The view from Finland
Companies in territories outside the EU, such as Russia, Ukraine and Türkiye, have already assisted in translating Isopa’s training materials into their local languages, even though they are not formally obligated to follow Reach. But let’s take a look within the EU to see how Reach is unfurling in Finland.
Eliisa Irpola is chief policy adviser, product safety, at the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland. Irpola said the Federation’s Reach-related work has so far mainly consisted of advocacy on the behalf of industry, checking Isopa’s Finnish translation, and discussion with authorities on the training in general. She suggested two corporate contacts who would have a clearer picture of things on the ground: Matti Junnila at Ravelast and Lilli Puntti at Kiilto.
The master-apprentice model of training that has been traditionally used in Finnish industry relied on experience and practical know-how, rather than institutional certification for knowledge validation and transmission. This means that, while managers may generally be highly educated, with master’s degrees in chemical engineering or management, and while they may have completed safety training and take safety extremely seriously, the diffusion of this knowledge through organisational channels to front-line workers has generally been behind the cutting edge of best practice.
Ravelast’s safety revolution
Finnish is a language with comparatively few speakers, so Isopa’s basic training – not the full range of 36 training options – was only available in Finnish just two weeks before the August Reach deadline.
Junnila, a development manager at the company, explained that Ravelast had been monitoring the situation weekly and that managers had already completed training in English. Finland is a highly literate country where multilingualism is common and facility in English as the language of global popular culture is generally high. However, a significant portion of the 25-30 workers who handle diisocyanates at Ravelast do not speak English to a level sufficient to follow technical safety training; they needed it to be available in Finnish.
Junnila explained that having an international standard of safety training makes managers’ lives easier because the cultural change required to get everyone to the highest safety standards now carries the weight of European legislation. Even though managers at Ravelast had already completed the Isopa training in English, access to Finnish translation has added an additional level of institutional clout to their in-house directives. This has boosted worker safety because it has accelerated what Junnila calls the “cultural change” that has been going on in the industry since the respiratory risks of diisocyanates were first recognised.
Basic training is part of Ravelast onboarding, but now there is also a formal certification process. Ravelast’s suppliers are legally bound to ask whether they have completed the training, and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency may also make checks in the future. Beyond formalising existing safety practices and building industry momentum away from generational bad habits, some new details have also filtered through thanks to Isopa’s training content. For example, did you know that the use of PPE provides an absolute limit on facial hair? When will hipsters catch a break?
Junnila credits Nantte Pennanen, sales director at Ravelast, as spearheading the adoption of better quality and management systems at Ravelast. In practice, this has included dealing with and reviewing all near-misses and other situations as they arise and drawing out implications and improvements continuously. A relatively flat organisational hierarchy enables quick decision-making and improvements, and Pennanen has also implemented a reward system for development suggestions and accident-free work.
“Even a single accident can yield a high accident frequency, calculated relative to the number of absence days it causes,” said Pennanen. “In some years, the frequency had been nearly 300. So far in 2023, the frequency is zero, and we will continue to aim for that with continuous training and operational development.”