A new employee’s ticket home at the end of every day.
By Steve Kingsland
Let’s face it: Precasting can be a hazardous profession. There’s big, heavy product and big, heavy equipment. Companies must do everything they can to send their employees home safely. Of particular concern is the awareness new employees have about the work environment they are entering and the behaviors they are expected to avoid in order to ensure their safety.
New employees should never be expected to “hit the ground running.” While this philosophy may have some technical merit (on-the-job training can offer a quick, efficient “how to” learning environment), companies should never adopt this thinking where safety is concerned. Safety orientations are imperative to help ensure safety of new employees, especially those who are new to the manufactured concrete industry. Consequently, you should design a basic orientation around the assumption that the trainees have no experience in the precast industry.
The best safety orientation is one that offers a solid review to those with industry experience and a solid introduction to precast safety for those who have never worked in the precast environment. A well-planned out safety orientation will allow you to offer it to any new employee, regardless of precast experience, and documenting safety training will become easier if all employees receive the same orientation. An added benefit to offering the same training to all employees is that the orientations can encourage them to work together. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and employees should be encouraged to look out for each other as well as themselves. Safety is not just No. 1, safety is always!
A typical safety orientation will include the following topics:
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Environmental awareness and substance abuse policy
Acceptable workplace behavior
This list is meant to provide a general outline and is not exhaustive. Your personal safety orientation agenda must be specific to the equipment at your plant and the different policies established for your employees.
Each employee should be empowered to protect himself or herself and should be taught which equipment is required (either by regulation or company policy) by the various jobs at the plant. A typical orientation may include the following text:
Make sure to wear appropriate clothing that is not loose or ripped. Loose or ripped clothing could become caught on equipment and other workplace items. Wear long pants, shirtsleeves and steel-toed safety shoes. In addition, you will be issued Personal Protective Equipment to wear in the workplace. This equipment will consist of a hardhat, ear protection, eye protection and gloves. Although wearing some of this equipment may seem like a nuisance, it is there for your safety, so use it! Your hardhat should fit properly and be worn at all times in the workplace. Ear protection should be worn whenever you encounter loud noises or operations such as vibrating, hammering, grinding, etc. Safety glasses are required in the plant and may need to be supplemented with goggles during some operations such as vibrating and pouring. Also, you will receive additional training on the use of a tinted, full-face shield if your job requires use of cutting torches and/or using a welder’s mask for welding operations.
Whatever your job, it is important to remember never to look directly at a welding arc! Your eyes are sensitive and can receive serious burns from a welding arc.
Gloves should be worn during most operations to protect your hands from scrapes and sharp edges. Again, if your job involves cutting torches and welding, you will receive additional training including the use of more specialized work gloves. Lastly, steel-toed safety shoes will protect your toes from dropped tools and other items of moderate weight.
At times, you may find that a dust mask is required to protect you from dust during normal cleaning operations. Dust masks are available from your supervisor. Some operations may require the use of a respirator. You will receive training on these situations. Do not use a respirator unless you are specifically trained and certified in its use and have passed a yearly pulmonary fit test.
When designing or updating the PPE orientation, ensure that all of the plant’s PPE requirements are covered. This sample narrative is not meant to be exhaustive. The employee may find a checklist of all the PPE at the plant helpful.
Environmental awareness and substance abuse policy
Obviously, employees should remain aware of their surroundings throughout the day, and this expectation of them should be made clear during the safety orientation. The company’s substance abuse policy should also be clearly explained. A typical orientation may include the following notes:
While in the plant and/or workplace, you must stay mentally alert and be aware of everything around you. Watch in front, behind, overhead and underfoot. Overhead cranes operate in the plant. Always be aware of their locations and what they are carrying. Be particularly careful when coming in from a doorway or out from behind tall molds or product. Listen for warning buzzers and make sure crane operators see you by gaining eye contact. Always give the crane the right of way and never pass near, or under a suspended load. Remember, you need to be at least as far away from a suspended load as the distance of its height in case it should drop from the crane and fall over. Always give yourself an escape route should there be a problem with a crane load. Even though cables and lifting devices are inspected on a regular basis, there is always the potential for a failure. Some items frequently carried by the overhead cranes include precast product, molds, the concrete pouring bucket and rebar cages.
Forklifts frequently enter and exit the plant. Always listen and watch for forklifts. Never assume a forklift operator sees you. Forklifts have many blind spots. Always gain eye contact with the operator to be sure he or she knows you are there. Even then, always give the forklift the right of way and never put yourself between the forklift and a solid object to avoid the potential of being crushed.
Drugs and alcohol can seriously impair judgment and affect an employee’s alertness in the workplace leading to serious safety issues. A drug- and alcohol-free workplace is required so that all employees can remain productive and safe workers.
You should reference any pertinent items to the company’s drug testing policy, including ongoing random drug test programs, if applicable.
Acceptable workplace behavior
The orientation should cover all of the proper workplace behaviors as well as those that are unacceptable. You may want to include the following:
Here are some other specific methods and procedures you must follow to work safely. First, always use proper methods when lifting. Bend the knees, not the back. Don’t twist while lifting a load, and don’t hesitate to ask for help or offer help if a load is heavy.
Second, take care of tools, equipment and molds. Well-kept equipment is safer to use! Be on the lookout for excessive wear or damaged tools, equipment and forms, and frayed cords and cables.
Third, and probably one of the most important activities in providing a safe workplace, is housekeeping. “Clean as you go” is imperative. Dunnage, scrap rebar, concrete debris, tools, air and oil hoses, and electric cords are all items that must be picked up and put in their proper places. Keeping floors picked up will prevent serious trip and fall hazards.
Fourth, never operate equipment you have not been trained to use! Other than basic manual hand tools, you need to be trained and certified in the operation of all power tools and equipment.
Fifth, never participate in horseplay in the workplace. And if you see this or other unsafe behavior, report it!
Sixth, ALWAYS be aware of where you place your hands. Beware of pinch points.
Seventh, steel forms, concrete floors and other surfaces become slippery when covered with form oil. Always be cautious when walking on an oiled surface and avoid them if at all possible.
The company has a lockout/tagout procedure. This procedure involves locking out and tagging equipment if for some reason it is unsafe to operate or if it is to undergo maintenance. Some items that might get locked out include overhead cranes, mixers, saws or electric overhead doors. Please see the safety coordinator for a list of equipment that requires lockout/tagout. Your trainer will show you what lockout/tagout devices look like. You may be trained and become lockout/tagout certified. However, even then, NEVER try to remove a lock that is not yours! NEVER try to start a locked-out machine! Trying to use a locked out piece of equipment may have life-or-death consequences!
Ensure that your employees understand what is expected of them if they are involved in or witness an accident.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, accidents could happen. If you are involved in an accident or near-miss event, or witness an accident or near-miss event, please report it immediately to your supervisor. Seek medical attention as required by the situation. Do not move equipment or tools in the immediate area. All accidents and near-miss events will be investigated as soon as possible after the event so that we can learn from them and take steps to prevent future recurrences.
A workplace or plant tour can be invaluable in teaching new employees that many different plant activities happen simultaneously throughout the day. Even when they are not actively involved in a job task, they can still contribute to or be involved in an accident, and this should be made very clear.
Before starting work, you will participate in a tour of the workplace. During this tour you will be introduced to hazards in the workplace, shown where first-aid kits and safety equipment are located, where the emergency eyewash is, and be shown the emergency escape routes. In addition, you will be shown the safety bulletin board. It is important to visit this board frequently to read the latest in important safety information. You will learn the location and use of the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) book that provides important information regarding hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
Lastly, you may be shown hazardous areas to stay away from. These areas will include the concrete batch plant and aggregate conveyors and storage system. Your safety depends on not entering these areas unless authorized to do so!
While a safety orientation covers a lot of information regarding workplace safety, there is a great deal more to learn. If your company does not use a “buddy” system, try to pair new workers up with other experienced employees whom they can use as a resource if they have questions. In addition, periodic safety “toolbox talks” with supervisors can be a good place to encourage new hires to ask questions and participate.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the individual. The safety orientation should encourage them to think smart, be alert and stay safe.
Modes of Safety Training
Since new employees may not have experience working around heavy machinery and equipment, their training is much more effective if supplemented with safety videos and pictures, plant tours and verbal presentation. Implementing different modes of training (verbal, visual and hands-on) can better assure that new employees grasp the safety concept and buy into it.
NPCA offers a precast-specific safety video that is perfect for this; furthermore, the video is available in both English and Spanish.
Steve Kingsland is General Manager at Chase Precast, a division of Oldcastle and a member of NPCA’s Safety, Health & Environmental Committee.