Workplace Safety Training: Why it’s critical

Imagine this scenario: “Tom,” is a new employee in your plant’s maintenance department. As the plant supervisor, you ask “Joe,” your maintenance supervisor, to help Tom learn the job and show him the ropes. You specifically tell Joe, “Remember to show him how to de-energize the machines before he works on them.”

So Tom shadows Joe for a few weeks, helping him with several maintenance projects, including a number of machine repairs. Since he’s your maintenance supervisor, Joe always de-energizes the equipment. He ”gets it,” and he does a great job of telling Tom how important it is to de-energize the machinery before working on it.

After a few weeks on the job, Tom (who happens to be a quick study) is familiar with the plant, knows the machinery, and is sufficiently engaged and knowledgeable to handle a number of things on his own. One morning, just a few minutes before the first shift, your most important piece of equipment breaks down. Joe is on vacation, but Tom is well aware that losing this particular machine shuts down your entire assembly process, so he is on the spot to fix it. In his enthusiasm to prove himself, however, Tom forgets to de-energize the machine. He crawls between the back of the machine and the wall and removes the rear cover to expose its inner workings.

Now that the machine is open, Tom slips on his leather gloves, puts on a pair of goggles and uses a screwdriver to remove a few screws inside the machine. This allows him to reach the gear box, which he does successfully.  He notices that one of the gears – measuring 18” in circumference – is missing a couple of teeth, so he reaches in to start removing it. That’s when Phil, the machine operator for the first shift, hits the “start” button.

At that moment, Tom’s right hand has a good grip on top of the gear, his left hand is holding the bottom of the gear, and he is about to pull the entire gear toward him to remove it from its spindle. As the machine is started, the gear turns counter-clockwise. Before Tom can remove his hands, they are both caught between the defective gear and the two adjacent gears. As Tom’s hands are crushed, Phil can’t hear Tom’s screams over the motor. After a few seconds the machine jams and Phil scratches his head. He hits the “Stop” button and then hears Tom’s agonizing screams. Tom is rushed to the hospital, where doctors proceed to remove what’s left of his hands.

As is the case with any workplace injury, OSHA comes in to see what happened. Their inspectors learn that Joe trained Tom, that he showed Tom how to de-energize the machinery, and that he even emphasized how important it is to do so. They learn that there was even some discussion about using personal protective equipment, as evidenced by the fact that Tom was wearing gloves and safety glasses.

However, there is no documentation, meaning there is no evidence that your company provided formal training for any of your employees. Further, it’s clear to the OSHA inspectors that your firm doesn’t have a formal policy on de-energizing or otherwise disabling (think “lockout/tagout”) machinery before someone works on it.

The result of all this? Tom has lost both hands and is now unable to tie his shoes, much less hold a job. He will undergo countless surgeries, a lifetime of physical and occupational therapy, and his marriage and family will experience great stress. OSHA cites your company for a number of safety violations, imposing fines in the six-figures. And Tom sues your company for failing to train him adequately, which of course, results in his inability to earn a living. Based on his age at the time of the accident (31) and a lifetime of expected earnings, he is awarded several million dollars. And you’ve lost your job.

If you think this scenario is a stretch, think again. As in this fictional account, many employers equate “training” to “showing someone the ropes,” but it is far more than that. Specifically, OSHA expects that every employer will have a formal training program in place, along with formal policies and procedures related to workplace safety. OSHA also expects that every employee will be required by their employer to abide by those policies and procedures, and OSHA holds the employer accountable if the employee fails to do so.

Hopefully, this account has you thinking about your training program and whether it is adequate or not. If it is adequate, you are to be congratulated! However, if it is inadequate, you may have some work to do. As experts in workplace safety, Mitchell & Lindsey is here to help. Give us a call at (502) 682-8491 for a free consultation.

For those who doubt: Multiple cases point up the frequency of electrical hazards

When safety violations and citations are looked at separately, it’s easy to assume that they don’t happen very often. But that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, a handful of citations announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during a three-day period in May indicates that safety violations happen quite often, and it’s not always the scofflaws who are cited. The point is that every company – even those that think they are doing a good job in regard to workplace safety – needs to pay close attention to details.

Case in point: Suburban Propane Partners, Ft. Worth, Texas: Suburban Propane is of the nation’s leading marketers of propane gas, fuel oil, and related products and services. One would think that a company whose primary business is dealing with a highly flammable material would know that allowing electrical hazards in a propane-filled environment is a bad idea. Even so, OSHA cited Suburban Propane for using temporary electrical cords as permanent electrical wiring and for several other electrical wiring violations. Proposed fines: $114,000. OSHA News Release:

Case in point: Allied Metals, LLC, Miami, Florida: Allied Metals was cited for 17 serious safety violations, including exposing workers to hazards such as electrocution, and to amputation hazards from cutting machinery that lacked guards. Other violations included exposing workers to electric shock from improperly spliced power cords. Proposed fines: $57,600. OSHA News Release:

Case in point: Sifco Industries Inc., Cleveland, Ohio: Sifco, which makes products for the aerospace and energy industries, was cited for failing to conduct annual inspections and testing its procedures to keep machines from starting unintentionally, failing to install safety guards on presses, and failing to develop specific procedures to prevent machines from starting unintentionally during service and maintenance. This latter violation included failure to attach locking devices when workers change mechanical parts. Proposed fines: $118,400. OSHA News Release:

Case in point: Recycling Revolution, LLC, Unadilla, Georgia: Recycling Revolution is a solid waste collection and processing company. They were cited by OSHA for 14 repeated and 12 serious violations, including not establishing procedures to protect workers from accidental machine startup while performing maintenance and services. Proposed fines: $78,078. OSHA News Release:

Case in point: Alfa Laval, Inc., Broken Arrow, Oklahoma: A global provider of heat transfer, centrifugal separation and fluid handling products, Alfa Laval was cited in part because it had no procedure to prevent machines from starting during maintenance or service. Alfa Laval was severely penalized, because an OSHA inspection found dozens of serious workplace safety violations – five of which were identified in previous inspections. Proposed fines: $477,900. OSHA News Release:

In each of these cases, the employers were cited not because there was an accident, but because of their failure to take proactive steps to prevent an accident. It’s interesting to note that these citations were among nearly 30 announced by OSHA between May 18 and June 8, 2015. Several others included violations related to electrical safety, but every one reflects some degree of failure on the part of an employer. It’s also interesting to note that the companies cited were both large and small, well-known and not well known, and they are located all over the country. While OSHA reports that some of these employers are repeat violators, it’s probably safe to say that most of them did not willingly – or in some cases knowingly – violate safety procedures.

Even in the most innocent of cases, however, OSHA is very clear, so there should be no mistake: The employer is – without any shadow of a doubt – responsible for ensuring that workplace safety standards and procedures are in place. Employers have been cited even in cases where employees willfully ignored safety procedures, because of their failure to enforce those procedures.

As a CEO, facility manager or plant supervisor, you can stick your head in the sand in an attempt to avoid these issues, or you can deal with the issue proactively. Either way, you’re going to have to deal with it. I would argue that it’s better to do so on your own terms rather than OSHA’s.

Do you have questions about workplace safety? We’re experts. Call us at (502) 682-8491.