On May 27-29 in Zurich, Switzerland and June 4-6 in Hong Kong, OEKO-TEX trained the first 50 auditors for conducting the facility audits in the framework of the new STeP certification for sustainable textile production.
The three-day training sessions were divided into different workshops to cover all aspects of the modular STeP certification system.
“The most valuable part of such a training,“ says OEKO-TEX Business Development Manager David Pircher, “is sharing experience.“ Regular meetings amongst OEKO-TEX auditors as well as with specialists from organizations such as SAI are planned to ensure the continuing exchange of experiences from the audits.
“This type of partnership,” Mr. Pircher explains, “is a valuable and economically practical way of achieving a goal together – making the world a little better.”
The textile experts at the OEKO-TEX institutes and worldwide representative offices have been trained with regard to their rights and duties as STeP auditors. This primarily includes independence and neutrality when assessing the production facilities in the textile chain.
The training also covered the everyday handling of the STeP assessment tool, the creation of check lists for the audits and the drawing up of test reports. Planning and execution of the audits also received particular attention. This means that the trained auditors will now be able to carry out standardised audits worldwide.
The “Medicine Wheel Tool” was used in the training units for “team building” according to the comprehensive principles of the Genuine ContactTM approach. The OEKO-TEX experts jointly developed the purpose, the values and the vision of this group in order to create the future “STeP auditor team” from all participants. This formed the basis for the first necessary steps and measures to achieve this vision.
The OEKO-TEX auditors also learned about the structure of an optimum chemicals management system and how companies can implement it in everyday production. The objective assessment of how a company uses chemical substances and agents is based on the three stages of “know”, “assess” and “decide”.
Taking into account these aspects, the auditors are able to specifically check the handling of any chemicals used and to carry out the required inspections, for example with regard to compliance with the restricted substances list (RSL).
Chemicals management includes both highly dangerous substances and those harmful to the environment as well as auxiliary materials such as machine oils and cleaning agents. In the end this distinction is necessary for an adequate assessment and has to be taken into account even by smaller facilities that do not operate in the finishing sector.
The training unit on the environmental performance of production facilities ensures that auditors are familiar with all environmentally relevant factors in order to successfully identify critical points at all stages of production.
The topics included safe handling and storage of chemicals, efficient use of energy resources (electricity, gas, heating oil, etc.) and water, wastewater treatment and its discharge into public waters or treatment plants as well as emissions from boiler and production systems.
Another aspect in this context was the compliance with the limit values required by STeP by OEKO-TEX. A further section covered the environmentally friendly handling of (critical) waste, the functionality of waste management and the environmental impact of any accidental discharge.
This unit also included a detailed discussion of the use of best available technologies (BAT) with regard to resources, plants and processes as this is also of central importance for the environmental performance of production facilities.
Understand management systems (MS) & Introduction to the Resource Efficiency (RE) concept
The first unit identified the common factors of different management systems (MS) from ISO 9001 (quality) and 14001 (environment) to OHSAS 18001 (occupational health and safety) and SA 8000 (social responsibility).
This showed how the correct functioning of managements systems (MS) can be verified on the basis of the company policy, using simple questions for existing indicators. A second unit then presented the concept of resource efficiency (RE) and showed how companies can use sometimes very simple measures to fundamentally improve their environmental performance while saving money.
SAI Field Services Director, Doug DeRuisseau, in Zurich, and SAI Lead Trainer Badri Gulur, in Hong Kong, worked with OEKO-TEX to train the auditors to assess the social working conditions in the textile production facilities, as required by STeP.
As SA 8000 auditors and trainers, Doug DeRuisseau and Badri Gulur were able to contribute their long-standing experience to the workshop. Using practical examples from the textile industry, the auditors learned how different the social conditions can be in the facilities and the complexities of social auditing, which points require special attention and how to manage difficult situations.
Occupational Health and Safety
Depending on the processing stage, the production facilities are faced with specific challenges with regard to occupational health and safety. However, appropriate marking of emergency exits, displaying of escape routes and correct behaviour of employees in emergencies are important issues for all companies.
One of the priorities of the auditor training are labour laws and working conditions, identification of possible noise or dust pollution and safe handling of required chemicals. These always have to take into account the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and the identification of work areas and production plants with suitable warning symbols.
Other topics included: prevention of heat stress, best possible workplace lighting, verification of safety measures for the prevention of work-related accidents as well as competent maintenance and suitability testing of plants and machines.
Another important component of the training was how to phrase questions precisely and how to handle possible answers from the management and in interviews with company employees during the audit.
The auditors can use the practical case studies discussed in the workshops as a basis for conducting their everyday facility audits. The preconditions for a professional qualification level of all STeP auditors are practical experience and the uniform application through all OEKO-TEX member institutes and Representative Offices. Those that do not yet have the required experience for the facility visits will be accompanied by a qualified expert.
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