By Mason Nichols
In a precast concrete plant yard, where significant foot traffic and product movement take place every day, safety is the linchpin that holds everything together. And it is paramount in helping to prevent accidents.
One of the simplest steps to take toward yard safety is ensuring everyone who moves through the area is wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers and visitors should be fitted with hard hats, safety glasses, appropriate footwear and high-visibility clothing at all times.
The same level of dedication to safety designated for plant operations must be present in the yard.]
“Office and yard safety sometimes get pushed to the backburner because that’s not where the perceived risk is,” said Jason Brewster, safety and compliance manager for Atlantic TNG in Sarasota, Fla. “It’s important that you take the time to properly consider all site hazards and what’s going on in your yard so that you have appropriate control measures in place.”
‘Equally important is basic housekeeping. Establishing locations for products and placing them only in designated areas is a simple way to ensure that there are no obstructions for operators. Clear paths not only expedite material movement throughout the yard but also significantly reduce the risk of slips, trips, falls and other accidents involving equipment.
At Jensen Precast in Fontana, Calif., Environmental, Health and Safety Manager Ruben Gallegos helps make this possible through the inclusion of a “clean as you go” program. Every Jensen Precast team member is required to clean and organize the department and work area under the instruction of a supervisor. Then, to help guarantee tidy work environments, Jensen also deploys a dedicated housekeeping team throughout the facility.
Properly stacking products also is key. Gallegos said that, in general, dunnage should be placed at a product’s pick points and in vertical alignment. Doing so helps prevent potential tipping, protecting products from being damaged and people from becoming injured.
Brewster emphasized the importance of keeping stacked products at a safe height. For Atlantic TNG, this typically is less than 6 feet, but the limit can stretch to 8 feet with some stock pieces, such as manhole risers. A stacking plan may vary based on what is manufactured. Custom pieces often require different considerations, but, in all cases, products must be stacked neatly and at a safe height.
ON THE MOVE
A wide variety of equipment moves around a precast yard at any given moment – forklifts, batching trucks, delivery trucks, cranes and more. As such, it is imperative to develop a logistics plan for the yard that identifies entry and exit points, safe pathways for travel, speed limits, stop sign locations and more.
A logistics plan also should consider how pieces move from production to the yard and where products are placed once ready to store. At Jensen Precast, workers know pieces are ready to be transported once they are stenciled with the National Precast Concrete Association logo. From there, every product has a designated storage location.
Before beginning a shift, every powered industrial truck put into service should be inspected according to OSHA 1910.178. If the inspection reveals “any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle,” it must not be used that day, and the issue must be fixed before the equipment is used again.
In general, anyone moving around the yard should exercise caution, making sure to identify potential hazards and moving equipment while traversing the area. Vehicle operators must obey all posted signage, including speed limits.
As Gallegos said, workers may occasionally push the limit on posted signage and rules as they work to meet deadlines or expedite efficiency. Train against this. Safety is the priority, and rushing what should be routine is a primary cause for incidents.
“We constantly monitor the yard for those who might be speeding or driving irresponsibly,” he said. “But really, everyone is responsible for keeping an eye out in the yard. We ask our team members to address any issues if they see them.”]
Lift operators and others driving vehicles around the yard must maintain a lookout for pedestrians, who always have the right of way. Operators also must be aware of any roadway obstructions.
Sudden, inclement weather can sometimes result in flooding, high winds that can topple or unbalance stacks or other potential shifts in safety.
“We call these seasonal hazards, and they result in places where a forklift could slip or possibly overturn,” Brewster said. “Whenever these areas present an issue, we mark them off with a yellow plastic chain to make it obvious for operators to avoid the area.”
Another environmental hazard during the summer months is high temperatures, especially for those who spend extended time outside in the yard. All workers should be able to identify the different types of heat-related illnesses and how to respond. Staying hydrated and taking breaks are both effective measures for counteracting heat.
TRAINING AND CULTURE
Instilling a positive plant safety culture goes a long way to achieving goals – in the yard, the production area, office and beyond.
“While it may not seem like it to some workers, having strong safety policies and procedures in place actually ends up increasing productivity,” Brewster said. “You’ll have fewer injuries, fewer damaged products and equipment, and you’ll avoid the issues that arise when you lose team members to injury.”
Strong training programs are critical. New employees must learn the basics of yard safety, typically during the onboarding experience. Jensen Precast takes a holistic approach by stressing the idea that safety is part of a mindset and approach to be applied every day, not a separate issue.
The company spends a significant portion of time during orientation discussing the flow of traffic and signage. These ideas are reinforced throughout the year via toolbox talks.
Atlantic TNG follows a similar approach. Brewster said the company engages team members on yard safety during orientation and uses on-the-job training to cover site-specific hazards. Operators scope out areas that they are unfamiliar with beforehand so they know exactly what to expect, including how any overhead hazards could impact their work.
Atlantic TNG employees are encouraged to earn vehicle certifications. Spill prevention, control and countermeasure (SPCC) training also are crucial since workers commonly encounter materials in the yard that could spill and lead to accidents.
“Operators in the yard deal with hazardous materials consistently, and as such, we want them to know as much about what they are working with and where it should go as possible,” Brewster said. “Also, since they are running internal combustion motors with their equipment, understanding fire prevention and how to contain, absorb and dispose is also important.”
Atlantic TNG workers operate on a buddy system, meaning everyone is responsible for looking out for at least one other person. Jensen Precast operates with the same mentality, instructing workers to focus on taking care of one another and immediately report a safety violation or potential concern.
A CRITICAL ASSET
Developing sound logistics plans, implementing strategies for transportation and movement, and providing ongoing training opportunities for your team are all critical when it comes to yard safety. As Gallegos said, when done right, the rewards bring value.
“Your employees are the most important asset you have,” he said. “Having a healthy workforce that is knowledgeable, experienced and responsible allows you to meet the needs of your customers while also establishing and maintaining a safety culture you and your entire team can be proud of.” PI
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry for nearly a decade.