Knowledge Is Power When It Comes to Keeping Safe Around Power Lines

In an article titled Alarming Statistics: Reducing Common Injuries and Maintaining Safety Practices that appeared in the May 2007 issue of Electrical Contractor, author Darlene Bremer noted that exposure to electricity remains a major cause of death among construction workers. So much so that it accounts for an average of 143 construction worker deaths each year.

Many workers are oblivious to the potential electrical hazards in their work environment, which makes them extremely vulnerable to the danger of electrocution. Sometimes it is a matter of not being familiar with the environment, and not knowing the location of all the energized power sources from overhead and underground power lines.

However, this isn’t always the case. Many instances of electrocution result from workers failing to follow proper safety procedures when working around power lines. The most common cause of electrocutions is when workers using cranes, metal ladders, scaffolds, conveyors, front-end loaders, dump trucks, or other equipment or materials come into contact with an overhead power line. It is not uncommon for workers to die while performing what appears to be an activity that isn’t normally associated with accidents, such as unloading supplies from a truck, or moving ladders from the side of a structure. The problem arises because of poor planning or temporary inattention to surroundings, which causes contact with high voltage.

OSHA has established the following guidelines to help keep you safe when you have to work near power lines:

·   Keep a distance of 10 feet or more between you, your equipment and any power lines.

·   Survey the site for overhead power lines before you begin working.

·   Keep a minimum distance of 10 feet plus 1/2 inch for each 1,000 volts over 50,000 volts between power lines and any part of a crane if the energized power lines are 50,000 volts or more.

·   Request an observer to assist you where it is difficult to maintain the desired clearance by visible means.

·   Be sure that the observer’s only job is to help you maintain the safe clearance.

·   Treat overhead power lines as if they were energized whenever you are working near them.

·   Call the electric company to find out what voltage is on the lines if you are not sure.

·   Ask the electric company to either de-energize and ground the lines or install insulation while you are working near them.

·   Make sure ladders and tools are nonconductive. 

Improving Air Quality Protects Welders’ Health

Airborne particles pose significant potential health hazards for welders. That’s because there’s a co-relation between the chemical and physical properties of airborne particles and respiratory diseases. Protecting these workers from inhaling particles is key to protecting their health.

The greatest risk comes from particles that are between 1 and 100 microns in diameter, such as dust produced during industrial processes like welding and grinding. These particles are able to work their way through the nose and throat and penetrate the gas exchange region of the lungs where they settle, causing inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels.  Inhaling these particles over the long-term can lead to lung cancer.

Lung cancer begins with changes in the lungs that are characterized by the development of abnormal cells on the lining of the bronchi, the large air tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. These cells multiply with continued exposure and eventually become cancerous, and develop into tumors. Symptoms of lung cancer include chronic cough, hoarseness, chest pain, shortness of breath and numerous episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia.

Another less serious exposure-related illness that affects welders is metal fever. This is an acute allergic condition that causes headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, thirst, nausea, vomiting, chest soreness, gastrointestinal pain, and weakness. These symptoms usually last from 6-24 hours and complete recovery happens within 48 hours.

To prevent workers from contracting illnesses associated with airborne particles, it is imperative that the workplace offers adequate ventilation that removes contaminants generated during the welding process. The most effective way to accomplish this is through a combination of dilution ventilation and local exhaust ventilation techniques.

Dilution ventilation is used to decontaminate air in a whole building or room by blowing in large amounts of clean air and exhausting dirty air. This process dilutes the concentration of contaminants within the air to less dangerous levels. The most common methods of dilution ventilation include roof exhaust fans and wall fans.

One significant drawback of this method is that it allows the contaminants to enter the welder’s breathing zone before they are removed from the environment. If used exclusively, dilution ventilation may not be adequate to control exposure. For best results, dilution ventilation should be used in combination with local exhaust ventilation. This method captures contaminates at or very near the source and exhausts them outside.

Some welding equipment includes local exhaust ventilation, which removes the contaminates at the point of origin. Other local exhaust ventilation systems include a hood that can be placed as near as practical to the work being welded and provided with an airflow in the direction of the hood, or a fixed enclosure with a top and at least two sides that surround the welding work and provided with an airflow away from the enclosure.

Local exhaust ventilation prevent contaminates from entering the welder’s breathing zone. In addition to being discharged outside the building, local exhaust can be re-circulated through an air cleaner.

A Whipping Hose Is a Preventable Safety Hazard

Pressurized hoses are used on the jobsite everyday to run tools like paint sprayers and nail guns.  While the tools they power can make a worker’s job much easier, the hoses themselves can be dangerous if handled improperly.  The hoses derive power from the liquid or gas that moves inside them; however, that power also creates a reactive force.  If the force is strong enough, it can cause the hose to whip, possibly causing serious injury if it strikes a worker and even additonal hazards, like a chemical spill.   

The following tips can help you prevent hose whipping hazards:

  • Inspect hoses for torn outer jackets, damaged inner reinforcing, or soft spots before using them. Hoses with these types of damage should be removed from service.
  • Reduce the pressure in the hose to a lower level if possible. Setting pressure regulators to 30 psi or less can minimize the possibility of the hose whipping.
  • Avoid making sharp bends in the hose, which can damage the reinforcement.
  • Don’t jerk on a hose that has become snagged as this can cause ruptures. Find the object the hose is caught on, and release it there.
  • Restrain pressurized hoses that are unavoidably located near other employees with guards that are strong enough to keep the hoses in place if a leak or rupture occurs.
  • Use solid lines with tight fittings if possible instead of flexible hoses when working near other employees. Solid lines do not whip or leak as readily as flexible hoses, which can develop leaks from vibration, pressure cycles and aging.
  • Examine the connections on pressurized hoses frequently to prevent any accidental detachment of the line, which would result in uncontrollable whipping. Hose clamps with a restraining chain should be used to minimize the whipping effect if hose connections should accidentally become loose.
  • Pin the two sides of the hose’s twist type fitting together using the lugs provided. Be sure these fittings are fully secured.
  • Use the safety device at the air supply to reduce the pressure in the event of a hose failure. This device is standard on all hoses that are ½ inch in diameter or larger. If the hose you’re using doesn’t have this device, lash the two ends of the hose together to restrict whipping.
  • Never connect or disconnect pressurized hoses, always depressurize first.
  • Don’t stop the airflow in a hose by bending or crimping with pliers as this could cause major hose damage.
  • Stand clear of potential rupture points when conducting hose pressure tests. During testing, the pressure should be increased gradually with a brief pause between each increase. Instruments for reading pressures should be arranged so they are clearly visible at all times.

Your Brain Is Your Best Tool When It Comes to On-The-Job Safety

Everyone has heard the old adage ”Experience is the best teacher.” While it is true that you remember what you learned from an experience, especially a bad one, you may not like the other consequences that are part of the learning process.

This is especially true when it comes to on-the-job safety. Learning from a bad experience usually involves injury, and sometimes death. This shouldn’t have to be the case. But unfortunately, not exercising proper caution, and not paying careful attention can lead to these outcomes.

You probably hear a supervisor tell you or your co-workers, “Be careful,” or “Pay attention” any number of times during the day. The next time you hear those words, stop a minute and think of all the reasons you should be careful. Then follow that supervisor’s advice, so you can avoid having an accident that may be the last thing you ever learn.

You may be thinking, ‘I’m experienced, I don’t have accidents.” If you are, you’re setting yourself up for a bad learning experience. Accidents happen when you least expect them, and no worker, no matter how experienced, has any special immunity from having an accident. That’s why it is so important to follow safe work procedures. They are designed to help you avoid the causes of possible injury while getting the job done correctly. That’s also the reason your employer provides you with personal protective equipment (PPE), because using it prevents or minimizes the probability you will be injured.

Always remember your brain is your best defense against injury. Let it remind you to:

  • Follow proper work procedures at all times. Never take short cuts, even if you think that they will save time. All of the time you save will be lost if your short cuts cause you to be injured.
  • Concentrate on the task at hand. That means giving it your full attention until it is completed. Avoid any kind of distraction like talking, or joking around with co-workers because they can result in your being seriously hurt.
  • Use PPE whenever appropriate. Be sure it fits correctly, and that you wear it in the manner it was intended.

Understanding the Proper Usage and Limitations of Cartridge-Type Respirators

A half-mask cartridge-type respirator is the most common type used for protection against solvent vapors.  Many workers believe their respirator is working properly, when in reality it may not be.  You could have the wrong kind of respirator for the task at hand, wrong kind of filter cartridges, leakage and fit problems, or worn-out filter cartridges. Also, keep in mind that filter cartridge respirators just don’t protect you from the vapors produced by all chemicals.

Try to Use Ventilation Where Possible Instead of Relying on Respirators

Ideally your workplace should make full use of fans and local exhaust ventilation to make the air safe, if possible. Make full use of the ventilation you have. Also, never enter a confined space that has not been tested for oxygen content with a cartridge respirator.  Oxygen content must be at least 19.5% to use these types of respirators.

Use the Right Kind of Respirator

Dust masks, surgical masks, and handkerchiefs do NOT protect at all against solvent vapors. Don’t automatically choose an organic vapor (“OV”) filter cartridge respirator. A respirator must be right for the kinds of solvents you use, the amount of vapor in the air, and your work situation.

Make Sure Your Respirator Fits Properly

Any respirator will leak between the mask and face, unless it is fitted right. You must be individually “fit tested” by a trained person when you receive your respirator. There are various mask sizes and shapes. Masks can be “full face” (over the eyes, nose and mouth) or “half face” (nose and mouth only). Facial hair under the sealing edge allows vapor to leak into the mask.

Before Using Your Respirator:

· Look it over. Before you put it on, check it for cracks, damage, or loose parts.

· Check the fit. After you put it on, check the fit yourself. For respirators with masks that seal to the face, do “positive pressure” and “negative pressure” fit tests. These tests are done with the respirator on; block the valves, then exhale and inhale, checking for leaks.

· Clean it up. After use, clean the respirator, if necessary, using soap and water.

· Protect it. Store it in a sealed plastic bag to protect it from dirt and vapors. Protect it from crushing which could deform the shape of the facemask.

Do Not Use Filter Cartridge Respirators with All Solvents

Solvents with poor odor warning ability, such as Freon, carbon tetrachloride and methylene chloride, are not safe to use with filter respirators.You need an odor to warn you at the end of cartridge life or if the respirator leaks.  You should know both the type and concentrations of contaminants in the air of your workplace.

Replace Cartridge Filters Often

Filters may last for a few minutes or a few days of use, depending on the situation. Old filters let vapors leak through. Exit your work area and replace the filters immediately whenever you smell leakage into the mask; you should never be able to smell the chemicals at all when you’re wearing the respirator.

Cartridge-type respirators are safe to use provided you understand their limitations and know how to use them properly.

Indoor Air Quality: It’s Hard to Believe What We Breathe

Since the early 1970’s and the development of buildings that were sealed tight to save energy costs, indoor air quality has become an important concern.  The absence of fresh air and the regurgitation of stale air throughout massive office complexes have generated millions of headaches and more serious concerns.

Poor air quality doesn’t just come from the lack of fresh air.  There are many volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde in constant use in these buildings.  The major sources of formaldehyde are likely to be particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood in furniture and paneling in addition to carpeting and glues.

Other dangerous chemical compounds are released from everyday office items like furniture, paint, adhesives, solvents, upholstery, draperies, carpeting, spray cans, clothing, construction materials, cleaning compounds, deodorizers, copy machine toners, felt-tip markers and pens, and correction fluids.

Microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, molds and fungi are present in the air almost everywhere and may also cause office air pollution.  Fungi and bacteria find nourishment in inadequately maintained humidification and air-circulation systems, and in dirty washrooms.  In 16 major studies, at least 281 cases of illness were traced to humidifier systems, circulation vacuum pumps, blowers, ventilation and duct work, and air filters.

Another known cause of office pollution is asbestos and asbestos products that number in the thousands.  Office buildings are likely to have them in ceiling and floor tiles, and acoustic and thermo insulation.  A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of ten cities found that almost twenty percent of office buildings contained asbestos in an easily crumbled, more dangerous state.

Unless you work in a sterile office environment with no carpets, drapes or furniture, there is no avoiding a risk to your breathing system.  But there are at least some steps that you can undertake to make your building and workplace safer.

  1. Eliminate Tobacco:  A firm no-smoking policy is the best way to protect the health of all employees.  If that is not currently feasible, smoking should be allowed only in a well-ventilated area reserved exclusively for that purpose, where no non-smoker is required to enter or pass through.

2.      Provide Adequate Ventilation:  Guidelines for office buildings set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers require circulation of a minimum of 140 liters of outside air per minute per person.  Relative humidity should be kept between thirty and sixty percent.

3.      Practice Regular Maintenance:  Clean and disinfect ventilating, heating, or cooling devices and systems, including humidifiers and dehumidifiers, air filters and air circulation pumps and blowers.

For the health of all of employees, remember to pay heed to indoor air quality.   We are what we breathe.

Driving in Construction Zones – Follow the Signs to Safety

Each year hundreds of American construction workers are killed in traffic accidents while they are on the job.  So many have been killed that a special work zone safety awareness week has been created.  A mobile memorial containing the names of people killed in construction work zones was unveiled in Washington, D.C. in April 2002 and every year since has been on display in various states during the awareness week.

However, it is not just construction workers who have been maimed or killed.  In 2002, 1,181 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones and more than 52,000 people were injured.  According to transportation safety officials, four out of five work zone fatalities are drivers and passengers.

The good news is that after years of steadily increasing numbers of accidents and fatalities in construction zones, public awareness is increasing and the numbers are beginning to drop.  In 2003, for the first time in more than five years, the number of fatalities decreased from the previous year to 1,082 deaths.

If you want to avoid becoming a construction zone statistic here are a few tips.  First of all obey all signs, especially the ones advising you to slow down.  Always stay within the posted speed limits.  Always follow the flag person’s direction.  They are your guides to help you navigate safely through the construction zone. 

Secondly, stay alert and watch for moving workers and equipment. Do not tailgate the car in front of you or try to pass a slower moving vehicle.  Ensure that there is a safe distance between your vehicle, and everything else.  Be prepared to stop at any moment and with little notice.

Thirdly, take your time.   If you are traveling through a construction work zone, plan ahead, you may be a little delayed.  But if it’s unexpected, then just relax and go with the flow.

Finally, pay attention.  Now may not be the best time to make phone calls or eat lunch.  You will need all your faculties to watch the road conditions for mud, gravel, rough surfaces, potholes or craters.  Watch out for merging traffic, especially when traffic is reducing to fewer lanes.  When taking detours through residential areas, be very cautious and watch out for children.

If you follow these easy tips and all signs and directions, you should be able to drive safely through any construction zone. Take your time and arrive alive.

Protect Yourself Against the Hazards of Welding

Since hazardous conditions like high heat and toxic fumes are central to welding, it is no surprise that without strict safety procedures, injury, short- or long-term illness and potentially even death could occur when welding.  Though there are more than 80 different types of welding processes, each with its own set of concerns, many safety precautions are common. 

The central elements of welding make it dangerous in many different ways.  The welding “smoke” often contains extremely toxic substances such as arsenic, silica, carbon monoxide, lead, chromium and ozone which can produce acute and chronic conditions to just about any part of the body depending on which substance is present.  Conditions associated with welding are asthma, emphysema, lung cancer, skin diseases, hearing loss, chronic gastrointestinal problems and reproductive risks.  Some components of welding fume, for example cadmium, can be fatal in a short amount of time.

Furthermore, the intense heat from welding and sparks can cause burns, eye injuries and heat stroke.  The intense light can cause eye damage and increased skin cancer risk, not just to the welder, but to co-workers if it reflects off surrounding materials.  Excessive noise exposure can permanently damage a welder’s hearing.  Welders also have a high rate of musculoskeletal complaints including back injuries, shoulder pain, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

OSHA standards cover many aspects of welding, including welding safety and safety training, welding in confined spaces, ventilation, fire and electrical safety and protective equipment.  Welders should receive extensive training on the safe use of equipment, safe work practices and emergency procedures, and insist on safe working conditions before they weld.

Before beginning a welding job, the hazards for that particular environment need to be identified since risks vary based on the type of welding, materials to be welded and environmental conditions.  Make sure you know what you are welding before you start.  OSHA requires that employers keep material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to identify the hazardous materials used in welding, and the fumes that may be generated.  Only after identifying the hazard can appropriate safety controls be implemented.

Some general precautions to take include:

·  Keep areas clear of equipment, cables and hoses and use safety lines or rails to prevent slips and falls;

· To prevent fires, only weld in areas that are free of combustible materials;

· Be aware of the symptoms of heat stroke (fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain).  Protect against it through appropriate ventilation, shielding, rest breaks and frequent drinks;

· Wear hearing protection in excessively noisy environments.  OSHA requires employers to test noise levels and, in many instances, provide free hearing protection and annual hearing tests;

· Prevent musculoskeletal injury through proper lifting, changing positions, working at a comfortable height and minimizing vibration;

· Prevent electrical shock by wearing dry gloves and rubber-soled shoes, using an insulating layer on surfaces that can conduct electricity and by grounding the piece being welded and the frame of all electrically powered machines;

· Guard all machines with moving parts to prevent clothing, hair or fingers from getting caught;

· Always wear personal protective equipment including fire-resistant gloves, high-top hard-toed shoes, leather apron, face shields, flame-retardant coveralls, safety glasses and helmets;

· Use shielding to protect other people in the work area from the light of the welding arc, heat and hot spatter;

· Maintain proper local exhaust ventilation and general ventilation;

· Store work clothes separately from street clothes since and have them laundered by the employer since they may be contaminated with highly toxic materials; and

· Receive yearly medical exams.

Because dangerous levels of toxic fumes can build quickly in a confined space, all workers who enter hazardous areas, either on a regular basis or in an emergency situation, should be trained on use of safety equipment, rescue procedures, self-contained breathing apparatus and proper methods of entering and exiting a confined space.  Additional special safety precautions are also necessary for various other specialized welding including high-pressure gas welding, laser welding and electronic beam welding.

Know How to Manage a Chemical Spill to Limit Injury and Exposure

No one plans on a chemical spill but because accidents can occur, the time to figure out how to manage a chemical spill isn’t after a spill happens but before.  Because different chemicals can have different harmful effects and must be handled in a unique way, contingency planning is the best way to minimize potential problems.

It goes without saying that our work around hazardous substances should always be designed to minimize the risk of their accidental release.  Prior to working in a specific environment around specific chemicals, you should make sure you understand the physical, chemical and toxicological properties of the potentially hazardous substances and the appropriate emergency procedures including:

·  How to report the emergency involved (ie. chemical spill, fire and/or injury)

·  The location and use of emergency first aid equipment

·  The location and use of spill control equipment and fire extinguishers

·  Contact information for those responsible for the work site

Handling a spill depends greatly on the scope of the chemical release, other hazardous conditions present and the type of chemical.  Always adhere to the specifics of the safety program.  Some general safety guidelines for small spills that are not immediately dangerous to the environment or individual’s health include:

·  Notifying other personnel in the area about the spill and any appropriate evacuation needs;

·  Attending to any individuals who have been injured or potentially exposed;

·  Taking appropriate measures, without the risk of injury or contamination, to confine the spill; and

·  Cleaning up and disposing of the spill contents using appropriate procedure.

Remember that more widespread or dangerous spills or conditions require a different approach including:

·  Notifying other personnel about the spill and to evacuate the area;

·  Immediately attempting to remove or protect victims in a manner that does not risk additional injury or contamination.  Request help if necessary; 

·  Locating to a safe area and calling 911 to report the emergency; and

·  For dangers that extend beyond the immediate environment, activating any fire or safety alarms, evacuating the wider vicinity and securing any entrances into the area.

If hazardous or regulated materials are unintentionally released to the environment, special regulatory reporting may be required.  Be sure to note as best you can the chemicals involved, the quantities released and the time of the incident so it can be reported accurately to the appropriate environmental agencies. 

While chemical spills are not intended, by taking safety measures, their scope and impact can often be limited.

Perform Lockout/Tagout Safety Measures While Servicing Machinery

As one of approximately three million workers who service and maintain equipment, you need to know how to prevent the serious risks of unexpected machinery startup or the release of hazardous energy.  While the risks are significant, by following OSHA’s lockout/tagout safety standards, an estimated 50,000 injuries can be prevented each year. 

Hazardous energy comes in multiple forms which include; the kinetic or mechanical energy of moving parts, potential energy stored in pressure vessels, gas tanks, hydraulic or pneumatic systems, electrical energy from generated electrical power, static sources or electrical storage devices such as batteries, high or low temperature thermal energy from mechanical work, radiation, a chemical reaction and electrical resistance.

While performing installation, maintenance, service or repair work near or related to hazardous energy sources these factors can lead to a dangerous situation and, are preventable:

–        The failure to completely de-energize, isolate, block, and/or dissipate the hazardous energy source,

–        Failure to lockout and tagout energy control devices and isolation points after the hazardous energy source has been de-energized, and

–        Failure to verify that the hazardous energy source was de-energized before beginning work.

Our OSHA-compliant hazardous energy control program helps to promote a safe working environment for employees.  The central goal of the program is to help you know how to identify at-risk tasks and conduct appropriate methods for controlling hazardous energy.

Our safety program is very comprehensive and includes the following general safety measures.  Safe work practices must begin before work commences and be applied at every step.  All sources of hazardous energy must be identified, labeled and then de-energized and dissipated, and all energy-isolating devices must undergo lockout and tagout to prevent startup and blocking.  We have developed the specific method of energy control based on the form of energy involved.  Workers must verify, using appropriate testing equipment, that all energy sources are de-energized before work begins. 

After work is complete, a designated individual must inspect the completed work to verify it was performed correctly using the correct replacement parts and that all personnel are clear of danger points before re-energizing the system.  Re-energized equipment should be closely monitored for several operating cycles.  The lockout/tagout program requires individually assigned locks and keys to secure the energy control devices.  Locks and tags must be removed only after workers have been cleared from the danger points and only by the workers who installed them.

Hazardous energy is a powerful force, however when diligently following our lockout/tagout safety program a safe working environment is created for all employees.