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10 steps to protect your employees from hazards in the service bay

TAMPA, Fla. - Joan Spencer admits it can be difficult to convince some managers that safety should be seen as an investment rather than an expense. "They don't understand the cost that comes with an injury or illness," says the compliance...

TAMPA, Fla. – Joan Spencer admits it can be difficult to convince some managers that safety should be seen as an investment rather than an expense. “They don’t understand the cost that comes with an injury or illness,” says the compliance assistance specialist with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which carries the hammer of health and safety regulations in the US.

But every dollar invested into health and safety tends to generate a $4 return for the business, she told maintenance managers during a meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC). One business roundtable even suggested that the returns can be as high as $10.

Consider the costs that can emerge in the wake of a workplace injury. Related news reports can tarnish the company’s reputation, damaged property needs to be repaired, and shops need to deal with the loss of a trained worker. Every time someone needs to be retrained to fill the role of an injured co-worker, the business is actually paying two people to do the same job.

But many of these injuries could be avoided with a careful look around the service bay. Here are 10 tips that could make a difference:

Choose the best plan for each hazard: Many hazards could be addressed a number of different ways. The first question should be whether or not the hazard can be eliminated altogether. If that isn’t possible, it is time to turn to an engineered control such as a guardrail that will offer protection without any added thought by the worker. The next option is to change the work practices around a specific task. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is actually the last resort because there is always a chance that it will not be used.

Develop a complete inventory of all hazardous chemicals in the shop
: In each case, these fluids will require properly labelled containers, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), and the related training. It is also an ongoing process. “Who is reviewing the Material Safety Data Sheets to make sure you’re not bringing a more hazardous substance into your workplace?” Spencer asks.

Parts washing machines can present their own fluid-related mysteries since solvents can come in the form of mineral spirits or something that is more caustic.

But the contents could be identified by simply placing the MSDS data in a plastic sleeve and attaching it to the machine, said Ronald Vaughn, a senior loss consultant with Gallagher Bassett Services.

When reviewing the safety practices in a shop, Vaughn also asks mechanics to get the MSDS sheet for a specific chemical, and then asks them to identify the first aid practices or Personal Protective Equipment that are required.

“Make sure they know how to read it,” he says.

Guard against injuries: “If it shakes, rattles or rolls, you’re going to guard it,” Spencer says. Something like an unguarded grinding wheel can also be low-hanging fruit for a compliance officer during a workplace inspection.

The restraining devices used to hold single or multi-piece wheel rims in place offer a perfect example of why the protection is so important. “Do we have fatalities? You bet. And they’re gruesome fatalities,” Spencer says. “If they’re not using (the devices), it could be your employee that gets hit…don’t let them get away with the idea that they can step back from that tire.”

Limit the Coke bottles to Coke: “Never put a chemical in a container that once held a consumable,” Spencer says. Fluids should be stored in the bottles they came in, complete with the appropriate labels. A mechanic may know exactly what was poured in a generic container, but they may not be around when a thirsty co-worker decides to take a drink.

Keep up with the housekeeping: Spilled fluids or tripping hazards such as cords can all play a role in workplace injuries.  “The main thing we cite in mechanic shops are housekeeping. Simple as that,” Spencer admits. “If you don’t keep up with it every day, it can get out of hand very quickly.”

Vaughn, for example, regularly finds shop exits blocked by everything from parts to fans. Employees may argue that the door will still open, but the path needs to be clear. “When stuff happens and people start bumping into each other, they need to know where to go,” he says. The simple addition of some painted lines on the floor can identify which areas should always be free of obstructions.

While oily rags should be stored in a metal container, Vaughn has also seen them tossed into everything from plastic buckets to canvas bags. And a pile of items in the basin of a parts cleaner may also keep the lid from closing in the event of a fire.

Set lockout and tagout procedures for every piece of powered equipment
: In each case, the locks should only be removed by people who put them in place. The only exceptions are emergencies.

Avoid temporary electrical repairs: Someone could stick their finger through a strip of duct tape that covers the blank space in an electrical panel, and a missing faceplate can present a challenge of its own.

“Any time you have a wet area, we need to have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters,” Vaughn adds.

Limit extension cords to temporary uses: Extension cords are no substitute for permanent wiring. Vaughn wants to see outlets close to every piece of machinery.

For that matter, every extension cord that is used should also be designed for a shop environment. Those designed for home use, or even lacking a ground prong, have no place in a service bay.

Power strips that are meant to protect data equipment are not designed for a heavy-duty environment, either, he adds, noting how the amperage draw of five tools plugged into a single receptacle can lead to a fire hazard.

Even if a surge strip is built into a tool box, users will need to be aware of the related ratings. Its outlets may be fine for something like a laptop or radio, but could fall far short of the need for different power tools.

Keep the household appliances at home: Many ungrounded household appliances such as box fans can be housed in metal, creating a potential shock hazard.

Maintain the safety: Every professional tool has been designed to meet a variety of safety standards. But as soon as a tool is modified or bent, the engineered safety disappears.

The same can be said for those that are missing guards, or machines that don’t have any bolts running through their anchor holes.

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