Terry McDonald: Site Safety

Along with the pleasures of springtime come the challenges, including allergies, which can make this a miserable season for your employees who suffer from the condition.

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How do you investigate safety violations and incidents? Is there a formal procedure in place that defines the steps that must be taken when a violation, incident, or even an accident occurs? Do you even have an established procedure for investigations? I often wonder how many of us in the gear-related industries actually have a formal investigative procedure in place and implement it in the advent of an accident, reported safety violation or other incident. Do you have permanent records on file of all incidents, accidents, and reported violations on file, and are they accompanied by paperwork documenting the investigation and action taken to resolve the situation, as well as the follow-ups performed to assure the proper and adequate outcome?

This process of investigation and resolution is a very important part of your safety program. It helps you keep your employees and facility safe, as well as protecting you from any future OSHA complaints or even lawsuits filed on behalf of an injured party. By the way, it is a common perception that small businesses with just a minimum of employees do not have to worry about OSHA inspections. While this has some truth to it in that OSHA will not carry out full inspections, if there is a complaint filed against your company—even from a disgruntled employee or ex-employee—OSHA will inspect to assure that the violation has been resolved. Therefore, it behooves all of us to keep our records in order, and to verify that the status of our safety program is current and covers things such as this.

Well, it’s spring. We all enjoy the change in weather that the season brings, but we also have to realize that spring also heralds the beginning of allergy season. Allergies are a real detriment to the person suffering, but they are also a hazard in our shop. The true allergy sufferer has breathing difficulties as well as headaches, sneezing, coughing, and a general feeling of unhealthiness. This can cause them to miss work for extended periods, or to come to work and not be able to concentrate to the extent that they should on the job. This in turn leads to potentially dangerous situations. So, what can we do to alleviate their problems? One of the solutions is to make sure the air they breathe is clean and devoid of allergens. How do we do this when a good share of us are in older facilities that lack any air purifying or cleaning systems? We can make sure that there is good air circulation even if it is just operating the ceiling fans. This may seem counterproductive this time of year, but it can be necessary to promote a good, safe workspace. Also, if your employee suffers from allergies, you should make sure that his or her workstation is not in an area that’s affected by the various airborne materials that are typical in a shop—things such as oil mist, heat treat chemicals and odors, coolant mists, paints, and other such contaminants. Many allergies are increased in severity by chemicals. It is possible that it could help your employees who suffer from these problems by furnishing masks to help them breath cleaner air. Remember, an employee who is suffering is also a hazard for their fellow employees, so we should do all we can to alleviate their suffering because it will benefit us all in the long run.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate all of you in the gear industry this month for a rather remarkable record of safety. I realize that the industry itself is a small segment of the machine tool industry as a whole, but you seldom hear of major safety problems within the gear industry. That indicates to me that we are doing a good job overall, and I think you should be recognized for it. 

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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].