Terry McDonald: Site Safety

Equipment maintenance plans aren't just about making repairs, they're about avoiding breakdowns in the first place—at the same time keeping employees safe.

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In the last year or so that I've been contributing my thoughts on safety in this column, I've pretty well stuck to the accepted definitions of safety as we all think of it. This month I would like to discuss a safety area that applies to all of us in the gear industry but is not always thought of from a standpoint of safety. The subject that I'm referring to is maintenance.

We normally think of maintenance as a necessary evil. It is either done as a necessity to repair a machine that is "down," or done as part of a preventative program. Either way it is rarely thought of as a safety issue. It is quite possibly one of the most important safety issues that exist in your shop. An improperly maintained machine can be the single-most contributing source of hazards that exist in your shop. Any machine that is not working properly–even if it is "cutting acceptable gears," but we realize that something is not quite right–is a potential safety hazard. We have all seen what happens when a tooth is broken on a hob and realize the hazard that exists not only for the operator, but anyone in the vicinity of the machine. Now imagine the possible hazard that exists when a workspindle bearing seizes or the hob arbor or end support freeze up. Even improperly maintained tooling is a potential safety hazard. In today's CNC environment, the lack of electrical maintenance is a contributing factor to a great many accidents. At the time of scheduled maintenance, that's when we can do the most to assure that the safety features that the manufacturers installed are working properly and not bypassed in the interest of production. It is important to listen to the maintenance personnel, just as it is important to listen to your operators and setup people. These three categories are the first line of safety. They are most involved with the machines and know the safest way to do things. We need to listen and implement their ideas in our safety programs. Remember, safety is the concern of every one of your employees, and they can all contribute.

I was recently reviewing some old safety literature that I'd kept around and came across an issue of Safety News, put out by NECA (the National Electrical Contractor's Association). The subject of this 1996 newsletter was "Written Safety Programs." Even today this is still a controversial subject, and I found the following paragraph to be just as interesting today as I am sure it was in 1996.

"A common misconception is the belief that the Written Safety Plan is the plan to end all plans; this isn't the case. Employers with hazardous materials or permit-required confined spaces must provide HazCom or Confined Space programs, and so forth. What this concept does do is give the employers solid ground to stand on. No longer will they have to try to guess what it is that OSHA wants of them with regard to a overall safety program." The context of the newsletter was asking if OSHA should have a Written Safety Plan standard. I do not know what has transpired in this area since 1996, but I believe that "yes" was the proper answer, and still is. Let me know what you think. Would such a standard make it easier for you to formulate your company's safety program? I really would like to know your feelings on this subject.

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is partner and manager of Repair Parts, Inc., and a current member and past–chairman of the American National Standards Institute B11.11 Subcommittee on Safety Requirements for Construction, Care, and Use of Gear Cutting Equipment. McDonald writes this monthly column specifically for Gear Solutions magazine, and he can be reached at (815) 968–4499 or rpi@repair–parts–inc.com. The company's Web site is [www.repair–parts–inc.com].