When Housekeeping for safety is Ignored, Tragedy May Occur
It seems that you can’t go more than a few days without seeing a news story about a workplace injury or fatality that could have been prevented with proper safety procedures. The companies where these incidents occur are investigated to see what went wrong, and in the vast majority of cases multiple OSHA safety violations are found. One example of this which occurred recently was at Lovell’s Sugar Refinery, where a 28 year old employee died after falling into the facilities closed water system, and her body was mangled by the industrial pump.
After the incident, OSHA performed an investigation where they found 12 violations, resulting in fines of $71,000. These violations contributed, at least in part, to the worker’s death. Specifically, fire fighters who responded to the incident said that a buildup of debris made it difficult to see a missing section of floor grating, which is where the employee fell into the water supply. Sadly, this type of thing happens far too often, and it is the safety manager’s job to stop it.
Most of the violations against the company in this recent tragedy were fairly minor in nature. The ‘housekeeping’ types of safety efforts are easy to fall behind on, and when facilities let them slide, it can have devastating results. There are many things that can be done to help eliminate the hazards caused by overlooking these types of hazards.
A good exercise for safety managers is to go through the various citations that were given to this facility, and see what could have been done to quickly fix the problem. I’ll go through the 11 citations here, and provide suggested solutions:
- Citation 1, 2 and 3 were all related to not providing adequate railings or toe boards on the footways, floor openings, elevated platforms or other areas. This is a major risk, and should have been addressed long ago. Of the violations, this one would require the most work to fix. Simply investing in the proper railings or other safety materials near openings or edges is not difficult, however, and there is no excuse for a facility not having these areas protected.
- Citation 4 was issued because the facilities stair treads were worn down, making the stairs slippery and hazardous. Anti-slip safety tape could have been used on these stairs to quickly and inexpensively resolve this issue throughout the facility. In addition, having proper spill kits will allow any areas that are slippery due to a spill to be addressed immediately. These spill kits can clean up anything from water to chemicals, making them an excellent option for any facility.
- Citation 5 and 6 were both related to the facility not having proper signage alerting employees to danger or maximum load a crane can lift. Safety signs are one of the most important safety items in a facility, and they are extremely easy to create and maintain. Facilities should invest in an industrial label printer, from which it takes just minutes to print off custom safety signs that can be used throughout the facility.
- Citation 7, 8 and 9 were concerning the fact that the facility did not provide sufficient guarding near rotating fan blades, shaft parts and other moving hazards. This is another area where simply installing protective grating would have solved the problem. For additional safety, using the industrial label printer to make signs alerting employees of the risk would have been helpful.
- Citation 10 was about tools and other equipment that was in use by employees was in bad condition. There are a number of things that can be done to keep tools in proper working order. Obviously, the first step is to replace any tools that are a hazard to those who use them. To keep tools in good condition, using labeling and foam tool organizers is an excellent option. These are inexpensive solutions that can actually save money over time, by allowing tools to last years longer than they otherwise would.
- Citation 11 was about the information on hazardous chemicals being stored in the facility was not readily available. This is another issue that is quickly and easily fixed by using the industrial label maker. Printing off approved GHS chemical labels for each storage container is quick and easy, and will help eliminate hazards for those who work with these types of chemicals.
It is easy to see how keeping up with simple safety related housekeeping is essential for maintaining a safe work environment. When facilities start letting things that seem small go, it will quickly add up to a very hazardous workplace. As these dangers build up, the chances of someone being severely injured, or even killed, will go up significantly.
Even if someone is not hurt right away, having these types of safety violations build up is exposing the company to financial risk. OSHA could arrive for a surprise (or scheduled) inspection, and issue thousands of dollars’ worth fines in a single day. In addition to paying the fines, you would have to fix all the issues too. Clearly, it is far smarter to simply address the safety violations as they are found, and avoid the added danger and risk of OSHA violations.
One of the best ways to ensure you don’t miss any of these housekeeping items is to schedule full inspections of the facility on a regular basis. Most people have a ‘spring cleaning’ for their homes, which allows them to get caught up on all the things that they put off throughout the year. This concept can work equally well in facilities too. Each year, perform a detailed inspection of the facility, where you’re looking for any potential safety problem.
Even minor safety concerns (or, perhaps, especially minor safety concerns) can be found during this time and addressed right away. Having an annual event like this can also make it easier to budget in the potential costs that will come up from finding and addressing any safety problems that are identified.
Of course, if a safety problem is found at any other time of the year, it is important to fix it right away. That is why it is so important to have some general safety improvement items right on site. Things like an industrial label printer, floor tape, spill kits, and other items should be available to use whenever they are needed. Having these safety items on site will also encourage you, and everyone in the facility, to act quickly to fix problems as soon as they are found. Since there is no need to order these types of items, you won’t be tempted to putt the repairs off.
Keeping up with Housekeeping for Safety
After seeing the heartbreaking story of the young employee dying at work, and countless others like it, there is no question that keeping up with the ‘safety housekeeping’ is absolutely essential. If you don’t have a system in place that allows you to identify even minor safety problems, and address them right away, it is time to get it done. Don’t put it off for another day, or it could cost you and your facility thousands of dollars in fines, as well as putting the lives of everyone in the facility at risk.
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