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3:05 pm
September 14, 2017
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Don’t Overlook STF Hazards

Regular safety meetings and communication are foundational to successful safety programs.

Regular safety meetings and communication are foundational to successful safety programs.

Slips, trips, and falls can lead to tragic consequences in your plant.

According to the report “Preventable Deaths” published by the National Council of Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH, coshnetwork.org, Somerville, MA), there were 818 reported deaths in 2014 from slips, trips, and falls (STFs). Unfortunately, given the countless causes of STFs, these types of potentially lethal incidents are not unusual—even in industrial environments. In fact, year after year, STFs seem to account for some of the greatest numbers of reported workplace accidents. Case in point: In 2016, fall protection was OSHA’s most frequently cited violation (6,906 occurrences).

What’s fueling those numbers? Could too many maintenance and safety professionals be focusing primarily on overt hazards and overlooking others within their facilities? That’s not an effective approach. To protect its workforce and any visitors to the operation, a site must make sure its safety program addresses all hazards, including the following three, less-obvious ones associated with STFs.

Good, balanced lighting in facilities reduces the potential for STFs and other workplace accidents. Photo courtesy Motion Industries

Good, balanced lighting in facilities reduces the potential for STFs and other workplace accidents. Photo courtesy Motion Industries

Lighting conditions

Despite being surprisingly common in today’s industrial facilities, poor lighting conditions are often neglected. Lumen depreciation (degradation of light output over time), burned-out lamps, inappropriate lighting-fixture placement, and accumulation of dust and particulate matter on fixtures can lead to inadequate workplace lighting.

Poor lighting, i.e., dimly lit areas, in turn, exponentially increases the potential for STFs and other workplace accidents. As an example, shadows created by machines, shelving, and tall structures can hide a multitude of obstacles and hazards.

Footcandles (fc) is a measurement of light intensity commonly used to determine lighting conditions in industrial environments. However, OSHA (U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, osha.gov, Washington) doesn’t have guidelines or regulations for footcandle levels in facilities. Instead, it uses recommended footcandle levels for different industrial environments established by the Illuminating Engineer’s Society (IES) of North America. For instance, according to the IES, current illumination recommendation, general-industrial welders require 20 fc, while aircraft welders require 50 fc. A fair balance is often difficult—too little illumination will result in a hazard and too much will result in eye fatigue and strain.

Most reputable industrial distributors will analyze a facility with a photometer and provide a lighting proposal, complete with a photometric analysis using CAD technology. This analysis will show current footcandle levels in each space and those that can be expected after recommended changes. Based on today’s prices, sites electing to improve their lighting by changing to LED systems could realize payback in less than two years.

Stairs, by nature, can present significant STF hazards, especially for new workers and visitors to a site.

Stairs, by nature, can present significant STF hazards, especially for new workers and visitors to a site.

Surface conditions

Technology and innovative materials have allowed industrial facilities to largely remove or reduce surface hazards through the application of products that increase visibility, grip, and traction. These engineering controls are necessary to ensure that the risk of injuries is minimized.

Potholes and gaps. Harsh industrial environments and weather can wreak havoc on the condition of floors, outside walkways, and parking areas. It’s important to walk around a facility and surrounding areas to identify all potholes and gaps in flooring and other surfacing. Each instance is a potential hazard to personnel. Several inexpensive and easy-to use epoxy products are available to fill and smooth surfaces where people walk.

Floor coatings. Many floor-coating manufacturers have aggregate options that, when mixed with the floor product, will produce a rough surface.

Surface sheets. Rigid fiberglass sheets and peel-and-stick grip products are a quick way to create an enhanced surface in areas of concern. Some options come in different colors, levels of grip, and aggregate size, allowing a site to customize solutions based on their particular needs.

Stair coverings. Stairs are a particularly dangerous space when it comes to STF hazards. Pre-formed stair covers and grip tapes provide additional traction for stairs and walkways. Again, options that feature high-visibility colors, coupled with signage, can greatly reduce stair accidents.

Ladder-rung covers. These molded covers are a quick and inexpensive way to provide additional traction for an often-overlooked hazard.

Signage. “Slippery When Wet” is not just the name of an iconic rock album from the ‘80s. It’s a warning of an inherent hazard. New employees, as well as visitors who are unfamiliar with the facility, are highly susceptible to STF risks. They may not know that there’s an uneven surface under the stairs or that a lower pipe protrudes next to a particular machine. Well-placed, highly-visible signage is an effective way to communicate to those who aren’t familiar with the facility and a reminder for everyday occupants.

Well-placed, highly visible signs keep workers and visitors aware of workplace hazards.

Well-placed, highly visible signs keep workers and visitors aware of workplace hazards.

Planning

While much can be done on the front end to minimize the risk of workplace accidents, including STFs, it’s just as important that a site have a plan in place for dealing with them in case they occur. A comprehensive safety program should include these essential elements:

Written plan. Many sites require visitors to watch a video, read a safety-procedure handout, and sign a compliance agreement before they enter the facility. The safety procedures typically include expectations for what a visitor should and should not do and how to react in case of an emergency, among other factors. Safety, specifically reacting to an incident, is one area where there should be no second guessing or absence of a plan. For swift and flawless execution of a plan, however, there has to actually be a plan. Furthermore, it should be formalized in writing, regularly communicated to workers, and made available to them for reference.

Safety meetings. Regular safety meetings and communication form the foundation of a successful safety program. Whether meetings are held in a conference-room or over coffee in a break area on the plant floor, regularly communicating with teams of personnel regarding your site’s safety plan will ensure that they understand policies and are notified of any changes to those policies.

5S fundamentals. 5S is a Japanese methodology that increases efficiency and effectiveness based on organization. In short, items are organized such that they are readily available. Fortunately, a site can incorporate aspects of this methodology in its STF planning efforts, even if the operation doesn’t have a 5S culture. Providing easy access to and set locations for first aid, spill-containment kits, and emergency-rescue devices will reduce reaction time and could ultimately save a life.

Bottom line

One of the most difficult challenges in protecting facility occupants from slips, trips, and falls is that a hazard can present itself at any time and in any place. And it could manifest in many ways, including, among other things, as a leaking pipe, a frayed fall-protection harness, even a pothole in the plant parking lot.

The bottom line is that it’s an employer’s responsibility to provide safe working conditions and minimize risk by regularly analyzing the workplace to identify hazards and areas of concern. In addition, once hazards have been identified, it’s crucial for them to be addressed properly, and that safety procedures be made available and workers well versed in their use. MT

The information in this article was provided by Sean Barbeau, QSSP. Based in Texas, Barbeau is an industrial- and safety-product specialist with Motion Industries (Birmingham, AL). For information on a wide range of industrial-safety topics, including more details on STFs, visit MotionIndustries.com and MiSafetySpecialist.com.

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