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Think Safety

What do you think of when someone says “shop safety”? The word safety means the condition of being safe from hurt, injury or loss – no matter where you are.

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No one goes to work in the morning expecting
to end up in the hospital by the end of the day, but we all know
someone who’s been injured on the job. Maybe even you have been
injured on the job.

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Most of these so-called accidents, however,
could have been prevented with the right attitude. Yeah, that’s
right, attitude. Safety is more a mental game than it is a physical
one. It’s also a responsibility of conducting business. Hopefully,
you’ll agree by the time you finish reading this.

Attitude is Everything

Attitude is a part of human nature, and everyone
has it. Attitude is a mental position, feeling or emotion toward
a fact or a state. It’s almost a philosophical question with a
multitude of answers.

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Case in point: Recently, one of the morning
news shows did a story concerning railroad crossings. It seems
that nationwide, drivers ignore railroad-crossing warning signals,
cross bars, etc., in an attempt to beat the train to the crossing.
The consequences are that people are being seriously injured or
killed. And there’s growing concern about these occurrences.

The fact is, vehicles – sedans, coupes, station
wagons, light pickup trucks – are no match for tons and tons of
train coming right at you. People know that, yet some drivers
still try their luck. Until motorists realize how dangerous it
is to try to beat a train and that waiting 15 or 20 minutes for
the train to pass is better than going to the morgue in a body
bag, these accidents will continue.

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It’s a new attitude, the right attitude, that
will bring about this desired change in behavior. All the safety
methods in the world won’t work until people realize beating a
train to a crossing isn’t the safe thing to do. Aren’t attitudes
and behaviors the keys to what we believe to be right and wrong?
How many of you have tried to beat a train to the crossing? How
many of you know someone who didn’t make it?

Working in the metal shop is no different.
As long as we obey common-sense rules, stay alert, educate ourselves
and make the mental effort to be safe, we’ll be safe. If we choose
the Russian Roulette approach, chances are if we don’t get hurt,
someone else may.

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Safety Measures

We’re going to use the common-sense approach
to shop safety. Common sense is difficult to define, but often,
it means learning from experience or from mistakes. Sometimes,
it just means doing what you know to be right. The common-sense
approach to shop safety isn’t a substitute for a voluntary OSHA
inspection, building inspection or fire marshal visit. (By the
way, if you really want these folks to show up at your door unannounced,
having a fire or serious personnel accident is the perfect invitation.)

Rule No. 1: Everyone in the metal shop should
wear Z-87-approved safety glasses with side shields. This means
everyone – insurance adjusters, sales people, shop estimators,
shop managers, shop owners, technicians, etc. There are no exceptions
to this rule. (And wearing your safety glasses up on your forehead
doesn’t count!)

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A real-life incident may help reinforce this
rule. I can vividly remember an incident where a person was working
at a drill press, drilling a hole. The drill bit shattered, and
a piece flew 30 feet, smacking another person right in the middle
of the left lens of his safety glasses. The lens was severely
cracked but he suffered no injury. Can you imagine the horror
and injury if he’d been wearing his safety glasses on his forehead
that day? Any qualms about wearing safety glasses disappeared
for about three months after that incident.

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This brings up the attitude thing again. What
if an employee has been told repeatedly to wear his safety glasses.
One day, while not wearing them, he suffers an eye injury. Whose
fault is it? The liability rests with both the worker and management.
If you’re the shop foreman or manager, you must document the repeated
safety glass violations. If you’re the worker, you should know
that you can be dismissed. Neither the worker nor shop wins in
a situation like this – so don’t put yourself in it.

Sometimes, safety must be a condition of employment.
It might be that the person violating your safety regulations
is the best technician you have – but he’s also a liability. What
if an OSHA inspector walks in? The shop will receive the fine
for an employee not wearing safety glasses, and it won’t be cheap.

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The thought of an employee getting hurt on
the job can be scary. One thing that might help with an employee
who’s reluctant to join the safety crusade is to ask him to spend
an hour using only one eye. Then, have him spend an hour blocking
vision to both eyes. Have him hold his right arm behind his back.
Have him walk around using crutches. Ask what his favorite hobby
is. Can he enjoy and participate in that hobby with only one eye,
one arm or a broken leg?

What about employees who have been out until
dawn the previous night? What about employees on illegal drugs?
What about employees who are taking doctor-prescribed medication
that might make them drowsy? What if the entire shop has been
working like crazy for the last six months? Maybe it’s time for
two standard work weeks. Let people relax or perform varied tasks
to alleviate boredom and complacency. When workers are tired or
impaired, for whatever reason, the situation demands immediate
attention. Taking notice after someone gets injured is too late.

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Ask Yourself …

The metal shop is loaded with safety hazards
besides those created when a worker refuses to wear proper eye
protection. Ask yourself the following questions to determine
whether your shop is prone to or prepared for an accident.

  • Take notice of the collision-damaged vehicle that just came
    in on a dolly. Is the gas tank or fuel system leaking? Is the
    battery damaged? Is battery acid leaking out? While we’re on the
    subject of batteries, welding, cutting or grinding next to one
    is an invitation for trouble. Also, do you have an accepted and
    approved procedure for jump starting a dead battery?
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  • Electricity is a vital part of any metal shop operation, including
    yours. But do you obey common-sense rules? Do you have a quick
    disconnect for all electrical-powered equipment in the case of
    an emergency? Have you installed GFI receptacles for all electric
    tools? How about extension cords. Have you removed that round
    prong on that new tool so it will fit an older-style extension
    cord? What about electrical shock? Is there water on the floor?
    Are electrical tools and equipment, cords and connections in good
    repair? Is the electrical service to the building sufficient?
    Are the breakers in the service panel correct?
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  • In the event an accident does occur, have shop personnel been
    trained in minimum first-aid procedures? Is the shop equipped
    with the appropriate first-aid supplies? Do you have an eye-wash
    station? Do you need a full-body-wash station?

  • When purchasing equipment, such as a lift or a straightening
    machine, are employees expected to read and understand the operating
    procedures that include pertinent safety information? When purchasing
    equipment, do you look for a label from an approved testing or
    certifying agency? Do you have operational and safety training
    for all new equipment? Do you periodically have retraining on
    all shop equipment?
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  • Do your fire extinguishers work? Do you have enough of them?
    When were they last inspected? When was the last time shop personnel
    trained on the proper use of fire extinguishers? (Believe it or
    not, some people don’t know that to operate the most common type
    of fire extinguisher, you have to pull the pin first.) Do you
    have the right kind? Is access to fire extinguishers blocked in
    any way? Do you have an emergency plan in case of a serious fire?

  • Have you ever conducted a fire drill? Sounds likes school
    stuff, but it’s not. While we’re on the subject of school stuff,
    have you every practiced a tornado drill? If you’re a parent or
    grandparent, you’d be appalled if schools didn’t practice these
    procedures. And what if there’s a power failure? Do you have emergency
    lighting that would permit workers to safely exit the shop?
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  • Let’s think about welding, plasma cutting, grinding and other
    operations like that. Fires and explosions are serious occurrences,
    and personal injuries, and the loss of property and lives can
    be catastrophic. Do you have a procedure to protect surrounding
    workers from the intense light, ultraviolet rays and sparks from
    welding and plasma cutting? How close to the painting operation
    are these metal shop tasks? Where are the cylinders of oxygen/acetylene
    and shielding gas kept?

  • If you still have oxyacetylene equipment, when was the last
    time the regulators were checked for proper operation? Have you
    installed flash-back arrestors? What condition are the hoses in?
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  • As far as general housekeeping, does everything have a proper
    place, and is everything in it’s proper place? Stumbling over
    things strewn all over the shop isn’t safe. Do you have a central
    location for storing incoming parts to keep them organized and
    out of the way?

  • What about your MSDS sheets and training. Failure to have
    up-to-date MSDS sheets and proof of employee training is a common
    OSHA violation.

  • Now that you’ve answered these questions – and any others
    you may have Now for the big one: Do your technicians use car
    stands with the proper weight rating when lifting a vehicle with
    a floor jack? Floor jacks are great tools, but they weren’t designed
    to hold a vehicle. Got a floor jack that isn’t working well? How
    about getting it fixed? Are employees afraid to notify supervisors
    about faulty equipment and/or general-use tools?

    thought of – make a list of things you know aren’t right in your
    shop. Then, prioritize them and create one list of things requiring
    immediate attention and another list of things that can wait until
    the serious issues are resolved. Force yourself to establish time
    lines on your list. Do one thing, then another, then another,
    and so on. Implement training and start to document that training.
    When you think your shop is in good safety shape, ask OSHA to
    make a voluntary inspection.

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    A High Cost to Pay

    Safety is basically a series of habits based on prior experiences,
    reading and understanding recognized or approved safety procedures.
    What makes one person more safety conscious than another is nothing
    more than attitudes and life-long habits. Nine times out of 10,
    we know what’s safe and what’s not, but it’s our attitude that
    causes us to either ignore or follow safety procedures.

    But what about the cost of work safety? It’s a good question,
    but a better question is what’s the cost of not working safely?
    There’s no doubt about it – you’ll see an immediate cost savings
    by not worrying about safety. But the cost you’ll experience while
    working toward a truly safe shop is ultimately less expensive
    than lost employee time, an OSHA fine or the loss of business
    when the local fire marshal shuts you down.

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    Above all the monetary costs, don’t forget the human cost. Think
    about not being able to do normal, everyday activities for the
    rest of your life. Think about the change in attitude you’d have
    to make after you or one of your employees lost an arm, an eye
    – or a life – and do something about it before it’s too late.

    Writer Fred Kjeld is a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

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