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Improving control system safety in paper mills

Making Paper Safely was a widely publicised PABIAC initiative that led to a good deal of work being undertaken to improve the health and safety record of the paper making industry. Nonetheless, the results were, in many respects, disappointing. As a result, safety remains a hot topic, as demonstrated by the level of interest shown at the biennial CPI (Confederation of Paper Industries) health and safety conference held in Daventry on 4 and 5 October 2005.

One of the most important presentations at this conference was delivered by Steve Frost, HM Principal Electrical Inspector for the HSE (Health and Safety Executive). He spoke about a survey that was conducted earlier in 2005 to examine safety-related electrical systems used to implement safety functions on papermaking machinery. The survey was also intended to assess the level of compliance with the guidance that was issued as part of the Making Paper Safely campaign.

Broadly speaking, this survey showed that guidance was not being followed (though it is appreciated that many mills have met their obligations and implemented a range of improvements). According to the survey, however, paper mills had failed to install adequate safeguarding, failed to conduct systematic hazard and risk assessments, and failed to identify machinery safety functions.

Not only is this disappointing, but it also indicates a lost opportunity. Case studies have shown that improving safety measures has an additional - and beneficial - impact on quality levels and business performance. Properly implemented, safety measures bring wider benefits.

And it is not difficult to take the necessary steps. Granted, achieving compliance with all relevant safety standards is likely to be a daunting prospect for papermakers that have so far done little or nothing, but most find that a methodical process makes it relatively straightforward to progress through a series of targets that lead to compliance.

The HSE is a good source of information and advice relating to safety in the paper industry, and it is even possible to download from the HSE's website a copy of the checklist used by inspectors when they visit paper mills. Remember, also, that the HSE's Infoline (0845 345 0055) is confidential, if you wish to discuss a safety issue without making yourself known to the HSE. Numerous other downloads are available from the CPI's website, though some of these are only accessible to registered full members.

Much of the HSE and CPI advice and guidance is specific to the paper industry, but there is a wealth of information available from a variety of sources relating to general machinery safety. Take, for example, IEC 62061: 2005 (Safety of machinery, Functional safety of safety-related electrical, electronic and programmable electronic control systems), which was published on 20 January 2005.

IEC 62061 is a machinery sector standard based on IEC 61508 (Functional safety of electrical/electronic/programmable electronic safety-related systems). This is important, because many of the machines now in operation in paper mills use safety-related control systems that fall within its scope, rather than EN 954-1 (Safety of machinery, Safety related parts of control systems, General principles for design), which is far simpler. EN954-1 is due to be replaced soon with ISO 13849-1 (Safety of machinery, Safety related parts of control systems, General principles for design) but, to avoid confusion, IEC 62061 includes a table to indicate when it should be used instead of the alternatives. Note that IEC 62061 will shortly be harmonised to the Machinery Directive.

Undertaking the necessary hazard and risk assessments in line with the requirements of EN 1050 (Safety of Machinery, Principles for risk assessment) and developing a programme of work to ensure relevant machinery complies with IEC 62061 will take paper mills a long way down the road to complying with current standards and meeting the guidelines laid down in Making Paper Safely and, subsequently, Making a Difference. Paper mills are also obliged to make sure that all the machinery, irrespective of age, complies with PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998)

There is a wealth of free guidance available for topics such as risk assessments and machinery safeguarding, and consultants can be brought in if help is needed in interpreting standards or official guidance. And remember that the experience of most mills that have complied with Making Paper Safely is that the business benefits have far outweighed the costs.

Pilz Automation Technology is an official BSI distributor and has consultants who can advise on machinery safety in paper mills.

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