Plant Safety

By Steve Katz | May 13, 2008

Clear, organized and detailed safety programs protect the converter's greatest asset: people.

"Twenty to twenty-five thousand workers in industry in the United States alone are killed annually while in the course of their employment. Two million suffer non-fatal accidents of varying degree, which make them miss days of employment. Is it to be wondered that the employer and employee unite in the demand that all in industry become active allies in the accident-reduction army?" (from Industrial Management, 1928)

The above is from a book written by Richard Lansburgh, the former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. Although it was penned 80 years ago, its tone and relevance still resonates today. As well it should. Certain concepts don't get old or become passé, and improving safety in the workplace is one of them. In fact, it can be said that plant safety is not just an issue that needs to be discussed, but truly is a matter of life and death. Narrow web converting plants use complex, heavy duty presses with moving parts. They rely on chemicals and solvents throughout the workflow, and press operators and other plant workers take a hands-on approach to the job and are in constant proximity to the machinery and the tools of the trade. Therefore, plant safety is something that is taken seriously and is an area that always has room for growth.

In order for a company to be truly responsible in regard to plant safety, it should have a clear outline of safety policies and procedures, as well as what is expected of employees. How each company approaches this issue will vary, but it seems a sensible approach to leave no gray area when it comes to protecting one's own.

Dave McDowell, president of McDowell Label and Screen Printing in Plano, TX, USA, provides some insights on plant safety in the narrow web environment. Before entering the label business, McDowell was a safety engineer for an insurance company, so he has both a safety and labeling background.

"The best thing you can do for safety is to keep the work place clean," McDowell says. "If a plant owner is only going to do one thing to promote safety, it should be to maintain very good housekeeping. Having a clean area, clear of clutter with open walkways will prevent slips and falls."

A clean area is just a starting point when it comes to plant safety. A label converting environment consists of machines with moving parts. For example, all types of web-fed presses, inspection machines and rewinders have moving parts that are potentially hazardous.

"It's the pinch points that are the danger points," McDowell says. "Two rolls turning inward will pull your hand in there." When the rolls are turning in opposite directions, they'll spit out what's near the pinch points, yet when the web is moving through the press, the rolls are turning inward. Which is why McDowell Label and Screen has a policy of requiring press operators to not have long hair, loose clothing or dangling jewelry while on the job.

Another safeguard the company uses in regard to these pinch points is the use of lint rollers. McDowell says that his machines are cleaned daily using a device made from combining lint roller heads with paint rollers. "We remove the lint roller head from its handle and put it on a much longer handled paint roller. So now I've got a press operator whose hand is on a handle." The operator's hand, therefore, is not coming into direct contact with the press, thus eliminating  a potential cause of injury.

McDowell Label has an active safety committee. The committee meets monthly and has a member from every department within the company. It's interesting to note, however, that there is one department that is not represented – management – and this is by design. Yet when the committee speaks, management listens. "If management doesn't support that committee, it ceases to exist," says McDowell. "They understand they have a responsibility. We address the issues as soon as they come up. If they find there is something unsafe, we take care of it, right then and there."

With safety, fixing a problem a day later may be a day too late. This could refer to anything within the plant, from a leaking ceiling, to a broken or missing machine part.

"Once you establish a culture of safety, than that culture supports itself," adds McDowell. "If employees and operators don't feel safe, they're not going to give you quality work."

That culture of safety McDowell speaks of is promoted in other ways as well throughout his workforce. An employee under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol will greatly increase the probability of a work related injury. To this end, McDowell's company maintains a drug-free workplace. The company conducts random drug and alcohol testing for all employees, not just machine operators.

An updated first aid kit is an essential safety item.
Additionally, management does its part to provide the best possible emergency services in the event of an accident or sudden illness. "Every year a representative from each department is trained and becomes certified in administering CPR. The Red Cross comes in during the workday, and employees are paid to be trained and become CPR certified," McDowell says. He also states that employees are also trained and certified to operate the defribrillator on site, which is maintained and updated. Also regularly maintained and updated are the fire extinguishers and first aid kit.



Consolidated safety

Perhaps a good place to look, when it comes to discussing a label converter's approach to plant safety, would be to focus on a company that's received accolades from its peers for how it manages itself.

Consolidated Label, Longwood, FL, USA, is a 2007 winner of the Eugene Singer Award for Best Managed Company, presented annually by the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute. Consolidated Label has won the award now for an impressive six consecutive years, and it is the company's fourth time winning the award in the medium sized company category.

So, just how exactly does an award winning label company take on the topic of plant safety? Having a comprehensive, updated safety manual is a good place to start. Consolidated's "safety program" manual consists of several detailed pages that specifically define the company's safety policies, procedures and expectations for all employees. It details the duties and responsiblities for employees, supervisors, managers, and safety managers alike.

First and foremost, company employees sign an acknowledgement of their receipt of the manual and their understanding that the manual should be read. Employees are also advised to keep their manual updated by replacing revised changes.

Consolidated's safety manual consists of detailed guidelines and procedures in regard to rules, tools and machines, ladders, materials handling, electrical equipment, forklift trucks, safe lifting, and fire extinguishers. And this is just the beginning of the manual. Also included is a program the company uses called the Lockout/Tagout Program, for which Consolidated's safety manager oversees and has overall responsibilty. According to the safety manual, "Lockout" is the procedure of blocking the source of energy to a machine or piece of equipment, in order to perform maintenance or repairs. This is accomplished by the placement of a device which locks out the power source of the equipment. Thus, the equipment cannot be operated until the lockout device is removed. "Tagout" is the procedure of placing a tag on the power source, which serves as a warning of the danger in starting up the equipment. Specific program details and procedures are outlined in the manual.

Some companies might hand out a booklet on safety and feel as though they did their part. Consolidated Label is not one of them. In fact, discussions on safety issues take place on a regular basis.

Joel Carmony, president of Consolidated Label, explains, "Safety meetings are held monthly and consist of a cross functional team. The discussions center around any accidents that occurred and potential improvements in our safety program based on our plant's layout and organization as well as practices and procedures. We have a safety manager who heads our safety program. The manager is responsible for enforcing the procedures and conducting the meetings as well as updating the policy."

In addition to the monthly meetings, the company also has an annual meeting devoted to its policy of keeping a drug-free workplace. Regarding this topic, Carmony says, "All new employees are drug-screened prior to being hired. If they do not pass the test, we will not hire them. Also, any accident requiring medical care requires a drug test to determine if the employee was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident occurred."

Consolidated makes sure its employees are properly trained if they are to be operating machinery. For example, Carmony says, "We have a forklift training program for anyone using a forklift. They have to pass a driving and lifting test to be an authorized forklift driver." It's not just machine operators who get the training. He adds, "We conduct demonstrations on lifting more than 30 pounds, because many injuries come from lifting incorrectly."

Consolidated Label takes numerous steps to maintain  the safety of its employees. In addition to the aforementioned procedures, the company's safety manual also includes protocols for reporting and removing hazards, inspection checklists for equipment, housekeeping, safety, and first aid supplies, and for reporting accidents. "Our objective is to minimize all accidents," Carmony says.

A guarding competition

"Employee exposure to unguarded or inadequately guarded machines is prevalent in many workplaces. Consequently, workers who operate and maintain machinery suffer approximately 18,000 amputations, lacerations, crushing injuries, abrasions, and over 800 deaths per year."

The above quotation is taken from the website of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It also serves as the introduction to the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute's (TLMI) Narrow Web Flexo Pressguard Contest.

Dave McDowell happens to be on TLMI's safety committee and he explains the contest's origin and purpose. "What started all this goes back to the mid-1990s when what converters refer to as "chastity belt" style press guarding became commonplace. In order for a press to be properly cleaned, an operator has to have access to the printing plate while it's revolving on the press. Operators would routinely remove the guards, and what people used to do, is they'd take their finger or wrap a towel or piece of pantyhose around their hand and rub it back and forth across the plate. This is a dangerous thing to do."

Older presses didn't have guards, and guards didn't become an industry standard until the late '90s. McDowell says that when OSHA would pay a visit, "converters would receive a heavy fine if they found out the guard was removed, and older presses weren't made with guards at all. So we developed this contest so guards could be engineered to be operator friendly, as well as in compliance."

McDowell explains that the guards were being removed because they were not operator friendly. So the contest is open to the narrow web press operators themselves, because they're the ones who have to work with them.

"What we wanted to do was work with domestic and global OEMs to come up with an approach to guarding that would provide a high level of safety, but would also allow for the equipment to be used correctly," McDowell explains.

He talks about the humanitarian spirit of the competition. "The spirit of the contest is to get everyone thinking about safety and generate some really innovative ideas. As far as the entries go, any converter can have access to the technology. It's not just limited to TLMI members."

There have been numerous entries to the competition, McDowell says. "It has been successful because the OEMs and the operators are both on board."

The judges of the contest consist of the OEMs and the members of the TLMI safety committee. For example, an operator of a Mark Andy press would have his or her entry judged by people from Mark Andy in conjunction with the TLMI committee. The criteria for the entries as well as the judging can be found on TLMI's website at www.tlmi.com.

The first place winner will be awarded $5,000, second place, $3,000, and the third place winner will receive $2,000. All of the contest winners will be announced in September at Labelexpo Americas in Chicago.

The Lean perspective and the sixth "S"

A wide range of industries incorporate the principles of Lean Manufacturing as a way of producing the highest quality goods while minimizing waste. In recent years, some label manufacturers have come to embrace the Lean philosophy. Lean uses the 5S concept as a means of organizing the workplace to make it cleaner, more efficient, and yes, safer as well.

5S refers to the five Japanese words that are paramount to Lean manufacturing. These words, when translated to English, begin with the letter "s." These five words are sorting, simplifying, sweeping, standardizing, and sustaining.

Tom Southworth, an SME Lean Bronze Certified Sensei and author of the Lean Printing blog, leanprinting.blogspot.com, points out that when used throughout the workflow, 5S will create a safe working environment. However, he says that Lean proponents like to add a sixth S, for safety, as a way of emphasizing the point. "We really want to drive it home the idea that safety is a number one priority with Lean," he says. "The goal is make the manufacturing process safer, easier, and better."

Workplace injuries can occur through the mishandling of equipment and machinery. For example, improper heavy lifting is a common cause of back injuries. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year. Furthermore, back injuries account for one in every five workplace injuries, costing an average of $10,450 for lost time due to injury, according to the bureau.

Whenever employees engage in work-related actions that are extraneous or unnecessary, the possibility and probability for injury increases. The adoption of Lean concepts can go a long way in minimizing the occurrence of injuries on the job. Southworth explains, "5S, with the sixth S added, is not a housekeeping exercise to simply eliminate waste. Included in the elimination of waste is also wasted motion, which includes unnecessary bending and lifting."

Using standard visual controls
is a Lean, effective measure
for ensuring plant safety.
The Lean concept for ensuring plant safety borrows from one of the S's, as its really quite simple. One of the most basic learning devices, which people are exposed to as children, is the recognition of colors and shapes. These are called "standard visual controls," and Southworth explains how they're used to ensure safety in a Lean workplace.

"Using standard visual controls ensures safety. You can identify chemicals using color and shapes much like how traffic lanes on highways work. Red means stop, green means go." Southworth adds that this technique is especially useful and effective in today's manufacturing plants where there are often speakers of multiple languages working together. "Colors and shapes are a universal language. And its easy to do," says Southworth, of incorporating these methods into a plant. "The idea is to simplify, and make it easy to sustain. The harder you make it for people, the faster they're going to find a way around it."

Jamie Flinchbaugh, founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center in Novi, MI, USA, and co-author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road, provides an example of the use of standard visual controls as a safety measure. In an article published in Assembly magazine, titled "Leading Lean: Make Everything Visual," he writes: "A sign that reads 'railroad crossing' provides visual information. You, the driver, are advised to be careful, but it is still up to you to do the right thing. You can get a little more structured by adding more visual information – a bell and a light – to the railroad crossing sign. These tell you that a train is approaching the crossing, but you can still make a bad decision. You get visual control when you add the gate to the railroad crossing. This changes the behavior from failing to make the right decision, to deliberately making a very bad – often fatal – decision."

The use of standard visual controls can perhaps be the first and last line of defense when it comes to a plant worker putting him or herself in harms way. The technique can be applied to most any type of potential hazard found in the workplace including containers that hold various liquids, handtools, forktucks, all types of machinery, and even entrance and exit doors.

A common denominator

The labeling industry is about people. A company can show it truly cares for the people working for it by putting time and energy into creating a workplace with optimal safety.

Ensuring a safe working environment is a practice that all label converters can and should take seriously. It's also one of the rare issues for a converter that comes without a pricetag. Certainly, an employee who feels as safe as possible on the job is going to be a more productive one, particularly if he feels management is doing its part to employ proper safety procedures and policies. This makes for a responsible company and above all, a healthy working environment.

For additional resources on plant safety, read The Blogsmith column in this issue.