Online resources for improving plant safety

Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, mines the Web for safety, ergonomics and training resources.

By Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, executive editor

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According to an Oct. 16, 2007 U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) report, nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses among private industry employers in 2006 occurred at a rate of 4.4 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers. Also, the DOL reports that the number of nonfatal injuries reported in 2006 declined to 4.1 million cases. Assuming this country has about 146 million workers, 3% (4.1/146) are involved in some sort of occupational injuries or illnesses. On average, one of every 33 people at your plant is going to be involved in a given year (not counting people killed). Terrible odds, if you ask me. In the interest of helping to ensure that all of your employees go home safely at the end of the shift, we take a leap into the digital morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that can help reduce workman’s comp claims and hold down medical insurance costs. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

Easing into it

Pretty much everyone in industry takes the idea of workplace safety for granted. There was a time, however, when workers had no system of formalized protection against on-the-job accidents. If you want to get a feel for the evolution of workplace safety, pay a visit to www.referenceforbusiness.com to check out the offerings listed under “Encyclopedia of Business.” Select the entry labeled “Inc-Int” and scroll down to “Industrial Safety” for the material about this topic. In addition to somewhat outdated basic industrial accident statistics, a little history of workplace safety initiatives and some information about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there’s a bibliography that gives you further insight into the modern concept of workplace safety.

Your tax money at work

Speaking of OSHA, it’s living proof that our hired hands in Washington don’t want anything bad to happen to the good folks on the plant floor who keep sending more tax dollars to government coffers. Like most divisions of DOL, OSHA has a Web site that contains more material than can possibly be highlighted here. To get a flavor of what’s available, elect your mouse to serve you at www.osha.gov/SLTCby accessing "Process Safety Management (PSM)" from the dropdown menu under the Topics Pages Index. The PSM entry tells you what standards apply, explains how to recognize the hazards of a chemical process, offers advice about evaluating and controlling process safety hazards and points you to additional information. The typical page on this site is highly interlinked to dozens of other pages of material related to Federal Standard 29 CFR 1910. For example, clicking on a hyperlinked word or phrase takes you to another page where that word or phrase is defined in the regs. But, in the typical inside-the-beltway style, the definition itself contains words that require definition, and those words are linked as well. Serious PSM research here can be a slow slog, so allow sufficient time.

Plant safety

But, what if it’s intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that the plant, as currently configured, is a dangerous place? Well, it might be a good idea to educate the people working out there every day, risking life and limb for the benefit of the corporate shareholders. Keeping in mind that you get what you pay for, you could do worse than to access the free training courses from Instructional Designs Inc., Greer, S.C. The company offers slide show-based training courses that cover hazard communication, forklift safety and operation, personal protection equipment, hearing conservation and back safety. The student will find mini-quizzes interspersed among the slides. A correct answer reveals the next slide; a wrong response results in a recycling of the appropriate slides. This material is available at www.free-training.com, where selecting “Training Programs" starts you on the road to self-preservation. Before you move on to the next site citation, don’t forget to investigate the resources behind the “Other Free Training Sites” option.

Dodge the sparks

Arc flash isn’t just some abstract concept involving electrical safety. When something goes wrong in an electrical panel, the situation can get pretty painful, messy and gory. If you’ve never seen the phenomenon, count yourself lucky. Some five or 10 arc flash incidents occur daily in this country. To learn what can happen when those electrons escape from the wire, charge over to http://205.243.100.155/frames/longarc.htm for the video, now on a monitor near you. You’ll see why Michael Furtak from Ferraz Shawmut’s Ontario office wants you to be careful if you’re going to be opening any electrical cabinets around the plant. To further his objective, he has an online resource for you - the short-circuit fault current and arc flash hazard analysis Web site — which is found at www.arcadvisor.com. Highlights include “A Handbook to Accompany the Online Short-Circuit Calculation Program” that shows the formulae and reference tables for gathering the electrical data needed to specify the appropriate personal protective equipment for working on a particular electrical cabinet. Although the handbook is a free resource, the online calculator and downloadable software aren’t. So, check out the relevant links on the left side. Clicking on “Reference Data” reveals tabular data for substation impedance, cable and bus bar reactance, and data for rotating equipment. “Procedure” gets you the basics of the arc flash calculation based on the IEEE 1584 standard, whereas clicking on “Test Zone” accesses four quizzes about electrical safety. Several of these multiple-choice questions require you to select all the answers that apply, but that fact isn’t obvious.

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