Terry McDonald: Site Safety

Established four decades ago, OSHA has played an important role in helping elevate the level of safety practices in the U.S. manufacturing environment.

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I hope that you had the opportunity to attend IMTS last month, and that you enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal. I also hope that you took advantage of the opportunity to improve and expand your expertise in the area of safety. As I have mentioned before in this column, an opportunity such as this—when you can converse directly with the suppliers of your equipment and the associated peripherals—only happens on rare occasions, and you really should take advantage of the situation. I know that when I have the opportunity to talk to suppliers and quiz them on the safety aspects of the equipment they provide I learn many valuable lessons, and I try to remember to ask if they have any additional thoughts on how I can improve the safety in my facility. One thing to keep in mind is that, although these representatives are primarily interested in showing and selling their wares, they are also gathering information from existing and potential customers. That’s why it’s not only important to ask questions about the safety features they’ve designed into their equipment—assuming that they have—but to make suggestions and share observations you’ve made while working on the shop floor. No matter how much they know about their equipment, or even about the industry itself, you are the one with hands-on, in-depth, firsthand experience of your particular manufacturing process. Nobody can know more about that than you do, so in a way it’s your responsibility to provide insights so that they can incorporate them into future designs. In addition to all of that, it’s just fun to see the latest and greatest innovations that are currently available.

It is hard for me to believe that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In some ways it seems to have been around forever, but in other ways the OSHA jokes and complaints seem as new as ever. OSHA is not a small town in Wisconsin, and over the past 40 years it has established itself as a valuable resource to both companies and workers. True, you may find that statement hard to believe if you have been involved in an OSHA inspection—particularly if there were violations discovered. But if you think about it, an OSHA inspection is a particularly good opportunity to improve your plant safety practices. You are benefiting from the expertise of a uniquely qualified safety expert at basically no charge. This is not a bad thing. Of course, if you have violations that you can’t easily bring into compliance, or you are fined, you may not find it to be such a good thing. But we have to look at the bigger picture. The cost of compliance is but a drop in the bucket compared to a serious injury happening to your employees, or even to yourself. I still maintain that OSHA has been a boon to the safety community, and to all of the companies that it services.

One of the subjects of this month’s issue is deburring. I know that we have discussed the safety aspects of deburring in the past, but it still amazes me how many unsafe practices are involved in deburring gears. I still see freshly cut, wet gears being handled with bare hands prior to being deburred. This seems silly with the advent of the newer work gloves that are cut-resistant at a very reasonable price. I know that over the years I have suffered many nagging little cuts from burrs on parts, as I am sure you have. All it takes is one cut that becomes infected, and there will likely be a loss of production time. The other deburring issue I have is that I still observe the practice of manually deburring parts on a running machine. I do not know of anything that could be more likely to cause an accident than a bare hand trying to apply a file to a gear while it is still rotating in the machine, and in close proximity to a sharp cutting tool that is also rotating. Yet this is a practice that I often see in action. When I question this practice, the response I receive most often is “I’ve been doing it this way for years, and I haven’t been hurt yet.” The operative word here is YET. The longer we persist in performing a dangerous action, the more likely it is that there will soon be a disastrous consequence. We become complacent, and therefore the action itself increases in danger. This practice should be stopped. With the various deburring methods that are available today, it is an unacceptable practice that will only lead to someone being hurt.

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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].