characteristics of the finished products, it has not been possible to reduce to zero the level of interaction between man and machine during the preparation and adjustment phases. And this is all the more true for maintenance operations. A good case in point is the blade change operations on log saws.

HUMAN BEHAVIOUR IS AMONG THE MAIN CAUSES OF ACCIDENTS. Examining the main accidents which have taken place during these last years in the tissue sector, it is possible to see that, most of the times, human influence has played an important role. It can often be said that if the people involved had all behaved correctly, in respect of the prevention of industrial accidents policies and of company procedures, some accidents could have been avoided and the consequences would have been less serious.

These considerations, supported by the dynamics of avoided accidents and/or of the cases resolved with simple medications in the company’s infirmary, cannot come as a surprise. Research conducted in many different sectors lead to the conclusion that the human factor is one of preponderant importance in hazardous events.

This consideration derives from obvious remarks, which can be explained with some examples:

• as long as the cellulose continues to be unloaded from trucks through forklifts, there will always be the possibility of accidents between means of transport or the injuring of people passing by on foot;

• as long as the reels continue to be loaded on converting machines through the use of manually driven overhead cranes, there will always be problems deriving from possible loss of control of the load;

• until converting machines operate in fully automatic mode, the little interaction existing today between man and machine will still be a source of hazard for the workers;

• as long as, in the shipment area, trucks continue to be loaded through the use of forklifts, also in this case, there will continue to exist danger of injuring workers or accidents between means of transport.

As clearly appears to all of those who work in the sector, the situations described above are destined to continue on in time, therefore once everything technically possible is done to eliminate or reduce hazards, there will still be a considerable component of safety entrusted to human behaviour.

WORKING ON/WITH PEOPLE. Let’s ask ourselves what is the level of comprehension and assimilation of one’s role in the safety issue – everyone’s role – from the employer to the employees.

One problem is retained to be insufficient knowledge of the issue, under all its aspects, by most of the protagonists directly involved: workers, people in charge and often also directors. If today an employer can retain him/herself up to par for what concerns the most important technical aspects of his/her company, for what concerns the safety aspect, the approach of the other parties involved becomes fundamental. In this context it is up to the employer to make the effort of informing, forming and training his/her personnel, in relation to the respective role covered.

But what type of training?

Let’s see what are the deficiencies that often come to the surface:

• insufficient comprehension of one’s role in the company’s safety organisation. It is an aspect that has to be seen independently from eventual legal responsibilities. In order to avoid accidents, or to alleviate the possible consequences, the company chain of decision-makers must be clear so that the people involved in the critical situation will behave in a coherent way. Otherwise the wrong or contrasting decisions may cause havoc to the entire system;

• insufficient ability of those in charge to recognize and evaluate hazards. It is true that, according to the law, risk evaluation has to be carried out by the employer; but whoever operates in this field and covers an intermediate role has to continuously make decisions which also involve aspects of safety. A mistake in this aspect, committed while training a group of workers on a job, can create serious consequences in terms of safety. For example, let’s ask ourselves how well, in the tissue sector, are we aware of the problem of the potential explosiveness of clouds of paper dust… ;

• insufficient sensitivity towards the risks on the part of the workers themselves, maybe also deriving from an insufficient level of involvement in “creating safety” in the company. Substantially, even when suppied with precise information, it may happen that workers ignore or underestimate the risks to which they are objectively exposed; an emblematic case is the attitude of most workers while personally exposed to high noise levels.

WE WOULD NOT LIKE TO GIVE A FALSE IMPRESSION. The human factor is, of course, a fundamental element for safety today. But we must not forget that companies – machine producers, builders of other devices such as overhead cranes and forklifts – have really done a lot in the realm of safety in these last ten years, but they still have to do much more in order to reach a level of excellency. Moreover, we must not neglect the fact that the technical provisions adopted for safeguarding this aspect must be preserved in time. This means verifying elements that appear integral and functional, repairing and replacing damaged elements and so on. In other terms, continuous maintenance of the safety system, which today is not always carried out in a sufficiently decisive and effective manner.

Therefore, while an effort on the part of operating personnel is required in order to improve everyone’s safety – through one’s personal way of working and one’s attitude – it is also necessary to be able to count on the company’s guarantee regarding maintenance and/or improvement of the safety system’s technical aspects. Only on such foundations is it possible to agree on a real improvement plan, acceptable to all parties involved. In the future, we can delve into this aspect, which today is at the centre of innumerable discussions and has often been defined as “safety maintenance”.

SO, HOW CAN WE IMPROVE? It is easy to say that we must improve information, formation and training of personnel. It is true that there is opportunity for improvement, and, objectively, it is within reach, but it is not at all easy to attain the desired results. The situation does not improve just by multiplying the hours of training – it becomes more difficult to maintain a steady concentration and consequently to precept the messages or capture their essence.

Therefore, the only way is to proceed step by step, recognising straight away the central role of the intermediates in “creating safety” in the company. The persons responsible for a certain section (team managers, heads of shift, department heads, according to the organisations) are the authority figures who are always present in the areas of machine operation.

Consequently they overview, direct, teach, guide personnel and they also, directly and through the company, gratify (for example they can suggest incentives or other forms of rewards for the more attentive workers in safety matters).

Therefore, we would like to briefly highlight some ideas which can improve the work done by department heads on safety matters. Some suggestions can be alternatives of each other and all of them have been tried out in different contexts, with successful results. It is still necessary that each company determine its own coherent strategy within its own internal organisation.

Here are some detailed possibilities:

• define univocally (and publicly) the company’s organisation chart and everyone’s role and tasks. This is an indispensable preamble for all the subsequent improvement actions, because it permits all the interested parties to immediately recognise the responsibility chain to which they have to refer;

• inform and train those responsible on the company’s sources of risk and on the approach to their evaluation. This person must be the first to recognise the risk and make a general evaluation in order to make quick decisions based on correct foundations. This type of training can take place partially in a classroom and partially on site, through visits “accompanied” by an expert auditor, who will then discuss what has been observed with the person responsible. The precise knowledge of sources of risk must be a preliminary factor to all risk training and assessment courses. Especially when it comes to machines, often this knowledge requires further expertise which only the machine builders have. Some sources of hazard can be: specific risks typical of certain machines and systems, risks involved in maintenance activities, electrical risks, risks typical of jobs carried out on elevated platforms, etc;

• train managers on the communication of risks to the workers: this is the next step, also very important, in order to guarantee the effectiveness of the managers’ work. Bad communication with the workers on risks involved in a certain task can be source of accidents. Communication training may not always be an easy task;

• train the managers on the evaluation of the assigned workers’ capabilities and competence. Often, when a manager, for example, delegates a certain job to an employee, the employee’s competence is taken to consideration, but not his/her capabilities and knowledge, which instead are fundamental for safety aspects. It is possible that, in some cases, certain employees may not be suitable for some jobs if they are not able to perceive the presence of hazards;

• organise a system of collection of information relative to the safety system, which makes the managers focus on the employees’ suggestions. The managers will then judge these suggestions, finding a solution to those problems which are under their direct competence, and will forward to their senior managers the ones to which they are not able to find a solution.

The above examples are essentially relative to the managers or to people who cover a central role, because they are the key to the entire system. Obviously the issue of information/formation/training has to be extended to the employees. In this case, it is possible to think of basic training on the sources of risk, similar to that of the managers. Consequently the principal role of trainers “at work” and “during work” has to be taken on by the managers, who will have to carry out the function of “tutor” of the personnel to them assigned.

CONCLUSIONS. These may seem like many pages, but in relation to the vastness of this subject, they are only very few lines.

Safety has been discussed, but without naming laws; this was an intentional decision, because safety has a social and company value, which amply surpasses laws. When it comes to safety, the aim of a company cannot be mere legislative conformity, but the health and safety of its employees.

Thinking in these terms, the central position of people becomes evident, both as bearers of rights and also as subjects who must actively collaborate with the efforts of the organisation, having as final aim that of collective safety.

In the tissue sector as in many other industrial sectors, we are not yet entirely mature for these lines of thought. It will take years in order to make them part of the heritage of the company organisations of the sector, but the experience of some pioneers clearly tells us that the aims described can be reached. And it is everyone’s duty to collaborate towards this achievement, primarily as human beings and secondarily as employees. •

Ing. A. Mazzeranghi, MECQ S.r.l. - Via G. Di Vittorio 11, Firenze, tel: +39 055 309881; mazzeranghi@mecq.it

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