Safety-related control systems are becoming more complex, and expectations are creeping upwards, as the HSC and HSE continually strive to improve the nation's health and safety record. In this article, the editor of the Pilz Safety Update email newsletter interviews Martin Palmer, the Pilz Automation Technology training manager.
Editor: What lies behind the increasing need for machinery safety training?
MP: Having competent staff is an essential part of any business activity, and suitable training courses are a major factor in helping to achieve this. The ability to demonstrate that the course has been completed successfully is one of the cornerstones of competency management, so this is resulting in increased demand from companies for training courses, especially those that lead to a recognised qualification such as a City & Guilds or IOSH certificate.
Another driver is the complexity of modern safety-related control systems for machinery. As machines become more sophisticated, the safety-related control system involves far more than, say, a single interlocked guard switch and an emergency stop, monitored by a safety relay. With the increasing complexity - which may involve configurable modular safety controllers or even a programmable safety system (safety PLC) - designers and maintenance engineers require more training to gain the necessary competences.
Although there are several other reasons behind the increased need for safety training, the third major one is that companies are recognising that improving health and safety is good for profitability. The HSE has produced a number of case studies to illustrate this point, and the message is definitely getting through to company directors, who appreciate that training has a significant role to play.
Editor: For companies that have had people trained in the past, how can they keep up-to-date with the ever-changing legislation, regulations and standards?
MP: Clearly it would be wasteful to sit through another training course if 80 per cent of the material is already known and well understood, but there are, for example, IOSH refresher courses for people who want to update their existing Managing Safely certificate. Furthermore, the IOSH recertification course that Pilz runs also benefits from a one-day module covering machinery safety - which includes material that is likely to be new to many managers. With the City & Guilds courses, delegates often comment that, prior to attending the course, they were not aware of the amount of information related to machinery safety that should be taken into consideration when they are looking at their own companies' requirements.
Training providers such as Pilz can also tailor courses to suit the needs of companies and individuals, thereby helping to bridge any gaps in their knowledge in a cost-effective way.
As for the ever-changing health and safety landscape, people who run courses have to make sure that their material is kept up to date. For example, the relevant Pilz courses now include information on EN ISO 13849-1, the replacement for EN 954-1. In addition, we have recently upgraded our training rigs to provide delegates with practical application knowledge on the use of the latest safety relay technology available from Pilz.
Editor: As a trainer, what do you learn from the courses you run?
MP: The groups of people I see are very diverse, coming from a variety of industries and with levels of knowledge and experience that range from minimal to extensive. Sometimes I hear how companies have successfully resolved unusual problems relating to machinery safety, and sometimes I can help them overcome a problem that is new to all of us. So it all helps to broaden my experience, even if only indirectly.
Editor: How did you get involved with training?
MP: I came to Pilz 18 years ago as an internal technical support engineer, having previously worked at British Steel as an electrical engineer. I later became the external sales engineer for the East Midlands region, and then I changed roles to help set up the distribution network for Pilz in the UK. This is when I first became involved with training, setting up training programmes for our distributor personel.
More recently I have been responsible for developing the range of training courses offered by Pilz (relating to products and legislation/standards). To assist with this I have undertaken training myself and have been awarded an IOSH Managing Safely Certificate and a NEBOSH National General Certificate. I have also gained an A1 Assessor qualification and was part of the team responsible for Pilz becoming a City & Guilds Approved Training Centre.
Editor: What are the benefits of recognised qualifications for your trainees?
MP: Companies that send staff on training courses like to see a recognised qualification - such as a City & Guilds or IOSH certificate - as this gives them the confidence that the course has been properly conducted and the trainees have been formally assessed. The individuals like the qualifications because they are widely recognised, and are therefore good to have on a CV.
But whether the course is a formally recognised one, or tailored to suit the specific needs of an individual or company, it has to be remembered that training in health and safety can help towards the prevention of accidents in the workplace. This makes for a powerful business case and a strong moral justification.