Terry McDonald: Site Safety

On the plant floor, everybody’s busy, but the best way to make sure they all go home safe is by taking a little time to pay attention to the details.


“It’s the little things that matter.” How many times have we all heard this and chuckled to ourselves, thinking of an incident that occurred with friends, family, or even at work, that seemed so insignificant that we hardly paid attention, and yet it ended up becoming a major factor in our lives. This is also true in the area of safety, where seemingly harmless activities can jump up to bite us in the nether regions. Many times, after someone is injured–or worse–we realize that there was an unsafe practice going on that we were all aware of, but just didn’t quite recognize the potential danger.

For instance, while I was in the process of training some new operators on running gear-cutting machines recently, I was told that the normal practice was for the operators to wear gloves while running the machines. I was assured that they only used tight-fitting surgical types of gloves, and that this was to protect them against the coolant they were running. I should note that, while I was training them, none of the operators wore gloves themselves.

I tried to explain that, when a glove tip gets caught in a hob, the normal human reaction is to follow it into the dangerous cutting area in an attempt to rescue the glove, and that if it didn’t just tear away as expected, it could lead to serious injury.

While I felt that I’d succeeded in making my point, I also recognized that, after I’d left, the gloves would probably still be used. This is because the rashes and allergies that some coolants cause are an immediate concern, as opposed to the “possibility” of being injured by a trapped glove. So what is the answer?

The best solution I’m aware of is a product known as “invisible glove.” This is a lotion that is applied to the hands that creates a barrier against many of the chemical agents that can cause skin reactions. The lotion must be reapplied fairly frequently, especially after washing your hands, since soap strips it from the surface of the skin. If you’ve discovered a better solution, let me know so that we can share it with the rest of the industry. I’m sure that your suggestion would be warmly received.

This is obviously not the only “little thing” that occurs in real life, but it’s one that we can all relate to. If we can discipline ourselves to look critically at each process that is done on the machines and view them with a thought toward safety, then we can eliminate potential hazards before they cause a problem.

I find this very difficult, myself, because it’s so easy to “go along” with a process that works rather than address a potential problem. After all, we don’t want to fix it if it ain’t broke. And it’s great when an operation has a single person who’s dedicated to concentrating on safety, but that’s not always the case. Most of us have many other high-priority requirements to fulfill, so these “little things” don’t rate as highly on our list. This is wrong!

As I stated at the beginning, “It’s the little things that matter.” So let’s all try to work on the little things, because they can often do the most goodãand they’re usually the easiest things to address.

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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].