Plant Safety

Mar 1, 2024

We came across in interesting article in that we thought we would share:

Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor

There are a lot of factors that come in to play when creating a quality label, and perhaps the most important one has nothing to do with substrates, inks, presses or other piece of converting equipment. Safety in the workplace, above all else, is vital to sustaining a successful label printing operation. The people are the lifeblood of an organization, and their health and safety is of paramount importance.

Label converters will often participate in classroom training, safety huddles and mandatory walkthroughs. Safety consultants, such as those associated with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), play an important role in the process to ensure all safety initiatives are being met. Monthly audits, constant floor supervision and a committed leadership team are crucial to success in this area.

According to OSHA, some of the most frequently violated safety standards include unsafe machine guarding, improper fall protection, hazard communications, lack of respiratory protection, and faulty electrical and wiring methods. Improvements in safety practices have increased in recent years. Worker deaths in America have decreased, from about 38 worker deaths per day in 1970 to 14 per day in 2016. Meanwhile, worker injuries and illnesses are down – from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.9 per 100 in 2016, OSHA says.

Label Impressions, a custom label manufacturer based in Orange, California, USA, makes safety its top priority. When Jeff Salisbury took over the company in 2004, he brought in a consultant to train employees on management, leadership, accountability and core values. While discussing the four pillars of production – Cost, Quality, Delivery and Safety – the team decided on safety as being the most important.

“At Label Impressions, safety is absolutely No. 1,” says Salisbury. “We don’t just say it here, we live it. All processes are clearly written, documented and trained on ISO 9001 standards. All new employees, temporary workers and contractors must go through a safety orientation before performing any work in the plant. Even seasoned contractors with their own insurance are required to go through the same orientation. We feel that whether an injury ‘costs’ the company money or not is irrelevant. This sends the message company-wide that we take safety very seriously.”

Safety trainings are performed monthly at Label Impressions, and safety walkthroughs are a daily occurrence – taking place before and after shutdown. Only fully-trained and certified personnel perform material handling, and a spotter is used every time a forklift is operated. 

Label Impressions also rewards its employees for successful safety initiatives. The employees participate in a daily “Safety Bingo,” where they are rewarded for safety.

At Hub Labels, a label converter based in Hagerstown, Maryland, USA, every aspect of plant safety is documented. All lost time, medical and first aid procedures, close calls and near misses, and property damage are reported. Policies are detailed in the Hub Labels employee handbook, as well, in order to outline company procedures.

According to Jesse Hood, continuous improvement manager at Hub Labels, plant safety starts with management. “Safety standards must be driven down from the very top of the organization,” he explains. “At Hub Labels, every time the president speaks he is expressing how safety is No. 1 before anything else. We ask our employees to sign policies and procedures regarding safety, acknowledging they have been trained and are committed to abiding by the rules.”

Hub Labels has established multiple safety routines, which are designed to prevent problems before they occur. The label converter has instituted policies that all employees must comply with when on the shop floor. This policy includes procedures for safety glasses, steel toes and gloves, which help when dealing with items like doctor blades. Meetings and a safety committee are also hallmarks of Hub Labels president Thomas Dahbura’s operation in Maryland.

“We have a weekly 4-Corners meeting where we walk the facility with Thomas and review new/open/closed safety concerns,” explains Hood. “We also have a safety committee consisting of about 10 employees who meet monthly to perform audits and assist with closing out the action items.”

Outlook Group, a label manufacturer headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, USA, uses written and verbal communication, huddles (department/team meetings), electronic and designated safety bulletin boards throughout its facility. In addition, the human resources department plays a pivotal role, offering company-wide safety awareness puzzles each month. “We hold new employee safety orientations, as well as annual refresher safety training for all employees,” says Jim Zeman, plant manager. “All standard safety procedures and training is documented and audited each year. We also perform regularly scheduled safety audits on all new and existing equipment, along with scheduled preventative maintenance to keep equipment running at optimal performance.”

The education does not end with handbooks at many label converters, though. Every other month, Hood – who also serves as the safety manager – trains all Hub Labels team members on one of the OSHA mandated programs. Safety procedures are also communicated through the tactical managers in weekly staff meetings.

In the label industry, safety is also taken seriously at vendor facilties as well. Doctor blade supplier Flexo Concepts has created a “Safety Team” to maintain a healthy, positive working environment for its employees. The team consists of five members from the production staff who meet on a regular basis to review the overall safety of the premises and address any areas of concern.  “Our manufacturing manager performs random safety audits to identify risks, and he makes suggestion tickets available for employees to communicate any safety concerns they may have,” says Adam Yock, manufacturing manager at Flexo Concepts. “The tickets are posted on a master board in the shop, tracked through our CRM system and attended to by the Safety Team. Safety tickets receive immediate attention and take priority over ideas for needed repairs or continuous improvement posted on the board.”

Safety guidelines change and evolve over time. If a guideline needs to be altered, the safety manager or committee will make changes and present them to management for review. Suppliers also stress safety-first when it comes to product development. “The industry continues to improve in both equipment and processes to make them more ‘people friendly,’ engineering out hazards,” says Outlook Group’s Zeman.

Salisbury has found that empowering his employees to take action has served Label Impressions well. In 2006, such an empowerment program was established to allow all employees, from the line level to executives, to stop production or any action on-the-spot if even the most minute safety violation took place.

And Label Impressions does not rest on its laurels. When a more efficient way to promote safety arises, the printer will immediately execute it. This also includes monitoring the PIASC, TLMI and OSHA websites for safety updates. Communicating with one’s vendors is key, as well.

Label-Specific Best Practices
It’s no secret that workplace safety is not limited to labels and packaging converters and suppliers, as any industry must enforce certain criteria to promote plant safety. However, there are certain guidelines and practices that are specific to the label industry.

For example, label company employees could come into contact with various types of sharp instruments such as doctor blades, in addition to chemicals and UV lights. The most common types of injuries include cuts and abrasions.  At Hub Labels, the converter has established procedures and training for PPE (gloves) and proper hand placement.

“Another hazard we need to be aware of is UV light exposure,” says Hub Labels’ Hood. “We have covers in place to protect ourselves from over-exposure. We also must have an up-to-date and accurate HAZCOM/GHS program due to all of the chemicals used in our industry.”

At Flexo Concepts, where loud noise and sharp objects are common, the company provides employees with earplugs or muffs to guard workers from loud machinery noise. And the machines are guarded at the cutters to keep operators from incurring injury by preventing loose pieces of blade scrap from flying into the air. Flexo Concepts has also purchased flow racks for the storage of raw material to reduce the need for workers to bend when picking material for manufacture or shipment. There are anti-slip mats throughout the shop and anti-fatigue mats in all blade fabrication areas.

“Flexo Concepts takes pride in being proactive when it comes to safety,” explains Yock. “Our company stays in compliance with OSHA guidelines and has outsourced the management of some of our safety initiatives to vendors. Through contracts with providers, such as Cintas and Yankee Sprinkler, our equipment specifications and instructions are continuously monitored and kept up-to-date. Cintas has installed a first aid station in our shop, including AED technology with on-site monthly service to maintain the device.”

For the most part, safety procedures mimic those in other manufacturing environments. Label Impressions’ Salisbury notes, however, that there are areas where the label industry can improve. “The use of guards is an area where we see many in our industry slack off. In fact, it’s quite common for an operator to come from another converter and have difficulty initially adapting to our culture and operating with 100% of a machine’s guards in place. At Label Impressions, if a single guard is missing or a screw is loose, the press doesn’t run – period. Over time, the employees not only get used to running differently but they appreciate that the company cares enough about them to slow production when necessary to ensure safety.”

In 2010, Salisbury made the decision to remove 100% of the company’s razor blades from production. He even received countless complaints from employees, saying the transition would not work. “While it was challenging, within one year we had changed habits and we were successful in moving from individual blades to safety knives used throughout the plant,” adds Salisbury.

Lean Manufacturing and the Sixth “S”
Hub Labels has found success employing Lean Manufacturing in its  pressroom. According to Jesse Hood, one of the first Lean Manufacturing principles includes the 5S workplace organization. The 5S stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

“If any one of these 5 S’s are left out in the workplace, then the sixth S – Safety – could be compromised,” says Hood.

Another Lean Manufacturing technique is called Poka-Yoke, which means mistake proofing. An example of this is a machine switch guard that will shut the machine off if disengaged. “By implementing the guard, we have error-proofed the system from hurting someone,” says Hood.

Adds Salisbury, “6S is a very powerful tool. Not only does it keep work areas clean, organized and the plant more efficient, but since the sixth “S” is safety, it is equally weighted. Lean involves eliminating waste, including taking wasteful steps out of the process. It keeps employees closer to their work, and more inherently safe.”

Safe Success
It is quite common to visit a manufacturer and see a sign proudly emphasizing the time elapsed since the last safety incident. These accomplishments contribute to the success of the overall company.

Hub Labels, for example, invites MOSH (Maryland Occupational Safety and Health) into its facility to complete an audit once a year. “The agreement states that MOSH will not fine Hub Labels as long as we fix any serious safety issues within 60 days of the audit,” says Hood. “At our last facility audit, it was recommended by MOSH that we go through their program to become SHARP certified, which is a prestigious recognition program that only the safest companies can obtain through the state.”

Label Impressions has hard data to prove that its goals are continually being met. “We have been incredibly successful, especially over the last 14 years,” says Salisbury. “When I took over the company, we had an Experience Modification (X-Mod) rating of 1.86. This year, our X-Mod came in at an astounding .58, and it is because leadership is unwavering in its commitment and demonstration of the ‘Safety First’ philosophy. Our successes don’t always look like success in the beginning, but eventually having a safer work environment leads to happier, more fulfilled employees. That pays for itself.”

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