Use the Right Equipment to Store Gas Cylinders Safely

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

With all the advances in technology, one thing hasn’t changed much in the past several decades: How compressed gas is stored and shipped.

Businesses of all types use old-fashioned gas cylinders. And they are still as heavy, bulky, and difficult to handle as ever. Yet handling gas cylinders safely is still an essential part of workplace safety.

Dangers of Gas Cylinders

Gas cylinders are dangerous because they are heavy. For example, a standard cylinder of oxygen contains about 20 lbs. of gas inside. But the cylinder itself weighs about 130 lbs. That’s a combined weight of 150 lbs.

If such a heavy cylinder were to tip over onto a person or drop onto somebody’s foot, it would almost certainly result in a workplace injury.

Yet the weight of the gas cylinder isn’t even the biggest problem. The real danger is the compressed gas inside the cylinder. Should the gas cylinder fall over and crack or spring a leak, it can suddenly become a high-speed projectile weighing 150 lbs or more that can blast through anything that gets in its way, including walls, materials, and even people.

Storing Compressed Gas Cylinders

When stored properly, gas cylinders are relatively safe to use. As long as they are handled with respect and care, they usually aren’t dangerous.

Always store cylinders upright, not laying on their side. Not only are they easier to handle, but there is less risk of damaging them. Also, it’s harder for them to roll away.

While storing compressed gas, make sure the valves are completely closed and any protective devices like tags or caps are secured.

Where to Store Compressed Gas

Secure cylinders in an approved cylinder storage unit that includes a chain or strap that prevents them from tipping over. The storage unit should be located in an area far away from vehicle traffic, excessive heat, or electrical circuits.

Avoid storing cylinders in a closet or locker. If the valves aren’t shut all the way or there is a leak, it could create a buildup of dangerous gas. Instead, the storage unit needs to be located in a dry, well-ventilated place that is at least 20 feet away from any combustible materials.

Hang proper signage in areas where compressed gas is stored to alert people of the potential dangers.

Finally, keep empty cylinders separated from full ones to avoid confusion.

Compressed gas is stored pretty much the same way as it has been for the past century. Following these safety procedures will allow the safe use of gas in your workplace for many decades to come.

Ladders, Ice, and Snow Can Be a Deadly Combination

Photo courtesy of Andreas Tille courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Andreas Tille courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean outdoor operations stop. In fact, many operations are busier during the year’s coldest months than they are in the spring and summer.

There are still orders to fill, supplies to be stored, inventory to be counted, and all the other responsibilities that are necessary for a successful business — including occasionally climbing up on a ladder.

Yet using a ladder in winter weather is much more hazardous than climbing one in warm, sunny weather. Rungs can be covered in ice and snow. Freezing temperatures mean workers are likely to be bundled in more clothing. And fast-moving winter winds can easily push a ladder over or cause a climber to tumble.

Employer Responsibilities

During the winter, ladder use should be limited to only those tasks that are absolutely essential. If there are other alternatives — such as using a cherry picker, scissor lift, or forklift equipped with a work platform attachment — these may be both safer and more efficient.

If you do require workers to climb up on a ladder outdoors in wintry weather, you may be held responsible if something goes wrong. According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration,  employers are required to protect workers from falls at any height higher than 4 feet for normal work, and higher than 6 feet for construction work.

Removing Snow Safely

One of the most common outdoor tasks requiring ladders in the winter is removing snow from products, supplies, shelving, roofs, and other areas. Snow can cause damage to property, especially if it is wet and heavy. Getting snow off materials provides more access. But it also lets customers and clients see products, supplies, and materials, which can help boost sales.

Before ordering any worker to climb up a ladder during winter, it’s important that they know what they are doing and are aware of the dangers. If necessary, you should supply the proper fall protection equipment. Depending on the height, this may include safety harnesses, guard rails, slip-resistant boots and ladder steps, or other gear.

Getting Up and Down Safely

Workers should be assigned to teams of at least two people so that one person is never climbing a ladder alone and unsupervised. If a fall should occur and the worker is caught by his or her fall protection system, the other worker can alert others for help and assist in getting their partner down safely.

Using ladders in the winter poses multiple hazards. Following best safety practices can help reduce accidents and injuries, as well as employer liability.


The Hidden Costs of Workplace Accidents

Police Line Do Not CrossIf there is an accident in your workplace, it can result in damaged products, hospitalization costs, and perhaps some lost productivity while the aftermath is cleaned up. But once everybody is back to work, that’s the end of it, right?

Wrong! The truth is that even a single workplace accident can cost businesses an astronomical amount of money. And the costs can keep on piling up for months or even years after the actual accident has been forgotten.

Productivity Costs

When an accident occurs, business as usual typically stops — at least temporarily. But this momentary pause in productivity can cause timeframes to be thrown off schedule, deadlines to be missed, and customers left without the products or services they are expecting.

If there is an injury that requires recovery time, the business can be left shorthanded, affecting productivity even further. Completion of projects may be delayed.

Maintenance and Equipment Costs

A direct result of a workplace accident is damage to equipment or the physical property of the business. The cost of repairing or replacing damaged or destroyed property can be high.

There can even be long-term bookkeeping consequences. If a particular piece of equipment such as a forklift, conveyor system, or other big ticket item has to be replaced, the accrual of that property has to start all over from scratch. That not only will affect the business’s annual operating budget for the current year but for many years to come, not to mention the potential tax implications of lost depreciation of the damaged equipment.

Legal Costs 

In many instances, a person injured in an accident may sue the business, which can result in high legal expenses. Attorneys fees, court costs, and settlements can cost huge amounts of money. And even if the business successfully defends itself against the lawsuit, the company’s legal expenses will likely go up, along with its insurance premiums.

At the very least, the company may have to pay an injured employee’s salary during their recuperation. And because the worker is not adding anything to productivity, that expense comes right out of the bottom line.

Reducing Costs by Reducing Accidents

All of these costs can be avoided altogether if the workplace accident never occurs. Implementing workplace safety programs, employee training, and careful supervision can eliminate dangers and reduce accidents.

While these measures may require a little upfront investment on the part of ownership, it can be a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term costs of a single workplace accident.


Winter Is Coming … Do You Have a Plowing Plan in Place?

winterLike it or not, the snowy season is right around the corner. Heavy snows and winter storms can affect the productivity of any business, possibly even halting it altogether.

Clearing snow from parking lots, entry roads, docks, and other work areas can keep your business running even in during the harshest winter weather. Before the heaviest snow hits, it’s always a good idea to review some basic snow plowing essentials that can improve both the speed and effectiveness of your snow removal operations.

Prioritize Work Zones

Like anything else, the best way to deal with heavy winter weather is to have a plan in place before it hits. Identify the areas of your business that are critical to your operations. These can include driveways, docks, and other essential operational areas.

These are the places you need to clear first. Secondary areas like parking lots, sidewalks, and less essential spaces can often wait until later.

It’s also a good idea to mark items like speed bumps, shrubbery, water drains, pipes, fire hydrants, and sidewalk edges so that you can avoid plow damage. Place a tall flexible pole topped with a plastic flag on objects that will be hard to see after a heavy snowfall.

Forward Thinking

Plan the routes your snowplows should take, keeping in mind that plowing patterns should allow drivers to drive forward as much as possible.

If drivers need to put their vehicles in reverse, they should bring the plow truck to a complete stop before shifting. When in reverse, it’s a bad idea to rely solely on the vehicle’s mirrors, especially if snow is still falling. Instead, turn around and look in the direction the vehicle is moving.

Slow and Steady

While you want to remove snow as quickly as possible, driver’s shouldn’t drive fast. Vehicles fitted with snow plows should never exceed 40 mph when moving with their plow in the up position, or 14 mph when the plow is at ground level.

When plowing on dirt or gravel roadbeds, the plow should be fitted with plow shoes so that it doesn’t scrape the surface away altogether. Plow shows should be removed when plowing asphalt or concrete so that the plow can scrape as close to the surface as possible.

When the plowing job is finished, the plow blade should be lowered to the ground. This helps take stress off its hydraulics.

Winter is coming. Being prepared by having a plowing plan in place can help minimize its disruption on your business.

Fall Protection Tops OSHA’s List of Top 10 Violations

warehouse portable lightingThe most common workplace danger cited by investigators from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year was the failure to provide adequate protection against worker falls.

It was the seventh consecutive year that fall protection led the federal safety agency’s list of most common citations, which was presented last month at the 2017 National Safety Council’s Congress & Expo, which was held in Indianapolis.

The Most Common Citation by Far

With 6,072 citations for failure to prevent workers falls during 2016, the violation was the most commonly cited problem by OSHA by far. The next most common violation — failure to properly issue hazard communications — resulted in only 4,176 violations.

While fall protection/general requirements topped the list, failure to provide proper training to prevent falls came in ninth on the Top 10 list.

The top five violations on this year’s list were exactly the same as last year’s. In fact, 9 out of 10 violations on this year’s list were the same as the previous year. The only newcomer to make the list was fall protection/training requirements, which was a newcomer to the list of top violations.

Using the List to Protect Workplaces

The purpose of the annual list is to inform businesses of the most common violations so that they can take steps to prevent them in their workplaces. The list should serve as a guide to businesses seeking to improve workplace safety, according to Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

“The OSHA Top 10 is more than just a list,” Hersman said in a news release. “It’s a blueprint for keeping workers safe. When we all work together to address hazards, we can do the best job possible to ensure employees go home safely each day.

The Full Top 10 List of OSHA Violations

Here is the full list of the top 10 violations cited by OSHA last year:

1. Fall protection, general requirements (6,072 citations issued)

2. Hazard communications (4,176 citations issued)

3. Scaffolding (3,288 citations issued)

4. Respiratory protection (3,097 citations issued)

5. Lockout/Tagout (2,877 citations issued)

6. Ladders (2,241 citations issued)

7. Powered industrial trucks (2,162 citations issued)

8. Machine guarding (1,933 citations issued)

9. Fall protection, training requirements (1,523 citations issued)

10. Electrical, wiring methods (1,405 citations issued)

The preliminary version of the list was released by Patrick Kapust, deputy director of enforcement programs for OSHA, at the NSC’s annual congress and expo, which was held September 23 through 29th at the Indianapolis convention center.

The final version of OSHA’s Top 10 violations will be published in December, according to the agency.


Creating a Culture of Safety Starts from the Top Down

weldingAt some point or another in their careers, just about everybody has worked at a place where most of their co-workers just didn’t seem to care much about what happens.

Inaccurate or damaged orders may have been shipped without being double checked. Safety standards may have been ignored or glossed over. And “looking the other way” may have been more common than actually caring about what was going on.

Odds are you didn’t stick around very long at that company.

Most people genuinely want to care about what they do. So when conscientious employees they find themselves in an organization where people don’t care — especially about something as important as safety — the first thing they usually look for is the door.

Creating a Company Culture

So what differentiates a business that is committed to safety and one that could care less? Typically, it has to do with the company’s culture.

Some companies define their culture by means of a written “Mission Statement”. For others, it’s more about the attitude people bring to their jobs every day. Both are defined by the business’s leadership.

When ownership doesn’t care, it’s nearly impossible for its employees to care. But when the company’s leaders are passionate about safety and continually reinforce their values to employees, it’s much easier for rank-and-file workers to get on board.

As it turns out, attitude is infectious.

Leading by Example

Employees naturally look to their leaders for attitude cues. If supervisors, managers, and executives don’t care about safety, then those working beneath them won’t either.

Creating a happy and safe work environment starts from the top down. Ownership needs to prioritize safety in every aspect of the organization. Only then will others follow suit.

But it goes beyond simply saying that you care about safety. Everybody on the management team — from the C-suite to line-level supervisors — needs to take a hands-on approach to workplace safety, walking the floors, spotting problems and correcting them immediately, and actively reinforcing to employees that they genuinely care about creating a safe workplace.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Actions, not just words or mission statements, are what create a corporate culture. Front line workers won’t be fooled by lip service when it comes to workplace safety. They need to see that the people in charge prioritize safe practices and genuinely care about their well-being.

Otherwise, they are going to take the path of least resistance and you will have a “toxic workplace” where workers simply don’t care.

Power Lines One of the Most Common Hazards of Working Outdoors

The thing about power lines is that they are everywhere. Rural areas, urban areas, suburbs, you name it. No matter where you are working, look up and there are bound to be overhead power lines.

Photo by Jinu Raghavan (via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jinu Raghavan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Touching an electrical line can result in instant electrocution, causing serious injury or even death. In fact, about 119 people were killed by overhead power line electrocution in the US between 2008 and 2010, accounting for about 4% of all occupational fatalities.

But you don’t have to touch a power line in order to be electrocuted. Electricity can jump to anybody who gets too close. So it’s a good idea to stay at least 10 feet away from power lines and their connections.

Avoiding Power Line Dangers

The most common reason workers get electrocuted by power lines is that they forget to look up when raising a ladder or pole. It’s a simple thing but one that can easily be ignored.

Electricity naturally wants to move from a high voltage zone to a low voltage zone and it won’t let anything stand in its way, including your body.

Whenever possible, workers should use wooden or fiberglass ladders when working outdoors. Neither of these will easily conduct electricity, unlike metal or aluminum ladders.

If a co-worker is electrocuted by a power line, don’t touch them because the electricity can pass from their body into yours. Instead call 911 immediately. If you have to knock them off when they are hung up, use something that won’t conduct electricity, like a wooden 2X4.

Downed Power Lines

Watch where you are going so you don’t accidentally step on a live downed wire. Contact the utility company immediately to report a downed power line.

Always assume that a fallen power line is live, staying at least 10 feet away from it. There’s no way to tell by looking at it whether there is electricity running through it or not.

Make sure the power line isn’t touching anything that can conduct its electricity, such as a metal fence, pooling water, or even a tree limb. Even the ground around a live power line can be energized, up to 35 feet away.

Other Precautions

The best way to move away from a live wire is to shuffle using small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This minimizes the risk for the electricity jumping to your body.

Don’t drive over a downed power line. If your car somehow comes into contact with a live wire while you are inside it, stay in the car. Honk your car to summon help but warn other people to stay away from your vehicle.

Emergency Eyewash Stations Can Save Your Eyesight

Proper use of an eyewash stationIf your business works with chemicals, it’s a good idea to have emergency eyewash stations located throughout your property.

In the event that a caustic chemical is accidentally splashed into a worker’s eyes, it can save their eyesight. It could even make the difference between life and death.

There are eight essential steps to properly using an emergency eyewash station. Training your employees on these steps will make your operation safer and minimize your risk.

Step 1 — Go Immediately to the Eyewash Station

When chemicals are splashed into the eyes, every second counts. Even if there is no immediate pain or irritation, it is essential that the injured employee head immediately to the nearest eyewash station.

Ideally, an eyewash station should be located with 10 seconds of any employee who works with chemicals.

Step 2 — Push the Lever and Activate the Eyewash Station

Emergency eyewash stations are designed to be used by people who can’t see. They typically have a single lever that can be activated with one single motion.

As soon as the lever is pushed, dust covers should pop off and the flushing liquid should begin to flow immediately from the faucet heads.

Step 3 — Flush the Eyes

The injured worker’s eyes need to be directly under the stream of flushing fluid. Even if it is painful, keep the liquid flowing over the eyes to remove as much of the chemical as possible.

Step 4 — Hold the Eyes Open

Using your fingers, hold your eyelids apart so that the maximum amount of flushing fluid can flow over the eyes.

Eyewash stations are designed to remain running so that injured workers can use both hands to perform this step.

Step 5 — Roll Your Eyes

To ensure that all of the eyes are flushed with the fluid, roll your eyes from left to right and up and down.

Step 6 — Flush Eyes for a Minimum of 15 Minutes

In order to fully dilute the chemical and wash it out of your eyes, keep your eyes under the running water for at least 15 minutes. Anything less than that is not enough to ensure that the chemical is removed.

Step 7 — Remove Contact Lenses

If you wear contact lenses, it’s important that they are removed while you are flushing.

The chemical agent can become trapped under the contact, preventing it from being removed during flushing.

Step 8 — Seek Medical Care

After you have flushed, seek out medical care to ensure that nothing more needs to be done to save your vision. If there are other injuries or the eye injury is severe, have a co-worker call 911.


New Free Smartphone App Measures Workplace Noise Levels

The Sound Level Meter app (Photo via National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
The Sound Level Meter app (Photo via National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

If you think that the noise levels at your workplace are at unsafe levels, but you aren’t sure how to measure them, a federal agency has created a new smartphone app that anybody can use.

The Sound Level Meter app was created by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health so that anybody can instantly measure the decibel levels in their place of employment.

Each year, more than 22 million US workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise levels while at work. The new app, which utilizes the built-in microphones already found on most smartphones, measures noise levels and tells users when they are at potentially hazardous levels.

Dangers of Too Much Noise

Being exposed to high noise levels for a prolonged period of time can cause permanent hearing loss.

NIOSH’s new Sound Level Meter app can be downloaded for free at the Apple Store and uses an iOS based sound level meter that measures and characterizes occupational noise exposure just like costly, professional noise meters.

The app automatically tells users if noise levels are too high, based on a standard scale for most common workplaces based on three criteria:

  • the A-weighted equivalent sound level (LAeq)
  • The maximum Level measured during the current run time
  • The C-weighted Peak Sound Pressure Level (LCpeak)
  • And the Time-Weighted Average (TWA) and Dose.

The app also includes some basic information on noise and hearing loss prevention.

Reducing Noise Levels in the Workplace

Noise levels of about 80 decibels are enough for workers to have to raise their voices in order to be heard at a distance of one meter. Noise levels of 90 decibels are enough for workers to have to shout to be heard at a distance of one meter.

If workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise levels, they should use hearing protection devices such as earplugs, noise-reducing earphones, or other types of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations of 2005 mandate that employers take action if daily or weekly exposure to noise exceeds Exposure Action Levels.

Whenever possible, excessive noise should be eliminated at the source by controlling exposure to noise. Besides PPE, this can include adding noise mufflers or baffles on noisy equipment.

Currently, the app is only available on iOs devices, such as Apple smartphones because they are optimized for audio applications. Android devices, which are made by multiple manufacturers, have different requirements and specifications for microphones, audio/signal procession chips, and software tools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news release announcing the app’s release.



How to Extinguish Different Types of Workplace Fires

Fire ExtinguisherThrow water on a grease fire and it will get bigger. Use a fire hose on an electrical fire and you could put everybody in the vicinity in danger of an electrical shock.

Knowing how to extinguish different types of workplace fires does more than just cut down on property damage. It also could prevent small fires from turning into major disasters.

Here are the proper ways to distinguish several different types of fires you may encounter in the workplace.

Electrical Fires

If a fire erupts in an electrical breaker box or a piece of electrical equipment starts burning, the first thing you want to do is cut the power source, if possible.

For breaker boxes, try to cut the main power supply. For appliances and other electrical equipment, pull the plug. Then try to smother the fire using a blanket or a Type C fire extinguisher, which is rated for electrical fires.

Cooking Fires

One of the most common locations for workplace fires is the community kitchen. If a pot or pan catches fire, shut off the stove or oven then smother the flames with a lid. Don’t turn on the exhaust system because this can pull the flames up into the hood.

If there isn’t one available, you can use salt or baking soda to smother small oil fires. Or you can use a Type B fire extinguisher.

The last thing you want to do is to throw water on an oil fire. The flash point of water is lower than that of most oils, so this can cause the water itself to erupt in flames.

Ventilate the area only after you are sure all the flames are put out.

Gas Fires

If a gas fuel source such as propane or natural gas catches fire, shut off the gas supply. You can try to smother the flames with a rug, blanket, or class B extinguisher, or cool with water.

In some cases, it is better to let gas fires burn rather than try to extinguish the fire because this can cause the gas to fill the room or building, creating a higher explosion hazard.

For larger fires that can’t easily be controlled, evacuate people from the building and call the fire department. Your local firefighters are trained on how to combat any type of fire, explosion, or gas leak.

Remember that the lives and safety of your employees are always more important than property. You can replace things, but you can’t replace a lost human life.