Online resources for improving plant safety

April 7, 2008
Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, mines the Web for safety, ergonomics and training resources.

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 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 In addition to somewhat outdated basic industrial accident statistics, a little history of workplace safety initiatives and some information about the Occupational Safety and Health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 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, 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 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 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.

Using chemicals

The standard of living we enjoy is the result of industry using wet nasties, noxious gases and poisonous solids to produce those glorious things we love to buy and use. Although, with certain exceptions, the products for which we trade our greenbacks are perfectly safe if used in the manner intended by the manufacturer, the chemicals that went into their making might be a different story. And, the workers on the line who must handle these chemicals have an inalienable right-to-know that’s been enshrined in law. The common vehicle for transmitting vital safety information to folks on the plant floor is the material safety data sheet (MSDS). A good source for these documents is Interactive Learning Paradigms Inc., Blackwood, N.J. The company’s Web site makes it easy for you to access the MSDS sheets you need.

You’ll find more than 100 online resources that provide data sheets covering various subsets of the universe of chemicals. The source with only six entries is relevant for Gulf War veterans. On the other hand, larger databases claim to have more than 1 million entries. Not all return a properly formatted MSDS; but those that don’t at least return data about the chemical of choice. Send your immortal mouse to, select “Free MSDSs” from the drop-down menu and click “Go!” Focus on the sites that don’t require registration.

With so much new-found knowledge about chemical dangers, now might be a good time to test your recall of some important principles of hazmat handling. If you’re feeling confident, take the test that ABAG Training Center, Oakland, Calif. developed and offers in its Online Hazmat School. Head over to, sharpen your No. 2 pencils and begin the 20-question test. It can be humbling.

Safety amidst the glassware

Some plants maintain on-site laboratory facilities either for research purposes or to provide metrics for a quality-control program. The higher than normal concentration of bottles filled with sometimes exotic reagents makes for an environment where peril can hide in plain sight. If your plant has a lab, you might want to let its white-coated denizens know about a site that presents best practices in laboratory safety. Send them to to enter the phrase “laboratory safety incidents” in the search box. Zero in on the first citation returned. This page from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has links to a series of bad-outcome laboratory errors and provides lessons learned for each of them. Topics covered include information about centrifuge explosion, chemical waste, cryogen explosions, eye injury, gas cylinder incidents, lasers, toxic gas release and ultraviolet burns. After reading some of these, it seems you might be safer out on the plant floor.

The physical plant at Oklahoma State University-Stillwater also posts material about laboratory safety. To access this trove, direct your attention to and click on “Lab & Chemical Info.” While you’re there, you might want to investigate “Manuals & Procedures” for safety concepts to incorporate into your own safety program.

The portal

Sometimes you can stumble upon a Web site in which someone invested many hours to produce a thing of digital beauty. One such example is the Vocational Information Center, which is brought to you by Kathryn Hake of Phoenixville, Pa. Aimed at vocational and technical education, her site is a comfortable adjunct to the rants about the maintenance crisis we indulge in here at magazine central. Hake’s site fits the definition of a portal, with many links to other sites that cover a given topic. There doesn’t appear to be any fat in the content, either. Every link is there for a purpose, that being to educate the user via reference materials, how-to articles and other resources that your maintenance crew should investigate. One warning — set aside plenty of free time to dig through the goodies at

Get the word out

Industrial safety involves more than the maintenance technicians knowing how to handle power tools, chemicals and personal protection equipment. Other safety issues of possible concern to the plant’s safety guru should include common events such as the disposal of spent fluorescent bulbs from the office area, as well as rare events such as a fire alarm sounding. Communicating to employees ahead of time the correct procedures to be followed is preferable to the chaos that can prevail when something out of the ordinary occurs and demands an immediate and coordinated response from more than one person. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to memorize dozens of safety procedures, but it’s realistic to establish a vehicle for transmitting this information on demand. For example, consider emulating the Environment, Health and Safety department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The school posts a single, linked Web page — — that allows staff and students to drill down to the precise information they need for the situation. Investigate the page. Hover your mouse over the lines of text at the upper left to access a string of drop-down menus. Explore the link to “Manuals” found in the upper right corner. Review the PDFs listed behind “Factsheets” just below the image. The students and staff will know what to do in an emergency, unless it’s a power or Web failure. Nevertheless, getting the word out isn’t only a best practice, it’s the responsible thing to do.

Without comment

E-mail Executive Editor Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, at [email protected].

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