Safety Musings

paulengr

Senior Member
Most safety people are promoted to that position because they are either so incompetent or so dangerous that they can’t do serious harm in the safety department. People that area really good at it need to be the “cheer leader” personality...go team, go. Just like sales and marketing people they have a legitimate job to do but it’s hard to take them seriously when so much obvious hot air flows so freely from their mouths.

The thing is that safety needs to be a two way street and they need to understand that a lot of safety professionals make assertions that are simply not true without one shred of evidence. There is a popular thing right now called a job hazard analysis or job safety analysis of pre task plan.

In the real version of this you get a group of engineers, workers, and say factory reps together to plan out every detail and hazard of doing some kind of extremely dangerous activity, maybe one that has never been done before. It often gets used for instance with say demolition of a high rise building or for a new chemical plant process. A lot of procedures and safety things get worked out ahead of time. You don’t use this for every day tasks like making a procedure to drive a fork lift unless it involves some unusual way of doing it. It takes a good coach for these things to work well. Someone has to encourage the workers to speak up and contain the safety department people from controlling things. I always did everything I could to get everyone’s concerns out in the open.

I’ve been trained in running these kinds of meetings and I’ve led several of them. The big difference between these and the typical dealing with the safety department is that at least when I run one of these, everyone gets an equal say and we get a consensus on it. The safety manager does not get to sit and dictate whatever he pulls out of thin air as gospel. As an example of one that actually came up, a fan in a cooling tower flew apart one time. By itself this is pretty common if you’ve ever worked on these. It launched a part of a blade 200 feet away. Nobody was hurt but it freaked them all out. The plant put vibration switches on the fans. If you’ve ever seen cooling towers you know that the switch is either never going to let the thing run or get adjusted so high it doesn’t work. After that fans continued to fail once in a while but the vibration switches only triggered after a blade broke so it was badly out of balance, never before. When the team recognized that most of the time nobody is up around the cooling towers, that this only happened once in 20 years from one cooling tower out of a dozen, and that you’d have to be almost precisely in the wrong place at the wrong time to get injured or even killed, that your chances of being struck by lightning while standing in the same spot were better odds. The useless vibration sensors went away and an annual visual inspection for blade damage by a mechanic was added. They found they were catching bad fans and changing them before failure after that and the number of failures went way down.

The other version of this procedure is before doing some task the crew is supposed to write down every step of a job, the hazards, and what they do about it, on the spot. Since it’s the same thing you do in your head every time you do a job, it has little meaning.?There is zero evidence that this pencil pushing waste of time has any real, proven value. Zip, zero, zilch. This is like the guy giving the 5 minute lecture about pulling cords out by the plugs. Garbage in, garbage out. The only time this really has any effect is with new employees who are still learning all the rules in the first six months. After you’ve heard the cord thing a dozen times hearing it again won’t make any difference. Lately this is the big thing in all the safety conferences and literature. Utilities have been doing it for years. Yet when someone brings up the issue of whether or not it is beneficial they just get dirty looks like they just used foul language in front of the wrong person.

The other big area not mentioned is accident investigations. There are serious issues with how a lot of companies do them. The most over the top ridiculous one is that at one time Unimin had a question on the form: “Was employee at fault?” And you basically were not allowed to check “no”. This is the ultimate finger pointing question in my opinion. In fact that company could have considerably simplified the paperwork by just keeping that one question. No details. Let’s just assign blame and move on. Many companies also do accident investigations and it ends up with a disciplinary procedure. So if the result of the accident investigation is that “we fired that guy”, did they really prevent it from happening again or just kick the cam down the road? Why did you let the guy do that in the first place? Was there a training issue, an issue with enforcing the rules? Was he pissed off at the company or having a bad day and if so, why? Did you let someone clearly on drugs or drunk operate power tools and heavy equipment that day because the job is behind schedule? All of these are management issues. Many companies have the “us vs them” attitude. They are unwilling to accept any solutions that don’t involve a new procedure, a new tool, or firing someone when many accidents point to clear management issues.

Properly done what you should be doing in an accident investigation is looking for a way to prevent another one from happening if the solution is practical and fixes the problem. As an example I had a contractor on one of my crews skinning and landing 500 MCM shielded cables. Prior to this he had only done houses. He was told he had to wear cut resistant gloves by our safety department. So he had on level 1. He used his thumb to stiffen/support the cable and accidentally got his thumb too high where as he cut the ring around the cable his utility knife went right through the glove and through his thumb. The guy was visibly shaking and confessed privately he was scared he was going to get fired and not be able to pay his bills during the accident investigation. I called a couple cut resistant glove companies and quickly found out about different levels. So when we had the sit down with the safety department I pulled out an identical glove and utility knife. I laid the glove on the table and cut out all 4 fingers in one swipe. Then I pulled out a level 2 and it stopped on the first finger. The safety rules got revised to “level 2 or higher”. Simple, effective solution.

The most exasperating problem though with this accident investigation was this. Prior to starting that project (a $60 million job that took 2 years) we had a big meeting between the GC safety and management and ours. We reviewed each other’s safety manuals. When it came to the cut resistant glove rule, the GCs safety people asked what level is required. They get this one so often their manual just has a blank that they fill in with every customer. Our safety department had no answer or any clue what the question was. That should have been a big hint that something was missing. All they knew was “cut resistant gloves”. So it was the lowest level (1). The glove companies help you pick out the right ones. You just have to ask. The accident should have never happened. But because management philosophy was “us vs them” we were unwilling to listen and it wasn’t until I had to rub their noses in it that they finally recognized the issue. It was either that or let a good man get fired over something that honestly wasn’t his fault because he was told the gloves would protect him and they didn’t. I’m not cut out for management material...I care too much about the people I work with.

I was in that meeting too. What we had was two safety departments trying to one up each other. Very little beneficial came out of that meeting. It was all about grand standing not safety.

I did put in something about the safety manual review in the original accident investigation conclusions. I was ordered to remove it and not mention it. Management doesn’t like to embarrass their safety department. Safety last after all.

To me most of the big failures I see with safety are easy to spot but hard to fix. They are mostly management failures. Safety is common sense stuff. You shouldn’t need to be a “cop” for safety. Guys should want to work safely when they are allowed and encouraged to do it. Safety rules should be common sense. Nobody wants to get hurt. They might forget or overlook something important but if it’s a level playing field and everyone’s opinions matter there are a lot fewer problems.
 

jmellc

Senior Member
Location
Durham, NC
Occupation
Facility Maintenance Tech. Licensed Electrician
I’ve seen some of what you describe. My last construction job, we often wasted 2 or more hours of a 10 hour day filling out job safety analysis, JSA, forms. Form had to be approved by 1 or more safety people & someone had to approve the site. Discover during job that you need a Jack hammer? Have to fill out another form & get it approved. Then we got yelled at in afternoon meetings for being unproductive. Little nazis peeping around every corner and over your shoulder all day long.
 

tom baker

First Chief Moderator
Staff member
Ladder tales:
I was helping my neighbor and used his ladder, it was missing the bottom step. I suggested he should cut it up, I went and got my own.
When I buy a ladder I get the type 1 or 1A even for home, in fiberglass
I had a supervisor who liked the wooden three legged ladders, carried on the top of our vans, they dried out and got loose. When he left those ladders went away. But three legged fiberglass ladders are good for working on traffic signal walk signs and poles, as they are not tippy.
Now I see that Werner has step ladders that are designed to use leaning against a wall.
 

jmellc

Senior Member
Location
Durham, NC
Occupation
Facility Maintenance Tech. Licensed Electrician
Ladder tales:
I was helping my neighbor and used his ladder, it was missing the bottom step. I suggested he should cut it up, I went and got my own.
When I buy a ladder I get the type 1 or 1A even for home, in fiberglass
I had a supervisor who liked the wooden three legged ladders, carried on the top of our vans, they dried out and got loose. When he left those ladders went away. But three legged fiberglass ladders are good for working on traffic signal walk signs and poles, as they are not tippy.
Now I see that Werner has step ladders that are designed to use leaning against a wall.
I borrowed a painter’s 3 leg once, never again. I want to see the leaning stepladders. Good thing to have. Don’t think I’ve seen one yet.
 

Fred B

Senior Member
Location
Upstate, NY
Occupation
Electrician
I borrowed a painter’s 3 leg once, never again. I want to see the leaning stepladders. Good thing to have. Don’t think I’ve seen one yet.
Little Giant make one, I've got a midsized one, and it works as advertised. A step, leaning, corner, and stud support, as well as a flip up extension. I've used all positions. Only issue I have is finding it on a job site, the other guys are always walking off with it for what they are doing, I told them to get their own, some have. That seems to be a decent endorsement. They now have 3 sizes all rated type 1AA.
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GoldDigger

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Placerville, CA, USA
Occupation
Retired PV System Designer
Ladder tales:
I was helping my neighbor and used his ladder, it was missing the bottom step. I suggested he should cut it up, I went and got my own.
When I buy a ladder I get the type 1 or 1A even for home, in fiberglass
I had a supervisor who liked the wooden three legged ladders, carried on the top of our vans, they dried out and got loose. When he left those ladders went away. But three legged fiberglass ladders are good for working on traffic signal walk signs and poles, as they are not tippy.
Now I see that Werner has step ladders that are designed to use leaning against a wall.
I have had for many years a Werner ladder with two parts, both with rungs. You either slid one part out to make an adjustable extension ladder or separated the bottom ends to engage a hinge and lock at the top to make a step ladder.
The best part was that you could partially extend one piece and then open them out to make a step ladder with unequal leg lengths for use on stairs.
 

LarryFine

Master Electrician Electric Contractor Richmond VA
Location
Henrico County, VA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I have a 4', a 6', a 10', and a double-sided 14' ladder, and a 22' Little Giant, all fiberglass.
 
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