Safety management systems: an opportunity for improvement also for the tissue field

The history of safety management systems is longer than anyone making his or her first approach to the field today may realize.

If in 1989 in Europe, the Community proposed a directive (directive 89/391/CEE) that clearly provided for the adoption of safety management systems, Anglo-Saxon companies have since the 1960s been trying to understand the best way to manage their workers’ safety (in particular in high-risk field environments such as refineries, steel mills, etc.). 


Alessandro Mazzeranghi – MECQ S.r.l.

The principle – which continental Europe understood only later – was the following: work activities in the industrial realm are per force subjected to safety and health risks and these cannot be totally eliminated only through technical measures. Therefore, besides adopting all possible technical measures, companies must organize the work so that all risks are kept under control. Hence, in consideration of the above, a company’s duty for what concerns safety can be summed up with a slogan such as the one that top management at Konecranes (leader in the field of lifting means, also for paper mills), has adopted: I want everyone at Konecranes to feel that they can arrive home in good health after a working day. Simple, right? Sure, simple to say, but not simple to do.


LET’S MAKE A SECOND PREMISE: anyone used to working with quality management systems (ISO9000) or environmental management systems (ISO14000) needs to keep a certain number of critical processes involving a part of the company’s work activities under control. In other words, keeping the possibilities of error limited. In the field of safety, instead, anyone working in an industrial context can, at any time, make a small mistake that can have grave consequences on his or her personal safety or that of other people involved. The opportunities for mistakes are much more frequent, and the activities to place under control are many.

To cite some examples, let’s take the tissue production cycle. Workers handling cellulose with a fork lift can run into a truck driver carrying the raw material; those working on paper machine walkways can slip and fall; people loading reels onto the PM using a crane can be crushed by the reel itself; those by-passing the paper on a roll machine can be subjected to an inrunning nip between two moving rolls; a person handling pallets of finished product in the warehouse can... the list can continue on and on for pages. Basically, if we exclude office areas – where the risks are not very different from the ones we can find in our homes – anyone performing a task in the company and having a role that can be as basic as that of supervisor, is exposed to some degree of risk, and some of these risks are very serious, as demonstrated by the fact that in paper mills and paper manufacturing mills, fatal accidents are still rather frequent.


WHY A SAFETY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM? So if the context is so complicated, why enter into the world of safety management systems, instead of limiting any action to the mere respect of legal conformity? Taking for granted that the first answer should be moral reasons, there are other important considerations pushing those who must put this system into practice at a company management level into taking the issue of safety in the workplace very seriously:


• Legal norms in practically every part of the world are becoming more stringent and responsibilities for managers and companies are increasing1.

• Handling costs for an accident on the job are very high, also due to the fact that in most cases, company’s top management is involved. It is possible that parts of a system or other elements that slow production and delay deliveries are placed under distraint.

• Buyers, at least in Europe and North America, are sensitive to the issue of safety on the job and penalize companies perceived as not behaving very correctly. Evidently, for those producing own-brands, this consideration carries a lot of weight.


This latter point is further developed, also for private label producers, by observing how buyers’ attention is progressively shifting to the supply chain, from which the market demands the same requisites as it does from brand producers. Several years ago, Naomi Klein published “No Logo”, that resolves to be a denunciation of the not-very-limpid behavior of some multinationals in the course of the previous century2. Today, certain behaviors are no longer tolerated by the market, and proof of this is the increasingly strong attention that retailers place on the safety issue in the course of suppliers’ qualification audits. A particularly evident example is Ikea: for several years, it has been auditing its suppliers (including tissue suppliers), giving prevalence to safety

(the standard demanded of suppliers can be downloaded from the following address: http://www.ikea.com/ms/de_AT/about_ikea/social_environmental/iway_standard.pdf.

Hence, the answer to the question object of the paragraph may be: for companies that want to grow in the global market, lack of safety has become an unacceptable risk. So we need risk control systems, conventionally defined Health and Safety Management Systems.


WHAT IS A SAFETY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM? Let’s take a look at the practical side without making tedious references to norms, but speaking about the actual organization/operation of companies. To be able to state at a reasonable level known to management that we have the “potential problem” of safety under control, some key elements are necessary.

Paradoxically, the first factor is that management believe in it (because then it has to persuade and invest to obtain results), and immediately afterwards, it should succeed in having all workers perceive the importance of this conviction. It may well be a totally Italian phenomenon, but the distrust that workers have regarding statements made by management is extremely deep-rooted (and constitutes a substantial obstacle to improvement). Evidently the situation changes from one company to another and, for reasons not completely explicable, it seems that the level of distrust is higher in the realm of paper production than in the paper mill environment (even when they are part of the same industrial complex).

If a climate of trust is instituted, then we can start working... and, if we start from a condition of mere legal conformity, there is indeed a lot of work to do!

The first thing to do is to establish who does what in the realm of safety. Let’s take the paper mill that is often organized with a supervisor working the day shift and a group of shift supervisors covering the continuous cycle. In this situation, who gives instructions? Who checks workers’ performance? Who maintains relationships with maintenance (which is always a determining factor in all aspects of safety)? Who authorizes specific working modes for exceptional situations? Simple questions that require a precise answer, if we consider that current laws, at least in Europe, define rather specifically what aspects must be kept under control3.

In parallel, the risk assessment problem must also be faced. Risk assessment – something which has been underrated for a long time in many EU countries and, within limits, also in North America – is the key to having a precise picture of safety in the company. A superficial or incomplete assessment prevents the start of safety and risk control improvement measures that are effectively necessary, orienting investments in the wrong directions and reporting to the management a distorted picture of the safety situation in the company. Since this is the start-off point, we pay for our mistakes. But it would also be wrong to exaggerate, making an extremely detailed and complex assessment that requires time and allows defining a concrete action plan only after long-term studies.

Unfortunately, in these activities, experience plays a determining role. There are no rules, if not extremely general ones, but it can be said that every company has its just compromise when it comes to risk assessment. Here, benchmarking is determining: one manufacturer’s machine for the production of kitchen towels presents 90% of the same risks as one made by another manufacturer. If you know what to look for, it is easier to detect the differences that are often determinant for safety, even though they may be difficult to detect. It is a pity that benchmarking can only take place, in practice, in large multinational groups. Hence, we see a myriad of Safety Managers (according to the widely diffused international terminology) who start from scratch each and every time... Important, in any case, is attaining a concrete result that allows defining a precise action plan for safety improvement.


BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS AN ACTION PLAN? Nothing more than a classification table, approved by management, identifying actions for improvement, who is responsible for them and who collaborates in these actions, a deadline and the resources available to perform them.

Risk control measures are also comprised among actions for improvement; that is, the ensemble of operational procedures and instructions that try to guarantee that every activity exposed to risk is appropriately regulated. Operation instructions, often derived from work modes already present in the company, improved through a careful safety analysis, must be more or less specific based also on the personnel’s level of competence and capability. It is common practice that maintenance personnel, retained expert, has fewer rules to abide by than converting personnel, even if maintenance activities are more complex and often more dangerous.

A degree above operation instructions are the procedures, that is, all the rules that – more than on an operational detail – concentrate on how the organization works. For example, the emergency handling procedure, the procedure for handling work contracts, etc. These are documents that, in relation to critical processes for safety, try to orderly define the rules for handling them.

And here comes an important point: we have to clarify well that all the rules the company decides to establish must be “true”, that is, feasible, believable, and that they do not get in the way of normal production processes. Only this way is it possible to demand their application. For example, cleaning up paper dust in the dry area of the paper mill is fundamental in order to avoid the risk of fire, and even explosion. But if cleaning is entrusted to people who are already engaged in other activities, it is probable that it will not be performed. If, instead, the task is entrusted to people who may find the time for it in the course of their working shift, it is important that the frequency of the cleaning operations as well as the means to be used, etc., be defined.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that if personnel working shifts is to clean the floors and the machine’s infrastructures, someone will have to clean above the hoods, on the crane runways, the crane itself, etc. I think that from this small example, it is easy to understand that developing realistic operational instructions is no easy task.

And now let’s consider the last point, which is one of the main cornerstones of Safety Management Systems: the control on the workings of the entire company, from its organization to its individual workers. But it is not appropriate to simplify by speaking of audits. It is much more, and it is well expressed in Italian laws that are very exhaustive in this area, and we can take some of them as examples.

Let’s do so in order.

What must be implemented:


• A control on the respect by all employees (directors, supervisors and workers) of the operational procedures and instructions currently in force in the company. This control must be primarily performed by direct superiors, but may be supported by other entities (for example by the Prevention and Protection Service).

• A control system aimed at verifying the appropriateness and efficacy of the Safety Management System according to the company characteristics, the specific risks and technical-organizational changes that may take place within the company. Preferably, it must be performed by independent and autonomous individuals that answer directly to the Board of Directors, because the outcome of these controls may have considerable impact on an organizational level, and can sometimes also bring to light problems at management level.

• A control system similar to the previous one, but aimed at verifying the actual application of established safety rules. It is easy to verify, on paper, too, the application of procedures of an organizational nature. It is indispensable, however, to verify that the more... operational operation instructions are respected, too.


But we must also mention an unpleasant detail: it is evident that an integral part of the control is the adoption of appropriate measures against who, at any level, breaks the established rules. We can choose hybrid models that also include rewarding and motivational aspects, but the fact remains that defaulters must somehow be penalized in order not to discourage those who make an effort to respect the rules.


CONCLUSIONS. As we can see from these brief observations, it is a complex scenario, strongly characterized by an approach to risk management at a company management level.

It is obvious that there will never be an absolutely safe tissue company, but it is important that the risks present be known and controlled at a level which top management is acquainted with and that it shares. Then, management must answer to the owners/shareholders about the overall result of the company that today also includes respecting ethical principles, maintaining the company’s good name, cost containment and increased competitiveness in the markets.

If one of these elements is lacking, the result is an unbalanced company and hence, a company not well adapted to surviving in a globalized market. For this reason, it is important to manage everything with an ordinate approach, which is that of Safety Management Systems.

On a final note: we have certainly seen how this article is not directed so much at Safety Management Systems specialists, expert in this realm, but rather to the managers that must sponsor them. Without the involvement of management, and the consequent involvement of the entire personnel staff, Safety Management Systems remain just paper.

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