Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Workplace safety share.

So I think today was interesting in both ways. It's not enough to wear safety equipment - You have to use the correct tools, and the correct safety equipment!

Ok that changing a light bulb thing didn't go so well. First; you should understand, this is a big light: 500W! The bulb is about the size of a two liter bottle.

We put on safety gear: steel toe bots with metatarsal covers, durable warm cotton insulated coveralls and coats, gloves, safety glasses, hard hat, climbing harness.

We set up the ladder, my co-worker climbed the ladder, latched his harness to the pole, lashed the ladder off to the pole, and opened the light fixture cover.

While opening the light fixture cover, my co-workers hard hat fell off. He had his hands full, an it was an awkward reach; so he just let it fall instead of trying to catch it. I thought this a good decision at the time and we both shrugged it off. So he begins to descend the ladder to get the new bulb...

Suddenly a noise, and commotion, and out falls the guts of the light fixture. I watch, HORRIFIED, as they tumble and spin not more than a foot past his head. The ballast (specialized type of transformer, a big block of iron and copper wire) weighs about 20 pounds. And it, bolted to a sharp edged steel plate about the size of a skate board, went just flying down past him. My work day almost turned into rush co-worker to the hospital day.

The worst part is that we had just finished having a morning safety meeting, and the client's representative explaining the rules didn't know how we would call 911 from where we were working. On big industrial sites, you _don't_ call 911. You call a local number and they get emergency care to you. However, it's a new little shack of a building, and has no company phone. So, yeah, 20 minutes away from being able to _call_ for help there was almost a severe head wound because, either a screw failed, or someone didn't correctly install a retaining screw; and the person who chose to attempt this work from a ladder mis-judged how difficult that would be.

Sorry this is so long, working safely is important. Sometimes concentrating on wearing safety gear can blind a person into choosing the wrong tools. I'd still wear all that safety gear, of course. But the decision to change that bulb from a ladder was I think, a poor decision; and my co-worker almost paid for that today.

Ok, so, I'm trying not to turn this into a rant. However, this is also important: Don't wear safety equipment that does not protect you, just to meet a perceived expectation or requirement.

A standard lanyard is six feet, stretches to, I think 12, and attaches to a harness between your shoulder blades. This harness will allow you to fall and break yourself if you are working at anything less than about 15 feet above the ground.

Frequently I have been asked to wear a harness and lanyard that offer zero fall protection at the heights that I'm working from. (6 -10 feet up typically.) When I ask for a yo-yo and I-beam clamp (which, as I understand things, does offer protection at lower heights) I'm told that I can go without the harness; because those tools are expensive, would require time to go and purchase, and as long as I'm using my ladder correctly (which I do) the risk should be minimal.

But why can't we rent/buy another little scissor lift, we have several already. A used scissor lift, costs a little more than a yo-yo, and allows more productivity. Or for goodness sake, we do have to do ladder work sometimes, I wish we had a few yo-yo's. I'm going to have to ask my supervisors to buy one (or more, hopefully) again.

When working at intermediate heights my employer sometimes doesn't have appropriate safety equipment. When we should be using a lift, or scaffolding to change a light bulb; we are told to use a harness and an extension ladder.

My co-worker almost paid the price for this today. Maybe we will all learn, that would be nice.


At 11:26 PM , Anonymous Chris Wooddell said...

Sometimes it seems as though people treat safety measures like little rituals, as though the ritual itself is protective. It's good that you pursue obtainment and use of appropriate equipment and measures. I had a coworker whose father was a paraplegic after falling off a ladder. It's a big deal.

At 11:38 PM , Blogger Mark Abraham said...

could you add the "follow me" button on your blog? I'm stll reading your story.


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