The National Safety Council has a team of consultants who travel across the country, and around the world, to visit construction sites and conduct safety audits. But no matter where each team member is located, there is a good chance that they will identify one or more of the seven common security risks. Here, NSC consultants JoAnn Dankert, Namir George, and Rachel Harrington identify forSafety+Healththe workplace pain points they see over and over again.
work at height
It should come as no surprise that Dankert, Harrington and George frequently identify the hazards associated with working at height. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that falls to a lower level accounted for 14% of all fatalities in 2014, and OSHA standards related to scaffolding and ladders are regularly among the most frequently cited violations.
Dankert, a senior consultant for NSC based in Arizona, said the dangers associated with working at heights can stem from a lack of understanding. Employers may not know they need to provide fall protection, or fall protection equipment may not be used properly or attached to nothing. Some employers don't even have a written fall protection procedure or process.
Employers should identify all the places where fall protection is needed, as well as where the designed anchorage points are, and train employees and regularly audit the fall protection program, he said.
Watch an interview with National Safety Council Senior Advisor JoAnn Dankert about common safety issues she encounters in the workplace.
Some of these places can be surprising. Dankert recently visited a sprawling factory and added a new 12-foot-tall refrigerator along with three existing ones on the roof. But something was missing. The old equipment had adequate fall protection, including swing doors and a rail for when maintenance work was required, but the new cooler did not.
“The fall hazard was not from working and falling off the roof, but from the equipment on top of the roof,” Dankert said. "These are hidden places that you don't go to very often and just don't think about."
Dankert cites this case as an example of the need to bring security professionals to the table when design or purchase decisions are made. His input, he said, can save employers time and money.
More tips: Buy the right size equipment for your workers, and remember that while some work environments may have readily available anchor points, other locations may require an engineer to install them. Remind employees to hold on to the anchorage point when working at height and watch how personal protective equipment is held. Environments with sharp edges, chemicals, or welding, for example, can weaken a harness. Regularly inspect equipment and remove damaged PPE from service.
“Fall protection is like any other PPE: it's not good forever,” Dankert said.
In some situations, it may be beneficial to forgo the use of personal fall protection equipment and instead build a platform with standard guardrails and a swing gate in front of a fixed ladder. While such a platform costs money, Dankert said, it can be less expensive than creating a fall protection plan, purchasing the PPE, and training and retraining employees.
Clutter blocking fire escapes, corridors and emergency exits is a cleaning problem that George, who lives in the UK as a manager of international consultancy services for NSC, sees frequently.
Another common problem? Excessive stacking of racked loads in a warehouse that brings them too close to a sprinkler, which can limit the effectiveness of the sprinkler in an emergency. Clutter, leaks, or standing water can also contribute to slips, trips, and falls.
Workers shouldn't expect cleaning or sanitation crews to deal with these issues, Dankert said. Instead, they must clean as they go. “Just because it's a messy process doesn't mean you shouldn't clean up spills,” he said.
If the mess or spill requires specialized cleanup training, employees should alert their supervisor, who can dispatch appropriate personnel. Additionally, Dankert recommends setting aside a few minutes at the end of each shift, or on a Friday afternoon, to clean up before starting the day.
When it comes to storage, employers need to make sure the appropriate areas are available, says Harrington, a senior adviser to the Illinois-based NSC. Harrington said he often sees electrical rooms being used inappropriately for storage, with supplies blocking electrical installations.
Even if the spacing between stored supplies and circuit breakers is appropriate, Harrington said, employers should consider situations that might arise where someone needs easy access to that room.
“Think of an emergency where the lights are out, something went wrong, and there are chairs full,” he said. “I would not recommend storing anything in an electrical room other than what is used for that room. I would not recommend it at all.”
|JoAnn Dankert||namir jorge||Raquel Harrington|
Electrical - extension cords
Stuck circuit breakers aren't the only electrical hazards NSC consultants frequently see. Many electrical hazards are related to the improper use of extension cords.
Dankert often witnesses "daisy chaining" - the use of multiple extension cords or power strips in one device. At one manufacturing plant Dankert visited, he saw as many as five extension cords strung together.
“It was almost like the lights on the Christmas tree,” he said. "All you really saw was all these electrical wires everywhere."
As the employer is a developer of equipment prototypes, the layout of the production floor was changed regularly. And in most other respects, the employer was careful about safety: the extensions used were new and heavy-gauge, and the facility was very clean.
“They were trying to do the right thing, but it also made me think that it's not really temporary,” Dankert said.
And that's the point: while extension cords can be useful for temporarily supplying power for certain operations, the key word is "temporarily." When a lanyard is used for several weeks or months, Dankert said, OSHA does not consider it temporary use. This opens the door to a breach.
Also, extension cords that remain in the ground for long periods of time are a tripping hazard. They can also be subject to traffic abuse if run over by forklifts or feet, which can erode insulation and create shock hazards. When wires are twisted together, they can easily drain electricity from circuits, causing the wires to heat up and potentially start a fire.
Employers need to assess whether extension cords are actually being used for temporary measures, perhaps to power a fan on a particularly hot day. In that case, Dankert said, the cable should be collected at the end of the shift and put away. She recommends setting up a system to periodically inspect extension cords and training employees on that system to ensure cords remain in good working order and frayed cords are taken out of service.
Workers must ensure that they are using the correct extension cord for the job. Typically, more expensive wire has a heavier gauge, allowing it to draw more power without getting hot. The same applies to using a single power strip to connect several different devices: the power strip may not be rated for the combined power required by all the high-power appliances connected.
If extension cords are not used for a temporary solution, employers should consider hiring an electrician to install a line and outlet.
What is the root cause of forklift-related hazards in the workplace? In George's experience, this is when workers feel compelled to work quickly.
“What dictates their activity is production,” he said. "Everyone is under pressure, and when you're under pressure, they start taking shortcuts."
Shortcuts include driving with a heavy load or driving while distracted. The end result could be hitting a shelf, damaging a wall or product, or even injuring a co-worker.
How employers react to these facts is critical, but their responses often miss the mark, NSC consultants say. George said that a common attitude after an incident is to blame the individual and instill discipline. The forklift driver is retrained, retested, and then put back into the system. But employers fail to identify the root cause, which is often not enough staff or trucks to manage the current workload.
These problems are compounded by a lack of daily maintenance and checks on the trucks and a failure to separate vehicles from pedestrians, George said. Trucks must be inspected regularly to ensure they are in good working order, and employers must create designated walkways.
Proper lockout/tagout procedures can help prevent serious injury, but only if these procedures are followed.
“Many organizations have the best procedures, but what is lacking is the implementation of the procedures,” George said.
- An employee can go home for the day with the lock closed and the next employee on duty cuts the lock.
- Workers can simply use a tag on older equipment where secure lockout is more difficult.
- Instead of installing a chain to lock a valve in place, a wire can be used that can be easily cut.
Even if all lockout/tagout steps are followed, faulty equipment can still cause failures. George recalled a case in which an electrician doing wiring work was surprised. The equipment was locked, but the instruments he was using to verify the system were tampered with and could not read that the system was active and not isolated. The worker touched a live wire, causing a third degree burn.
Violation of lockout/tagout procedures generally comes down to three reasons:
- A rush to finish the job
- Not familiar with the equipment.
Employers need to train employees on lockout/tagout and make sure they are qualified to carry out the procedures, George stressed.
Chemicals can be expensive, and workers in some industries may never know when they will need to use a particular chemical again in the future. But, according to Harrington, that kind of thinking can lead to serious risks.
“Before you know it, you have all these chemicals that nobody wants or needs,” he said. “There will be literally hundreds of chemicals on the shelves.”
He added that while it can be easy to overlook a small 5-gram bottle, those 5 grams can become unstable over time. For example, after about a year, ether can degrade to explosive peroxide.
When an organization buys and uses chemicals, it needs to have a control system in place, Harrington said. You need to know what the chemicals are for and why they were ordered.
OSHA's hazard communication standard requires facilities to maintain an inventory of all products. Write down the expiration date of the chemical and use it before that date or dispose of it properly. This is more than just a safety issue, Harrington said: Storing a large quantity of unwanted chemicals may be illegal. It can also be very expensive to dispose of large amounts of expired chemicals.
Another potential hazard is the transfer of chemicals from one container to another. Even if employees are comfortable with the chemicals and have worked with them for years, the containers must be labeled as required by the Hazcom standard.
Confined spaces can present a number of hazards. George said many confined space tragedies have occurred because an employer failed to issue a permit or conduct a risk assessment.
In one scenario George found, the hazardous atmosphere of a confined space was not properly assessed because the equipment used was outdated. Started a fire.
“I've seen people go into drains without permission and they didn't even know it was a confined space,” he said. "Someone came in looking for something and passed out because the person waiting was distracted."
If the risk assessment and permitting process is done correctly and all the steps are followed, employers won't have a problem, George said. "It's all planned," he added. "If you don't plan correctly, you plan for disaster."
focus on prevention
The seven hazards presented are not an exhaustive list: there may be many more hazards in your workplace, and identifying them requires vigilance. To help identify hazards in the workplace, NSC consultants recommend focusing on the following areas:
Training -Workers won't inherently know they have to do something a certain way, Dankert said. It is up to each organization to properly train employees on security protocols. This training begins with the hiring of the new worker, when the employer provides an introduction to occupational health and safety, including hazard recognition. Training must continue in the specific department where the new employee will work. Thereafter, regular refresher training is required.
Know the purpose of the training and make sure that the right training is provided for each worker individually based on their needs. After the training, check and supervise the workers to verify that they are applying correctly.
“Spending a little money up front on prevention can save you money in the end.”
National Security Council
personal protection equipment
“The use of PPE falls squarely on the role of employers to determine, provide and ensure that people wear it,” Dankert said.
If employers determine that PPE is necessary, they must select the correct sizes and a variety of options for their staff, and train workers on how to properly don, don, and doff the equipment. Supervisors on the floor must model the behavior they expect from employees by wearing all necessary PPE. If employees aren't wearing PPE, Dankert said, employers need to find out why: The equipment could be uncomfortable or not work properly.
But providing the right security equipment is not enough. Devices can be misused or neglected. “People are very arrogant about their PPE,” Harrington said, adding that employers need to make sure the equipment is put in its proper container and not just hung on a hook.
Clearly communicate and reinforce the need for workers to wear PPE, emphasizing that the equipment protects them from injury and illness, such as losing an eye or developing a respiratory illness. In short, Jorge said, teach "what comes out of me."
Often, small businesses simply don't have the resources to properly verify the security of their systems. And in many situations, Dankert added, employers may not know what constitutes safe procedure.
These employers must reach out and access available resources, many of which are free. Several fire and workers' compensation insurance companies offer free inspection programs. OSHA does, too, and says that employers will not be penalized if violations are found during a consultation visit. (For more information on OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program, see page 76)
Some equipment vendors may also be willing to perform certain audits, according to Dankert, so ask around. Check out free resources on the web, including those from OSHA and the National Safety Council, and find free local training. OSHA's Susan Harwood Training Scholarship Program provides training in a variety of areas, and its website has free resource materials.
However, not all resources are free, and employers must be willing to invest in some training or PPE if they want to keep workers safe. “Spending a little money on prevention can save money in the end,” Dankert said.
Many workplaces have a "monkey see, monkey do" mentality, according to Harrington. If a supervisor or manager does something unsafe, other workers will do the same.
Instead, organizations need to establish a culture where safety becomes everyone's responsibility and workers feel comfortable reporting dangerous processes. Leadership sets the tone.
“If management is engaged and sends a signal to employees about managing safety in the shop or at the bottom of the tree, that responsibility will go mainstream,” George said.
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