When it comes to shop safety, you really are your brother’s keeper, says John Depoorter, CEM, project equipment manager for AECOM.
“The company can put safety programs into place, but it’s really the employees that develop the culture,” Depoorter says. “That culture should go from the top down and the bottom up.”
All employees in a shop should respect and work within the safety systems put in place and take responsibility for overall shop conditions, according to those who focus on shop safety. One system that must be respected by all is the practice of lockout/tag out. This system protects shop employees at work around, or on, heavy equipment by removing the energy source.
“Lockout is physically preventing a machine from releasing energy,” says Dana Cirks, CEM, senior manager of Titan Rentals, part of Titan Machinery, a Case dealership in Fargo, N.D. He has an extensive background in shop safety, including a stint with a Miami contractor.
“In other words, it prevents the machine from being turned on. Tag out is a notification. If someone gets into a cab while a technician is working under the hood, the tag out warns whoever is in the cab not to turn on the machine. In addition to identifying the person who locked the machine out, it tells you what he’s doing and sometimes lists the time,” Cirks says. “If anyone wants to turn on the machine, they can go find you. If you have four locks or four tags on the equipment, and three have been taken off, the unit should not be started or engaged. All the locks have to be removed.”
Electricity is one source of energy to lock out, says Depoorter.
“You would shut down and lock out the breakers, identifying the person who locked them out. Generally, that person is the one working on a piece of equipment, whether it is a conveyor, circuit breaker, or control motor.”
Gravity is another energy source, he says.
“If you’ve jacked up a piece of equipment and taken the wheels off, you have to have a secondary source of blocking to make sure there is no way for that piece of equipment to come down.”
“The energy source must be completely and without a doubt muted and disabled prior to servicing, troubleshooting, or repairing a piece of equipment or a component,” adds Michael Pierce, CEM, vice president of equipment for RMCI N.M. “This is to protect the person or persons working on the machine and to protect others in the vicinity. It’s locked out for a reason.”
Pierce says he uses lockout scissors and each individual lock has its own key. If a mechanic puts a lock on the equipment, he is the only one who has a key to that lock.
“You may have one or five locks on there and nobody messes with them. All the locks have to be removed before you can put that machine back in operation.”
“You can’t do it with just one lock,” Depoorter says. “In our situation, we have a scissor that we put on. Every person working on the unit has his own individual lock in place.”
For example, if three people are working on a piece of equipment, “there better be three locks on there with identification that tells us who they are,” he continues. “This way, if one guy needs to test the system he can’t walk up and remove the lock and fire up the machine while someone else is working on it in the back.”
Safety Bright Spot
In a shop, lighting and a little paint can have surprising and sometimes unexpected results.
Before Dana Cirks, CEM, joined Titan Rentals, his former company had construction projects all over the country. The shop, located about three miles from company headquarters was “notorious for having the highest injury rates of all our projects,” he says.
He walked into the shop one day and found it “mind-boggling, dark and dingy.”
“We decided to change all the lighting, paint the walls a light color, and paint the floors with walk areas to keep tools or anything else that could cause slips, trips and falls out of the area,” he says.
But the biggest surprise—thanks especially to the lighting—turned out to be an unexpected boost in the morale of the entire team working in that shop.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he says. “It was like a sunny day versus a cloudy day. The clean, well-lit workplace brought out the best in everybody.”
It wasn’t a temporary uplift: The shop was given awards every quarter for having the lowest injuries of the entire organization
One of the highest risks on the shop floor is troubleshooting and repairing hydraulic components whose pressure can mount to 30,000 psi.
“The technician is at risk on two fronts,” says Pierce. “First, when he’s looking for the source of the leak, and second, when he’s going to open the fluid circuit system to make repairs. Overall, it takes training and awareness of what you’re working on. It’s a big deal. It can cause the kind of severe injuries that could ruin a person for life.”
“There is a procedure to follow on the cylinder of a hydraulic system where you can release that pressure,” Cirks says. “It’s extremely important that you have a pre-task plan (see sidebar, right) before starting the repairs. Everybody involved with the process should sit down and talk about all the hazards; what could happen and what to do if something did go wrong.
“Every time a machine is brought into the shop, everybody from the foreman on down should go through the pre-plan. If that job continues to the next day, sit down again and review the plan. When I was in construction, that approach cut injuries way down, almost 60 or 70 percent,” Cirks says.
A few years ago during one of the two corporate meetings held annually by RMCI, Pierce did a fluid power safety presentation for superintendents and foremen. In addition to training on fluid system circuit familiarity and de-energizing the system, technicians used “a shield of some kind...to protect against injuries,” Pierce says. “You have to have no doubt in your mind that the circuit or circuits you are investigating have been de-energized. But you still have to be careful. You always take that shield with you if you’re popping something loose.”
Hands in gloves
The highest number of mishaps in the shop are hand and finger injuries, says Cirks.
“Technicians don’t like to wear gloves when they are trying to reach in to feel a bolt hole and then try to twist the bolt.
“Today, of course, they make some very fine thin gloves that allow you to keep most of the feeling,” he says. “When hand and wrist protection became mandatory, our hand and finger injuries went down almost 90 percent. Even if you walk around the shop to inspect the area or take inventory, you still are required to wear fluorescent gloves.”
Research shows that fluorescent-colored gloves give the worker more awareness of where his hands and fingers are.
“One thing we do have is a training program for workers that focuses on hand strength and agility,” Depoorter says. “We also stress the importance of hand placement while performing tasks. In addition, we have glove initiatives that require employees to wear the proper glove for the job. If you are using liquid nitrogen to shrink bearings, you have to wear insulated cold-weather gloves that go up to the elbows, plus the apron and visor.”
Depoorter pushes the glove initiative all year, he says, which includes leather gloves for operators and textured cut-resistant gloves for technicians to give them hand agility.
RCMI spends thousands of dollars annually on gloves, Pierce says, but the return is worth it.
“I don’t remember the exact number, but several years ago when the company policy mandated that our people start using gloves for all tasks, our hand injuries dropped by 70 or 80 percent. It surprised all of us,” he says.
Pierce says wrist braces are also used when applicable. “You have to make sure handles on shovels and hammers are top quality. What causes many wrist injuries is the weight of objects and inadequate hand holds. Long duration lifting and holding should be avoided.”
Keep it clean
Another way to prevent shop workers from injuries is simply general housekeeping.
“The first time general housekeeping is taken for granted, it will rear its ugly head and bite you,” Pierce says.
Even though housekeeping falls under the safety department’s responsibility, Pierce says, housekeeping has to become a “habitual company-wide task.” Housekeeping helps eliminate slips, trips, falls and, in Pierce’s words, “many other unsolicited, unwarranted mishaps.”
Any organization has policies and procedures that address regular housekeeping, Pierce says, but it all goes back to the equipment superintendent. More importantly, everybody has to buy in to both the idea of safety and the safety culture of the company, he says. Extension cords, spills, fluids, and other everyday hazards pose a danger that must be watched and continually addressed.
He remembers a former RMCI safety director saying that every corner has a natural tendency to collect everything that has a mandated place of storage.
“Objects mysteriously appear in every place that is a corner,” he recalls.
Pierce tested the theory recently when he asked a new hire to walk with him around the shop. The theory held true about 80 percent of the facility walkaround, Pierce says.
“It’s natural to ask, ‘What do you do with something in your hand and you don’t know where it belongs?’ You put it in the corner. Our facility is open to our superintendents and foremen 24 hours a day, and if they don’t know where something belongs, it ends up in a corner. If someone tells you it isn’t happening, he’s not being totally honest with himself.
“Everybody tries hard, but you get busy and some days you walk out into the shop and it looks like a bomb went off. This is the point and time that you stop whatever you’re doing, reshuffle the deck, and clean everything up.”
Depoorter assigns different areas of the shop to different people for housekeeping chores. Welders clean up the welding bays and surrounding area. The same is true for lube bays.
“When we have a work station outside, the lead mechanic on the job is responsible,” Depoorter says.
“[Shop safety] all comes down to a safety culture that works its way from the top,” Cirks says. “Top executives focus on making money, but what they often don’t understand is that if you don’t make mistakes and don’t have injuries, you end up making more money. The key point is that everybody has to buy in. That’s why I start every meeting, no matter what it’s on, with safety at the top of the list.”