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December 2008
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January 2009

What a Student Safety Intern Can Do For Your Company

With the college semester beginning, eagerness is in the air as students being applying for the ever-important internship for the upcoming summer. An internship is almost like a rite of passage in the collegiate world, something the student covets. This past summer, MEMIC’s safety department was lucky enough to have an intern of its own, Jennifer DeWitt. Before she left us, I asked her to share with me her feelings on her experience, as well as her thoughts on internships as a whole:

“Interns can do so much more than filing and running copy machines, especially the interns enrolled in the University of Southern Maine’s (USM) Environmental Safety and Health (ESH) Program.

As a USM student majoring in ESH, I can speak for my fellow classmates when I say we are eager for exposure to safety and health issues outside of the classroom. This is often referred to as ‘real work,’ and it is just that.

Here is a very short list of some of the ‘real work’ interns have done at MEMIC and other host organizations:

  • ergonomic evaluations
  • hazard communication and fire safety training
  • standard operating procedure development
  • data collection using noise dosimeters and air testing instruments
  • safety & environmental standards research

Of the two internships I have held, both host organizations invited me to stay beyond the internship period to work on various projects. It’s also no surprise that some of my classmates were offered full-time regular employment from their hosts. I must mention that nearly all of these internships are paid. What a great way for industry to preview the up-coming talent pool!

As simple as it sounds, it is a nice feeling when you know you can apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to a real life situation and visa versa. Not getting that chance until after graduation always concerned me, which brings us to the main reason why I chose USM’s program- it requires the completion of an internship to graduate.”

An internship in safety and health is a real win-win. If you’re looking for more information about the University of Southern Maine’s program, contact Richard Carter, Coordinator of Cooperative Education.

I encourage you to share your internship stories with us and any potential resources you may have for making the most of the experience.

Carbon Monoxide: An Undetectable Killer

Rod Stanley, Director of Construction Operations for MEMIC Loss Control, called recently to alert me of the first carbon monoxide claim of the winter. 

Three workers were loading trucks inside a warehouse in early December. Outside temperatures were well below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and coupled with a heated shop, it seemed like a good reason to keep the loading doors closed.  Starting work at 6 a.m., two forklifts were being used to transfer materials and load the trailers.  Because the forklifts are fueled by propane, the workers thought the carbon monoxide hazard associated with gas or diesel-powered equipment was eliminated.  They were wrong.

Around noon, one of the workers collapsed from overexposure and, luckily, one of the other two was able to call for an ambulance.  The fire department responded, along with the rescue crew, and found that CO levels in the warehouse were dangerously high.  Although the workers recovered, all three were transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Incidents similar to this continue to happen not only in the workplace, but in a lot of homes as well.  Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of all fuel combustion – whether from generators, wood stoves, fork lifts, compressors and even charcoal. These are just some of the sources of carbon monoxide which make thousands ill and kill hundreds every year. 

A common misconception is that propane-powered machines are CO-safe.  A study published by the Education Safety Association of Ontario finds that propane-powered engines can produce up to 2 percent, or 20,000 parts per million (ppm), of carbon monoxide in their exhaust.  OSHA has established a maximum level of 50 ppm for workers as an 8-hour time-weighted average, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommends that level not to exceed 35 ppm.

One of the disturbing points about such an exposure as carbon monoxide is the ease in which it can be prevented. The means of prevention begins with the literature that comes with the product and quite often is also stenciled somewhere on the product itself.  A common warning for many heating devices reads “Use only in a well-ventilated area.”  Even a bag of charcoal will tell the user how to protect themselves! 

Unfortunately these warnings often go unheeded.  In any case, whether it's at work or at home, keeping employees and/or family members from becoming sick, or worse, comes down to the user.  Basic protective measures include carbon monoxide area and personal monitors that automatically detect harmful levels and set off alarms that can warn building occupants and/or workers.

An excerpt from a NIOSH study illustrates how rapidly carbon monoxide can build up, even in a seemingly well-ventilated work space:

“A 5.5-horsepower, gasoline-powered pressure washer was operated inside an 8,360-cubic-foot, double-car garage using two ventilation scenarios. In the first or "worst-case" scenario, all doors, windows, and vents were closed. Breathing-zone concentrations of CO reached 200 ppm within 5 minutes, 1,200 ppm (IDLH value) within 15 minutes, and 1,500 ppm within 19 minutes; they continued to increase thereafter. In the second or "best-case" scenario, the two double-car garage doors and one window were left open and the vent was unsealed; breathing-zone concentrations of CO reached 200 ppm within 3 minutes and peaked at 658 ppm within 12 minutes. The results from the simulations indicate that acutely toxic concentrations of CO greater than 200 ppm (NIOSH ceiling) can be quickly generated within 3 to 5 minutes near a pressure washer operated indoors (even when passive ventilation is provided), and IDLH concentrations of 1,200 ppm can be generated rapidly in enclosed spaces.”

There are numerous websites that provide detailed information about carbon monoxide hazards and methods of protection.  Several of these are listed below, but as a reminder, please make sure to always follow manufacturer recommendations.

Consumer Product Safety Commission
Carbon Monoxide Questions and Answers

American Industrial Hygiene Association
Carbon Monoxide – The Silent, Cold Weather Killer

OSHA Fact Sheet- Carbon Monoxide

As always, if you have any pointers, resources, or stories you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you.

Machine Guards and the Cost of Cutting Corners

Henry Reynolds, who works at MEMIC as a safety management consultant, recently told me a story that is a reminder about the importance of machine guarding. And why it’s smart to resist the temptation to cut corners.
“I recently had an accident at a company where an employee amputated two fingers and partially amputated two others on his right hand. When I asked the employees’ manager if the accident could have been prevented, the answer was not surprising. Had the operator done the machine set up properly, then yes, this accident could have been prevented. After discussing the proper machine set up procedure, I questioned why the machine wasn’t set up properly, with the machine guard. Again, receiving an unsurprising answer:  'It wasn't feasible.'

Digging deeper, I asked why setting up the machine, with the machine guard on, was not feasible and received the answer I knew was coming. With the machine guard off, set-up was 10 minutes.  With it on, set-up was an hour. The next question was clearly asked too late: Was one hour and saving an employees’ fingers more cost-effective than a shorter set up?

Machine Guarding Standard 29 CFR 1910.211 through 243 specifies areas to be guarded on all types of equipment. It specifies that guards must be affixed to the machines where possible and secured elsewhere if for any reason attachment to the machine is not possible. The guard shall be such that it does not offer an accident hazard in itself.

Here are a few questions to ask when reviewing your machine guards.
o Are all rotating shafts guarded?
o Are employees protected from flying chips from machining?
o Are fingers and arms away from pinch and nip points?
o Are the guards adequate for the machines?
o Have your employees been educated on machine guarding and it's importance?
o Have you done a hazard analysis on each piece of equipment to determine the hazard and what the controls would be?
o After guards are in place, are you inspecting them on a regular basis?
o When a deficiency is found is it corrected immediately?

When all is said and done, we should not hear that machine guarding is not feasible. Where there is a will, there is a way. In tough economic times, you might be tempted to save a few dollars, but cutting corners isn’t going to save money in the long run. It might also be hard to challenge your employees, or your managers, to change their way of thinking about machine guarding.

 The old “Seven Steps of Stagnation” are worth reviewing when educating your employees and/or managers on the many reasons for proper machine guarding. The Seven Steps of Stagnation are:

1. We've never done it that way.  
2. We're not ready for that.
3. We're doing alright without it.  
4. We tried that once before.
5. It costs too much.
6. That's not our responsibility.
7. It just won't work.

If you need further assistance with machine guarding issues and inspections on equipment to verify proper guarding you may contact your safety management consultant. You can also check out these resources on machine guarding:

OSHA Concepts and Techniques of Machine Safeguarding

OSHA "e-Tool" Machine Guarding

Lab Safety's EZ Fact, General OSHA Machine Guarding Requirements

A great resource for aiding in machine guarding solutions is Rockford Systems, Inc. I recommend them to many of my clients in need of machine guard solutions. Another great resource for machine guard solutions is contacting the manufacturer directly. More times than not the manufacturer will offer machine guards or be able to put you in touch with the company that makes the specific guards for your machine. Feel free to let us know of your favorite machine guarding resources.”

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Evaluating Personal Protective Equipment-- Three Questions to Ask Yourself

My colleague and good friend Stewart Hall, a Safety Management Consultant at MEMIC, sent along some great points on Personal Protective Equipment the other day and I thought it was important to share them.

Evaluating personal protective equipment (PPE) is an often overlooked skill.  Employers are required to provide PPE and they must train employees, not only how to use the gear but its limitations as well. But it shouldn’t stop there.  Training employees on PPE is only the first step toward insuring that this equipment will do its job when and if needed.  Generally, when evaluating PPE, you should start with these three questions:

1. Does the personal protective equipment meet an industry standard?
2. Is the personal protective equipment in serviceable condition?
3. Is the personal protective equipment being worn consistently in the field?

All PPE must meet industry standards. This should include verification of standards that are used by legitimate testing entities. For example, head protection must be tested and rated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)and eye protection must meet an ANSI standard (Z87.1-2003). A pair of fashionable sunglasses and the helmet you got during Helmet Day at Fenway Park may look cool, but provide little protection.

All PPE must be in serviceable condition. This refers to the equipment’s ability to perform as the manufacturer intended.  There are a number of reasons to take PPE out of service-- cracked helmets, chainsaw leg protection that has been struck by a rotating chainsaw chain, footwear with an exposed steel toe or worn treads to name a few.  When this gear is used everyday it is bound to suffer the rigors of an unforgiving environment. Although I should add that in many instances PPE is rendered out of service because of poor storage, improper use, and lack of care.  PPE can work, and work well, but only if management and employees understand the importance of daily inspections and a healthy respect for the equipment that may save life or limb.
Finally, an equally important component of evaluating PPE is looking at whether the gear is being used when it’s needed.  This can only happen if management has conducted an evaluation of the hazards inherent in all job duties and combined it with a commitment to holding employees accountable to industry best practices and compliance standards. When all is said and done, proper eye protection labeled to meet industry standards and in serviceable condition are of little value if they are on the dashboard of the service vehicle or lying on a work bench while the employee works unprotected.

The ANSI website does require a membership to really dive into it, but there are several other options for gathering PPE information. OSHA offers a free fact sheet and the National Safety Council offers training information regarding PPE. If you have any ‘go-to’ sites for PPE, please feel free to share.