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The most dangerous actions you take in the workplace
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1. Unauthorized use or operation of equipment.
Most equipment and machinery requires training before an employee is allowed to use it, operate it or drive it. There is a very good reason for this. I’m remembering the episode of “The Office” where Michael gets on the forklift in the warehouse and proceeds to knock down all the shelving. Forklifts aren’t the only dangerous piece of equipment in most places of business. Much of the equipment can inflict serious injury if the user has not been properly trained on how to use and operate it. The fix
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Clear postings on the equipment and machinery letting employees know that only authorized and properly training employees are allowed to use it. Keep a proper record of who has keys to which piece of equipment. Lock out equipment that doesn’t have a key, in order to make sure that only properly trained employees can access it. Make sure that employees are properly trained concerning not using equipment without proper training. Create an “equipment license” program that gives a license or permit (much like a forklift license) to employees who have successfully passed the training program. If there are several pieces of equipment, create a license with checks that shows which ones they have been properly trained on. Allow only licensed operators to use the equipment. Provide a program that rewards employees who can anonymously let a supervisor know if they spot an employee using a piece of equipment they are not trained on.
2. Failure to secure or tie down materials to prevent unexpected movement.
We have talked before, under forklift safety about the need to secure loads. Uneven ground, sudden braking, uneven loads, etc… can all cause the load to shift and fall. Forklift loads, however, aren’t the only things that need to be properly secured. Even stationary items like free standing shelving should be anchored against accidental collisions that might cause the shelf to tip causing boxes and items on the shelf to spill. In certain areas (such as here in Seattle) anchoring can help secure loads against earthquakes as well. Loads on moving vehicles also need to be secured properly. Even if you are staying off of public roads and highways, unsecured loads can fall off moving vehicles and cause damage and injury. Even loads that workers carry by hand need to be manageable. Carrying loads that are too high and/or unstable can result in serious injuries. The fix
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Take several trips, breaking up large loads that might be unstable. Change the method of transportation to one that can handle the load better (instead of trying to carry 4 boxes by hand, for example, get a hand jack or a cart). Interlock items and secure them properly for transportation. Plan the route to keep turns, uneven ground and/or braking to a minimum. Don’t skimp on tie down material. Use plenty of rope, lanyards, bungies and tie‐down netting to make sure that the load won’t shift.
For a good example of one companies’ “Safe Lashing and Securing of Loads” policy, check out this PowerPoint presentation. For a list of tips on securing loads check out this resource from gradingandexcavating.com
3. Working or operating equipment too fast.
There’s a good reason why there are posted speed limits. There’s also a good reason why your mom told you to “slow down and concentrate!” Unfortunately, when productivity is the issue, speed is often of the essence. Pick up a copy of “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, a book detailing the working conditions in the slaughterhouses of Chicago years ago, to see what happens when production is more important than safety. Taking the time to “do it right” is paramount to safety. There are ways to work fast and yet still stay safe, but sometimes the only solution is to slow down in order to make sure that the job is being done safely. The Fix The solution to this unsafe action revolves around a proper assessment of the equipment or the job in question. A number of questions need to be asked:
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What is a reasonable output expectation for this particular job or piece of equipment? What unsafe conditions might result if this job or equipment is sped up too much? What safeguards can be put in place to make sure that the job remains safe, even if it is sped up a little (machine guards for example might allow a worker to move faster without the danger of getting his hands pinched in the machinery)? What is a reasonable shift expectation for this job or equipment? Would a change of personnel, a shorter shift or a break actually allow the job to proceed rapidly and still remain safe?
As is often the case, asking the right questions combined with a proper analysis of the answers can keep speed from creating unsafe conditions.
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4. Failure to warn or signal as required.
You know the guy who suddenly pulls into your lane with no warning when you’re driving down the road? Annoying isn’t he? In the workplace it goes beyond annoying; failure to signal or warn can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. It’s why we have backup alarms on vehicles. Failure to warn can be as simple as the right-to-know issue where employees are not aware of the dangers of the substances that they are handling. It also encompasses issues of workers in machinery or vehicles not making sure that no one is in the way when they turn, back-up or make sudden stops. The Fix
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Obviously, in issues of hazardous chemicals and substances, having the MSDS sheets available and making sure that employees are properly trained concerning the dangers of the substances that they are handling, is a must. Every workplace should have a RTK station with all the MSDS sheets in a binder, available for employees to look through as needed. For other signals and warnings, it is important to make sure that everyone knows when it is indispensable that they signals or warn, regardless of whether they believe someone to be in the way or not. Back‐up alarms should be installed on all vehicles. Forklift drivers and hand truck users should always check in the aisle behind the rack where they are loading product, especially a pallet. Product that might not be visible can get displaced when the pallet is pushed into place on the shelf. If someone is on the other side of the shelf, they could be get seriously injured or killed when the product falls off the back edge of the shelf. Convex mirrors allow pedestrians and drivers to see if anyone is coming, especially in blind spots. It is important to note that hearing protection can become an impediment to clear communication. If an employee is wearing hearing protection that keeps him from hearing warnings, he might be overprotected. Noise cancelling, electronic earmuffs that allow communication but that eliminate noise levels above 85 dB might be a good solution in such cases. Visual alarms such as flashing lights on vehicles or on moving parts of machinery might also be called for in order to help employees see when there is an imminent danger. Warning and safety signs might also be needed to raise awareness in areas where danger might be present. Aisle marking tape can keep pedestrians and vehicle traffic separated as well.
5. Using defective tools or equipment.
One of my hobbies, one I haven’t done in a couple years now, used to be rock climbing. Contrary to what a lot of people think, rock climbing, if done properly, is extremely safe. One of the basic rules of rock climbing is that any metallic piece of equipment that takes a fall of over 4 feet onto a hard surface, is retired immediately. Why? Because a visual inspection is not enough. The carabiner might look perfectly fine but that impact on that rock might have causes a hairline crack in the metal that your eyes couldn’t be able to pick up. When you take a fall, however, that
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carabiner might be all that’s keeping you from falling to your death. I’d rather throw away a carabiner that looks new than find out that it isn’t when my life depends on it. The same principle should apply to all the tools and equipment used in the workplace. You don’t want that screwdriver to splinter and pierce your hand just because you thought that the crack in the handle didn’t look serious enough to throw the tool out. Defective tools and equipment should immediately be repaired (and I don’t mean with duct tape, sorry Mr. Red Green!) or thrown out. The Fix The fix, as we have already mentioned, is simple. Repair the defective tool properly or replace them if they can’t be properly repaired. A regular quality inspection should also be implemented to identify defective tools and equipment before it becomes a problem.
6. Removing guards
It should go without saying that guards are in place for a reason. The reason is safety. Guards may at times slow or hinder work but this should never be a reason for removing them. The only time a safety guard should be removed is to do maintenance or repair on the equipment. The Fix
Never remove or try to bypass guards except for maintenance and repair of equipment Whenever a guard is removed for maintenance or repair, the equipment should be locked out
7. Improperly using tools or equipment.
The above photo is a perfect illustration of the deadly dozen # 7 of today. Bobcats are not intended to be the base for a scaffold. There’s a big accident just waiting to happen here! One can only hope that someone had the sense to lockout the bobcat but again, the kind of people who would do or allow this kind of thing probably aren’t known for their smarts or concern for safety. While this photo is maybe somewhat extreme, you’d be surprised how often, when making sales calls, I’ve witnessed forklifts and other equipment being used in ways that they were never intended to be used. Everyone of us could probably give several examples of workplace instances where tools and equipment were used for purposes other than what they were designed for. The Fix Not rocket science here, just don’t do it. If you don’t have the right tool, go get it; simply don’t do that particular job until you have the right tool for the job. It’s that simple!
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Using the wrong tool not only puts everyone in danger but it can also damage the tool which means that the next time a worker picks it up he or she is now dealing with unsafe action # 5.
8. Standing in an unsafe place or assuming an improper posture (as in lifting).
Our unsafe action for today is actually two different unsafe actions.
1. Standing in an unsafe place All workplaces have “unsafe zones”. An unsafe zone is any spot or location where the probability of injury is higher than other areas. This could be high traffic areas, areas that are in the path of moving parts or equipment, loading and unloading areas, areas where certain chemicals or hazardous materials are present or any other area where injuries are more probable.
1. The first step is to identify these areas. This requires a thorough analysis of the work area. This analysis needs to be done with the full work day in view. Conditions change. Certain types of equipment, certain types of procedures may only happen at certain times of the day (e. g. The UPS truck comes at a certain time of the day and needs to be loaded and unloaded when it arrives). 2. The second step is to either keep personnel away from these zones, limit personnel in those areas to those who must be there and/or make sure that anyone who might be in one of these areas is aware of the potential hazard. 3. If workers don’t need to be in these areas at all, it becomes a simple matter of restricting personnel from these areas with barricades, ropes, fencing or other barriers. 4. If some workers need to be in these area at certain times than it becomes a matter of restriction personnel to these individuals and making sure that the workers that have to be in these zones are properly trained and made aware of the dangers as well as making sure that other personnel know that they cannot and should not be in these areas (proper training followed by signs posting the dangers and the restrictions). 5. If the areas is one in which it is not possible to restrict traffic (an example of this would be public thoroughfares where construction is taking place) then, where possible, measures should be taken to protect people from the danger (for example a covered walkway to protect from falling debris) as well as making sure that they are properly informed about the hazards that they might encounter in these areas. Awareness can be through personnel that is present to make them aware (Flaggers would fall in this category) or through signs posted for this express purpose. 2. Assuming an improper posture Improper posture accounts for a massive amount of time off work each year. A clear understanding of the proper way to lift, to twist, to sit, to stand, etc… is a crucial part of reducing these injuries.
The Fix: It is beyond the scope of this particular posting to do an in-depth training on the proper postures for the various jobs and conditions present in the workplace. To get
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some help in this area, simply click on the “Ergonomics” section of this blog in the categories section to the right.
9. Servicing moving equipment
This unsafe action simply falls in the category of “too lazy or in too big a hurry to do it right”! Almost all of the injuries in today’s unsafe action are caused by a worker trying to “quickly” fix something without stopping operations. A worker notices that something is in the way, something is stuck to a moving part or a moving part isn’t functioning as it should. Rather than shut the machine off, the worker figures he can just reach in and fix the problem. Instead he ends up getting himself or someone else hurt. One of the primary types of work in which this has historically been an ongoing issue is in the printing industry. It is sad to see how many offset printers are missing fingers because they tried to quickly clear a jam as the machine was running. The Fix: Companies need to have zero tolerance for this unsafe action. The more this is allowed to happen the greater the danger. Workers that get used to “quickly fixing” moving machinery without shutting it off quickly get into a bad and dangerous habit that will eventually come back to bite them. Worse, the bad example is contagious. More often than not, other workers, usually younger ones, learn that it’s the “macho” thing to do. This habit is especially hard to break in workers that have been doing it for a while. Proper training, explaining that this habit will no longer be tolerated, along with a clear presentation of the dangers that the workers are running is the first step. Supervisors and coworkers need to be trained as well. They need to understand that they HAVE to say something when witnessing this unsafe behavior. They need to get the concept that they are not “snitching” or “ratting out” their co-worker but rather doing the caring thing to make sure that their friend stays safe. The co-worker may get upset at being reprimanded for something that he or she feels they have been doing for a long time and know how to do without getting hurt, but having an upset co-worker now needs to be a price that they are willing to deal with now, knowing that the alternative might well be visiting him or her in the hospital or attending a funeral with the guilt of knowing that they might have saved their friend if only they had spoken up. Furthermore, posting signs that clearly state the dangers are a great way to remind workers to shut off machinery before reaching in or around it to try to service it. When possible install guards.
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10. Riding equipment not designed for passengers.
This may sound like a no-brainer but the problem is often that people often don’t use their brains, especially when it comes to safety. What we are talking about here is riding on the forks of the forklift, riding or “surfing” the conveyor belts, “scootering” with the pallet jack (have a look at this YouTube video to see what I mean and what can happen when you do it) or hopping a ride to the back of a vehicle. All of these are unsafe. Just because the forklift is heading to the back of the warehouse and you need to go that way as well, does not justify grabbing on and hitching a ride. The Fix The fix for today’s unsafe action is quite simple. Identify when and where workers are intended to be on equipment and allow zero-tolerance for anyone riding, slidding, surfing, scooting along or in any other way using equipment to propel or carry them. Does that mean, for example that you can’t use the forks of a forklift to raise someone up to change the lightbulbs in the warehouse? Not at all! What it does mean, however, is that if you are going to use the forklift to raise and lower personnel, you need to make sure you first properly install the forklift basket that is designed to make sure that the worker is protected. An added benefit of this zero tolerance towards riding equipment is the increased exercise everyone gets from walking instead of riding.
Today’s unsafe action is closely related to yesterdays’ which was “riding equipment not designed for passengers”. Horseplay is defined as goofing around, joking, rough play and/or playing pranks on fellow employees. It is essentially the opposite of what employees should be doing in the workplace. This does not mean that work can’t be fun or that workers should walk around with somber faces and never laugh. Horseplay, however, ignores safety and/or the feelings of fellow employees. Horseplay that results in injury can result in criminal prosecution in some states. Furthermore, if you are the one who is engaging in horseplay and get injured, you may not be covered by your employers’ insurance. Your medical bills may end up being your own responsibility. The Fix
1. Have designated areas for employees to play (a basketball hoop, for example, provides a way for employees to let off a little steam during lunch and/or breaks) 2. Make sure that everyone is clear as to what constitutes horseplay. 8 www.nationalsafetyinc.com * (800) 213‐7092 National Safety, Inc.
3. Do not allow practical jokes on fellow employees. While some may consider them funny, others may not, especially the one who is the object of the joke. 4. Make sure that employees are clear about the liability involved in horseplay and that they understand they could be held legally responsible for injuries incurred because of horseplay.
Your workplace doesn’t have to be depressing; somewhere no one is allowed to have fun, but fun that jeopardizes safety isn’t fun at all. Having fun shouldn’t humiliate anyone nor should it put anyone in harm’s way. Side note: Do you know where the expression “Horseplay” comes from? It is derived from the English fairs where entertainers would often ride in on wooden hobby horses and perform antics to amuse and entertain the crowds.
12. Failure to wear the proper personal protective equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is specifically designed to protect workers. PPE includes such things as safety glasses, protective clothing, boots, gloves, respiratory protection, earplugs, hard hats and much, much more. As new technology and new materials are discovered, manufacturers produce new and better PPE to provide a greater degree of protection, comfort, dexterity as well as, in some cases, reduce the cost. Employers are required by law to provide their employees with the PPE necessary to do their jobs effectively and safely. A lot of time and money has gone into finding ways to increase compliance on the part of workers. The most commonly cited reasons employees give for not wearing PPE include:
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“It isn’t comfortable” “I look dorky in it” “I didn’t think it was necessary for this job” “It’s too hot with it on”
The Fix A lot of time and money has been spent (and continues to be spent) on finding ways to increase PPE compliance. A quick google search will turn up dozens of ideas designed to eliminate the above objections to PPE. I will cover only the top ones: 1. PPE no longer has to look dorky. The days of boxy, square looking safety glasses are gone (although, if you still want them, they are certainly available). Today’s safety glasses are sleek and stylish, in many cases, reminiscent of high end sun glasses. Even without spending a fortune, glasses such as the Starlite glasses provide a lightweight, sleek, wrap-around style for as little as $1.26 a pair. A glance through the safety glasses on our website will show dozens of different styles at a variety of prices. What we are saying about safety glasses applies to a large percentage of other PPE now available on the market.
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2. New materials, such as breathable liquid-resistant fabrics are increasingly making PPE more comfortable to wear. Disposable coveralls are a perfect example of this. Traditional materials tended to quickly heat up causing the worker to sweat. The result was that workers didn’t like wearing them because they were hot and damp. Newer materials are breathable, keeping the wearer more comfortable while still providing an effective barrier against the chemicals and particles that workers need to protect against. 3. Proper training, as well as posting the proper signs, letting employees know which PPE needs to be worn for what jobs can decrease the “I didn’t know” factor. Standardization of PPE for the various tasks can take the guesswork out of it as well. 4. Offering workers choices is often a great way to increase compliance. When there is no choice about whether or not to wear the PPE, having a choice of which PPE to wear can often make the difference with many workers. 5. Proper training is also key. Most workers, when fully aware of the dangers, are more than willing to wear the required PPE. Not knowing, it is a lot easier to “pretend” that everything is okay. Proper training, including visuals, drives home the necessity for the proper PPE. Want more ideas? Here are a couple of suggestions: 1. Join http://www.safetycommunity.com/ . This website is specifically designed for safety professionals. At the time of writing this post, some 2,823 members had joined. It provides a network for the exchange of ideas, information and more, all related to issues of safety in the workplace. Post questions, participate in discussions, read posts and interact with other safety professionals. 2. Do an internet search with the key words “Safety Compliance” 3. Join a local safety organization. In WA, for example, there is the Puget Sound Safety Summit which is “dedicated to forming a networked alliance of government, management, and labor to develop methods and solutions for continuous improvement of workplace safety, with the goal of reducing workplace injuries and accidents to zero.” 4. Subscribe to blogs such as this one and post comments. All of us can benefit from each other.
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