Safety training in paper mills and paper converting facilities

Safety in the workplace is still a very critical issue, despite all the unquestionable improvements that have been made on the intrinsic safety level of machines and systems.

The advent of CE marking has certainly established tighter restraints for manufacturers, and this has led to a general improvement in the safety features of machines that produce and convert tissue. At the same time, legislation regarding health and safety in the workplace has pushed companies to more greatly invest in safety issues, in a definitely more rational and ordinate way.


Alessandro Mazzeranghi – MECQ S.r.l.

Accidents in the workplace are still taking place. What is the explanation for this? Substantially, two are the factors involved: ù


• Any machine or system, no matter how catered to from the point of view of safety, will in any case present residual risks that as of today cannot be eliminated. The entity of these risks is different on a case-to-case basis (just compare a PM with a converting machine). But we can state that no machine is intrinsically safe.

• In a large portion of accidents on the job, we find a strong contribution of human error (committed by the injured person or by another worker): failure to perceive the risk, lack of knowledge of the systems, non-respect of the procedures, or mere carelessness.


SAFETY RULES. The easiest solution to this situation would seem to be: “let’s define some rules and make people respect them”. This is a good solution. Personally, I feel that every company must define clear rules to handle the main risk situations. It is also obvious that the rules established must be respected. But first, some clarifications are necessary:


• First of all, it is not possible to regulate all risk situations. In a paper mill/converting company, it is possible to define the correct procedures for production and converting activities, but it is practically impossible to regulate all possible maintenance situations. And excessive trust in company rules may lead workers to pay less attention to identifying potential risks.

• Secondly, a very detailed and punctual regulation ends up imposing very rigid confines to workers’ spirit of initiative, making them lose the necessary flexibility to face the changing situations taking place each day at work.


Summarizing: safety rules are useful, but they present counter-indications that must be carefully weighed and they are not sufficient. The human factor carries a predominant role with respect to the substantially “mechanical” logic of the “command and control” process.


TRAINING FOR SAFETY. Hence, to complete and integrate the rules, an effort towards information, training and practice is necessary. Among these three elements, training has the most important role, as it represents the vehicle through which people are taught to:


1. Maintain a high level of attention regarding safety aspects

2. Recognize hazard situations

3. Choose the proper measures to control detected hazards

4. Have the capability of interpreting/utilizing company documentation on safety

5. Know the company’s information flow to be activated if safety problems arise.


The capability of autonomously protecting one’s safety is an objective necessity because anyone can find him/herself in an unexpected, undocumented situation where he or she must personally make a decision concerning a safety issue. Statistics regarding accidents on the job are not very reassuring lately, and it seems that – at least in advanced economies – safety on the job is perceived as something that workers are entitled to (rightly!), but whose actuation is the responsibility of third parties (that is, the companies themselves) without active participation by the employees. So what can be done? Surely, we must begin teaching to be attentive to safety issues right from school (something that happens very little). Then, to improve safety performance, every worker must be involved in the issue of safety. But the audience is extremely diversified in age, basic training, work experience, language, etc. Also, experience teaches us that it is really difficult to teach attention to safety through theoretical lessons. Hence, we must find the appropriate training instruments to attain the proposed result.


SAFETY TRAINING EXPERIENCES IN THE TISSUE FIELD. Even though the basic principles are universal, it is clear that their application in each industrial sector will change according to its specific characteristics. In homogeneous industrial realms (such as tissue) the experiences can be easy to duplicate even in different companies. This is because the organizations on a managerial level may be different, but the safety problems on the field and the characteristics of the workers are similar. In the next paragraph, we will mention just a few of the experiences developed within the field by different subjects. An initial experience developed a few years ago by a tissue converting machines manufacturer was directed at department supervisors, maintenance supervisors and safety personnel. In this case, training took place in a classroom (16 hours including some practical exercise sessions) and was based mainly on the competence of the manufacturing company who decided to share it with the users. Participants were people having a good/optimal experience in the field of converting.

In this case, the manufacturing company:


• Shared the evidence that emerged from the risk analysis carried out according to the 98/37/CE “machine” norm with the purpose of illustrating the reasons that had led to the main design choices regarding safety.

• Analyzed, starting with the training manual and standard training material, the main operational procedures that have an impact on safety.


The optimal result of this type of course derives from the fact that the team of instructors, often present in the classroom together, was comprised of an expert on job safety, a technician expert in risk analysis and an expert tester, who had therefore personally applied the different operational procedures. The positive outcome was also favored by the fact that, at every course edition, the participants were competent and motivated, and that, even though it was apparently a classroom course, in reality through films, photos, drawings, etc., it became a “workshop” course. Another positive element was bringing together people coming from different companies, thus favoring a consistent exchange of experiences.

The negative aspects:


• This type of course is appropriate only for a rather restricted population;

• It is not guaranteed that the participants succeed in transmitting what they have learned to their colleagues within the company.


TO BETTER ENTER “INTO THE COMPANY” AND INVOLVE ALL WORKERS IN A GROWTH PROCESS ON THE THEME OF SAFETY, ON-THE-JOB TRAINING MAY CONSTITUTE AN EFFECTIVE SYSTEM. An initial instrument, a classical one, to involve workers directly on the field is the safety walk, during which each person notes down his or her observations regarding the risks present and violations of safety norms, to then conclude with a comparison in the classroom, also in the presence of a safety expert. Even though it is an interesting system to promote active involvement, it cannot completely solve the problem (this plan cannot be repeated often with the same group of workers, because it becomes repetitive). To take the next step, it is necessary that the instructor stay close to the worker during his or her daily work activity. Brief meetings, preferably less than 2 hours, repeated in the course of a few months, involving not more than 3 or 4 workers at a time. Trials with different duration times have been performed (from 6 to 10 hours per group of workers). Three can be the types of intervention, and they can be used also within the same course:


• Individual risk detection activity and the search for simple solutions to keep them under control. This activity develops the capability to analyze real-life situations, but it also helps to understand the basic information flows (to whom should I communicate a potential danger situation? How should I do this? How much time do I have?);

• Illustration of company safety rules by the instructor (the participants are involved through general queries and through assessing the appropriateness of the instructions in which often, to liven up dialogue, errors are inserted). The main objective is discussion, intended as workers’ acknowledgement of the company situation; an indirect benefit stemming from this is that they obtain information on the contents of the safety instructions in force;

• Workers’ illustration and comment of the company’s safety instructions. In this case, the instructor plays a fundamental role in organizing the material and then guiding the various phases of the discussion. This type of intervention answers the need to supply each worker with the basic communication instruments about safety. Because each worker, besides being requested to understand the risks and find the relative control measures, may – according to his or her role within the company – also need to communicate his/her observations to colleagues, inform on risks, or give orders regarding safety.


SPEAKING FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, THE ON-THE-JOB TRAINING APPROACH HAS YIELDED RATHER SATISFACTORY RESULTS. A good portion of workers clearly perceives the basic message and pays greater attention to safety. And the change in mentality takes place in a good number of them (over 50% even in the less satisfactory cases). Efficacy measurements have been taken, not so much through banal learning assessments, but rather by monitoring the behavior or workers “before and after”, through intense auditing programs directly on the field. At the same time, training also proved a good occasion to make a critical analysis of the safety procedures adopted within the company (often leading to revisions/corrections/adjustments with respect to the workplace).

Of course, this is counter-balanced by some defects:


• The number of teaching hours increases;

• On-the-job training (or other equivalent interventions) must be repeated in time (for example on a two-year basis) in order to maintain a high level of attention.


Unfortunately, the latter aspect clearly gains in importance, and hence brings to light also the need for a repeated investment in time, and one that the company must make if it wants to pursue and maintain the results we have spoken about.

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