Training on wheels
Altri Florestal has decided to take education to the work front, by means of a mobile classroom housed in a customised van where participants are taught about best safety practices at work
Some jobs are more prone to accidents than others. People who work in forestry know this only too well. Altri Florestal has around 120 forest suppliers spread around the country, from Braga to Monchique.
The company has always taken great care to provide frontline training to its suppliers’ employees. These sessions are held by field technicians, the people in charge of forest management. Whenever a job commences, training is given on the activity’s inherent risks and dangers to all employees of the subcontractors who provide forestry services, be they a planter or a machine or chainsaw operator. According to Pedro Serafim who is the head of biodiversity and forest certification at Altri Florestal, “everyone should have at least 30 minutes of training on all jobs.”
The training focuses on the most relevant aspects of each job and is given in situ. The goal? To ensure that everyone finds it much easier to internalise the message about the appropriate procedures to be implemented. Providing the information at the work front means that employees start their work on high alert. This has always been the preferred option, rather than providing more complex and lengthy training lasting one or two days, away from the working environment. The strategy has always been to favour training on the frontline.
Pedro Serafim says that these initiatives have helped to cut down on work-related accidents. He explains that “In the 10 years, we have had one fatal accident and an average of one occupational accident per year. We would like to drive these numbers down even further, although they are already well below the national average for accidents in the area of forestry”, and adds that they are doing what they can to ensure that no accidents happen in the workplace.
Training sessions have enabled the company to reduce the number of work accidents to below the national average for the forest sector.
Altri Florestal has been providing training at the work front since 1998. It all began with quality management certification. Achieving ISO 9001 accreditation for its production of eucalyptus logs and pulp for paper incentivised the company to implement a quality management system whereby it promotes and monitors the continuous improvement of the organisation’s products, services and efficiency. The company ended up implementing the Integrated Forest Management System which resulted from the principles and criteria for forest management borrowed from the two most widely-adopted standards in the world (FSC® – Forest Stewardship Council® (1) and PEFC™ – Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.
Under the remit of both these certifications, Altri Florestal encourages its partners and suppliers of raw materials to obtain accreditation, and provides technical support to help form and run producer groups, to ensure it buys certified timber.
Innovation: a mobile classroom
Altri Florestal has for almost two decades been providing training at the work front, and teaching content which has been updated and improved over the years, to keep up with the developments in that area of business. The company has constantly sought to perfect its training and enhance conditions in the workplace. This desire for improvement led to the possibility of equipping the company with a new facility for providing training in situ. This new facility makes it easier and more practical for employees to attend training sessions. The development entailed converting a van into a classroom, to create a mobile training space. The vehicle is equipped with a video and sound system, which makes it easier to present information to the employees.
The idea came about after Miguel Silveira, the director of Altri Florestal, noticed that at the group’s factories – specifically at Celbi – the video about safety procedures shown to all suppliers at the factory entrance was a very effective way of conveying information. Since operators were sent out to different work fronts in the forest, and given the distance to the training sites, why not create a mobile classroom? Pedro Serafim explains the thinking behind the idea: “We don’t have many people on each job, but we do have many jobs scattered around the entire country. This facility could be very useful in providing our employees with better working conditions.” It was therefore decided to set the idea in motion, so a van was purchased and the passenger compartment converted into a small classroom. This required an investment of around 80 thousand Euros including the work performed by MOBIPeople, a company from Coimbra which is very well-known within the sector for adapting vans for tourist companies.
The great challenge arising in terms of developing training initiatives is working on improving behaviours.
The new facility was rolled out in October 2016, and had added a new dimension to disseminating information. Passing the message from paper onto video is a great bonus which has helped to draw employees’ attention. Furthermore, the van provides physical protection for the instructor and trainees, shielding them from the weather, wind and sun, and enabling them to sit down in a covered space right on the frontline of the job. Everyone involved behaves differently in Altri Florestal’s training van than in a traditional classroom setting. According to Pedro Serafim, people are less inhibited when watching the information on video format, and end up talking about the appropriate conduct. “That’s what we want to achieve. To pack up the classroom and take it to the work site, providing as much comfort as possible, sheltered from the rain, wind and sun.”
In 2016 around 900 training sessions were performed at the work front without the Training Van, and 70 training sessions are planned for this year using the Van.
250 employees trained per year
900 training sessions were performed at the work front in 2016
70 training sessions per year undertaken using the van
9,000 kilometres travelled by the mobile classroom
Importance of the video
The videos are around seven or eight minutes long and are centred around the unacceptable safety risks inherent to forestry work. The main threats relating to forest work are identified during these training sessions. Employees are told that under no circumstances must they run these risks, and explanations are given regarding the consequences of doing so, and the types of accidents which could happen, and how to avoid them by complying with the instructions given during training.
The van is equipped with a sound and video system which makes it easier to present information to employees. This allows the message to be broadcast by showing videos which depict the best environmental and safety practices for each job to be performed.
Acácio José Henriques, a forest foreman, says that the importance of these training sessions at the work front helps to convey to forest workers the precautions and safety procedures they must implement during the course of their work. Acácio Henriques deals with suppliers and employees on a daily basis. He is one of the permanent members of staff at Altri who ensures that these training sessions are undertaken in situ. From speaking to employees, he has gleaned that they recognise the benefits of such training. “These sessions help them understand dangerous situations which may arise from not using their equipment correctly, such as their high-visibility jacket, hard hat or gloves.” Whenever a job starts, training is given to explain safety principles, a short manual is presented containing different information, and all the safety procedures are revised. According to Acácio Henriques, “when we have the training van with us, it’s easier to show this information to employees, since it is presented in the video which draws people’s attention much better than an explanation from a manual written on paper.”
The plan is for each employee, from the north of Portugal to the south, to have at least one session in the van per year. This is the stipulated minimum. There are situations where the number of visits is higher. João Reis, head of the Western Forest Region at Altri Florestal, explains that whenever a works contract commences, he coordinates with Pedro Serafim to make sure that the van comes to give a training session. “We both look at the vehicle’s availability taking certain factors into account, such as the suppliers with whom we are working and how long the job is going to last. On larger jobs, the work involves several suppliers and since it’s a larger job the risks are also greater”, says João Reis. He concludes “This is why the classroom van has come to this work site for the third time.”
The great challenge arising in terms of developing training initiatives is working on improving behaviours. Using machines safely is something that employees have internalised extremely well, which is a very positive result of the strategy of repeating frontline training sessions. The problem which still persists regarding accidents at work relates to attitude. Pedro Serafim explains that “they are very repetitive jobs in which we must always be proactive to ensure that employees recognise they can’t overstep certain boundaries, and that if they do they might cause an accident”. According to Serafim, Altri Florestal’s head of biodiversity and forest certification, the next step is to endeavour to understand near accidents, those times when an accident almost happened but ended up being avoided. “From a safety and training point of view, it’s a more challenging job to try to understand these occasions and what led up to them, rather than just trying to prevent an accident.”
First Aid workshop
Accidents can be minimised, but they cannot be avoided. They are not scheduled with the time and place where they will occur. Since we know accidents will happen, and that jobs in the forestry sector often take place in areas with little or no signposts and with no phone coverage, the First Aid administered to someone who has had an accident is extremely important. In the case of serious accidents, First Aid can be a matter of life and death.
To prevent these situations, Altri Florestal in partnership with EuroPGS, provides First Aid training for its employees with precise instructions on what to do in the even of an accident, both in terms of the aid given on the spot and also how to inform the 112 emergency services of the exact location and severity of the accident, thereby enabling help to come as quickly as possible and assistance to be given rapidly and effectively.