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1.6: Safety

  • Page ID
    7014
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    Student Learning Outcomes

    After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

    • Describe the difference between acute and chronic health effects as they relate to safety
    • List the various types of safety practices of a water utility
    • Explain the importance of proper record keeping related to safety

    ​​​​​​Safety in the workplace is something that transcends all industries. Each profession has their own set of safe work practices as it pertains to their specific job functions. For example, construction workers might be exposed to excessive heat. Therefore, these employees should be given the proper training and equipment to help prevent things like heat stroke. People working on an assembly line might be exposed to repetitive motions, which can lead to things like carpal tunnel syndrome. Their employer must provide the right work conditions in order to protect against strains and conditions associated with this type of activity. Another example might be someone working on a loading dock and is required to lift heavy objects. In this case, they must receive the proper instructions on how to lift properly and provided about what to do in the case where something is too heavy to lift.

    These are just a few examples of safety-related items workers encounter in various industries. The water utility industry is no different. In fact, a professional water worker might be exposed to many different safety-related issues compared to employees in other industries. In addition, since many water utility operators are required to work around the public, there is an aspect of protecting the public from injuries related to the work they do. This text will attempt to analyze and address many of the safety items water workers might encounter.

    Various Types of Safety

    We will break the different types of safety into three (3) main categories. These are organizational safety, fleet safety, and public safety. Each of these categories is defined below:

    • Organizational Safety—This is the most universal type of safety businesses (organizations) are faced with. It is the overall prevention of injury to employees. This prevention of injury is for employees both on and off the job. You might ask why an employer should be concerned with an employee’s personal safety when they are not working. The main reason organizations should instill the value of safety for employees both on and off the job is two-fold. First, any injury can result in lost time. This means if an employee gets injured at home, they may not be able to report to work. This results in inefficiency in the workplace and sometimes results in a loss of revenue for the employer. The second reason and maybe more importantly is creating a culture where safety is a value within the organization. Valuing safe work practices both on and off the job will result in a safer work environment and less loss time and money for organizations.
    • Fleet Safety—Water utility workers work within a community. They are required to operate equipment and drive vehicles. This can result in traffic accidents and equipment-related accidents. Fleet safety is designed to help prevent these types of accidents.
    • Public Safety—Put simply, public safety is the prevention of injury to the general public. Water utilities have facilities throughout a community and it is important these facilities do not pose a safety hazard to the general public. An example of this might be something simple like a meter box lid. If the lid is missing or broken, it could present a tripping hazard to someone walking along a sidewalk. Water utility workers also work in public streets. This not only presents a safety hazard to the employee but blocking off portions of a street can lead to traffic accidents and exposes the public to potential safety hazards.

    Organizing a Safety Program

    Each utility should designate an individual responsible for safety. Unfortunately in smaller agencies this is usually someone in middle management. A full-time safety officer is important in order to have one single person looking after health and safety for the entire organization. When safety is assigned to someone with other responsibilities, safety sometimes gets overlooked. Regardless who is tasked with overseeing the program, it is important that staff, management, and the entire organization look at safety as a core value. Each individual is ultimately responsible for their own safety, but they also need the correct tools and equipment to do their job safely.

    A designated safety’s main responsibility is to help staff and primarily supervisors. They are not tasked with providing all the training and equipment. They are to assess safety work practices and help implement safety programs. They determine the safety needs of an organization. They plan, develop, and recommend safety plans and programs. A safety officer should evaluate the effectiveness of safety plans and programs and make adjustments and corrections as necessary. Generating safety information and conducting meetings with employees and supervisors is also a function of a safety officer. Investigating accidents and injuries is also part of the responsibility of a safety officer as well as maintain records and reports covering all aspects of the safety program. These are some of the more critical responsibilities and additional tasks may be required as necessary.

    Management also plays a large role in regards to safety. Without management’s “buy-in”, staff sometimes feels disenfranchised. Management needs to establish an overall safety policy for the organization. They appoint the safety officer (or coordinator) and assign responsibility for accident prevention. Management establishes goals, revises as needed, and evaluates results of the overall program.

    Supervisors set the patterns for safety and should lead by example. No employee likes the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. Since supervisors have direct control over employees, they should instill safety as a core value and provide the proper tools, equipment, and safety items needed to do tasks in a safe manner. They should instruct and council staff on safe work habits and review work for compliance with the safety program and regulations.

    Employees are the front line workers of an organization. Therefore they are typically exposed to the majority of safety hazards. They must perform their work in accordance with the appropriate safety procedures and actively participate in the safety program. All injuries and hazards should be reported. At no time should an employee work in an unsafe manner or condition. If an employee feels a job is unsafe they are to report these findings to a supervisor.

    The following is an example policy safety statement:

    • The organization’s recognition of the need for safety in order to stimulate efficiency, improve service, build employee morale, and promote better public relations
    • The organization’s interest in the employee - to provide proper equipment and working conditions, and to promote safety and the expectation that the individual employee will maintain safe work practices
    • The fact that the human factor rather than the mechanical is most significant cause of accidents, thus emphasizing the employee’s responsibility to perform the job safely
    • That an essential part of the supervisor’s job is responsibility for development of safe work practices and their environment

    Safety Regulatory Requirements

    The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for assuring safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor. Safe work practices can eliminate and reduce suffering, injury, and death. Safe work practices also reduce lost time, medical costs, and legal judgments. Proper safe work practices save time and money for companies too.

    OSHA has established minimum health and safety standards that are applicable to every industry. The mandate that every employer furnish employees with a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

    Causes of Accidents

    Unsafe acts and unsafe conditions are two of the most common results in accidents and injuries. Lack of experience or improper training commonly results in unsafe acts. Some employees have an indifference to safety and can result in excess accidents and injuries. Poor work habits or cutting corners, working too fast and impatience results in unnecessary accidents and injuries. It is also important for employees to be well-rested and in good physical condition. There are usually specific condition requirements for some jobs. For example, a job requiring the operation of heavy equipment or strenuous labor may require certain licenses and regular physical fitness testing. Drug and alcohol testing may also be required for certain jobs. Impaired employees pose a danger to themselves and to other co-workers. Below are examples of unsafe acts:

    • Ignorance—It is not that employees are ignorant. It is when they lack the experience or training to do their job safely
    • Indifference—Some employees and in some instances employers are “indifferent” or do not care about safe work practices
    • Poor work habits—Many times employees develop bad habits if they don’t understand how to perform task correctly in the first place
    • Laziness—Sometimes employees do not want to or are unable to provide the required effort
    • Haste—Working too fast can contribute to unsafe work conditions
    • Poor physical condition—Employees need to have proper rest and for some tasks must be physically fit
    • Temper—Impatience and anger can cloud judgment and result in accidents

    Reading through the list above you might have thought that most if not all of these are preventable. If so, you would be right. Most unsafe acts and conditions are preventable. That is not to say all accidents can be avoided, but many can by simply avoiding the list above.

    Safety Training Topics

    One of the most important aspects of a safety program is training the workforce. Some training topics are required to be completed by employees on a routine basis. Standard training requirements are found in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Some safety requirements are under General Industry standards while others are specific based on the type of industry. The following safety training topics are general in nature, required throughout the water industry, and provide a high level of understanding.

    Hazard Communication

    Any industry where chemicals are used, annual training explaining the hazards associated with exposure to these chemicals in the workplace must be conducted. Employers should provide employees with training prior to initial assignment to their work area. Hazard communication (HazComm) training should identify the activities and locations of the chemicals in the workplace and the health hazards associated with exposure to the chemicals. Additional topics covered in the training include but are not limited to steps employees can take to protect themselves, labeling criteria of the chemicals. And clean up procedures.

    As part of hazard communication training, an inventory list of chemicals needs to be provided and available to all employees. The details of which chemicals are required to be covered in training are beyond the details provided in this text. The example we will use is one of the more common chemicals used in the water industry. Chlorine is one of the most widespread chemicals used in drinking water distribution and treatment. In addition, chlorine is hazardous to health.

    Several different types of chlorine related compounds are used in the disinfection of drinking water. Calcium hypochlorite is corrosive in water and can support combustion. Sodium hypochlorite is a very strong base on its own and becomes an acid in water. Operators should wear goggles and gloves when working with hypochlorites.

    The most common disinfectant in drinking water is chlorine, which is a greenish/yellow gas. Since chlorine gas is two and half times heavier than air, ventilation is required in chlorine rooms. The ventilation vents should be twelve (12) inches above the floor. Since chlorine is a compressed gas and stored in cylinders, it should not be filled more than eighty-five (85) percent to allow for expansion. Another safety feature of chlorine gas cylinders is a fusible plug. One (1) ton cylinders have two (2) valves for removing either gas or liquid and six (6) fusible plugs. A one hundred fifty (150) pound cylinder has one of each. Fusible plugs are designed to melt between the temperatures of one hundred fifty-eight (158) and one hundred sixty-five (165) degrees Fahrenheit. If there are chlorine leaks in a cylinder, an ammonia-soaked rag can be used to help detect the leak. By waving an ammonia-soaked rag a white cloud would appear. High levels of chlorine in the air affect respiration and the immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) level is 10 parts per million (ppm).

    This example is just one of many where chemicals are used in the workplace and employees need to be properly trained on the hazards associated with working with and around these chemicals. In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). In 2009, OSHA published regulations to align their Hazard Communication standard (HCS) with the GHS. There are five (5) mandatory components of OSHA’s HCS, one of which includes an update to what was previously known as Material Safety Data S, which sheets. The revised standard refers to Safety Data Sheets (STS) and sixteen (16) required sections with information about each chemical. If there is no relevant information under one of the subject headings, then the SDS must clearly indicate that no applicable information is available.

    Personal Protective Equipment

    One of the sections on an SDS must reference personal protection from exposure to chemicals. In addition, personal protective equipment (PPE) has its own regulatory standards regarding training, what types of working conditions might require PPE, and how to Don, Doff, and care for PPE.

    Each employee is responsible to maintain their own PPE and notify their supervisor whenever it needs replacing. It is the management’s responsibility to provide the training and required PPE needed by the employees. The following PPE examples are just some common types of personal protective equipment.

    • Hard hats—Any time there is a potential for head injuries including low headroom working conditions or overhead items, which can fall on an employee, hard hats are required. Metal or plastic hard hats can be used, but metal hard hats should not be used where there are electrical hazards.
    • Gloves—If there are pinching, cutting, crushing, or other hand-related injuries, then gloves should be worn. In addition, gloves may also be required when working with or around chemicals.
    • Respiratory—When surrounding air contains dust, fumes, mists, or any other particulates, which can be inhaled, then respiratory protection is required. Respiratory protection can be as simple as a dust mask or as complex as a self-contained breathing apparatus.
    • Eye Protection—Goggles, face shields, safety glasses are all forms of eye protection. Dust and debris can cause irritation is they get into someone’s eyes. Any kind of object, including chemicals, can all cause damage to the eye.
    • Steel-toed boats—It is prudent to wear foot protection in any construction-related industry. Therefore, steel-toed boats are often required.
    • Hearing Protection—Earplugs provide ear protection from loud noises and sounds. Earmuffs can also be used to protect ears.

    Understanding how to don and doff PPE is an important aspect of PPE training and all employees should understand the proper way to wear the appropriate equipment.

    Slips Trips and Falls

    Sometimes, the simplest and most common hazards can result in personal injury. Slips, trips, and falls should always be avoidable. Often times, it is a matter of good housekeeping. Making sure floors and walking surfaces are clear of debris and any kind of slipping or tripping hazards. Walking areas should have slip-resistant surfaces and proper handrails should be provided on stairways, catwalks, and areas where walking can be difficult. Fall protection also needs to be provided on elevated surfaces.

    Back Safety

    Back injuries are one of the most common injuries in the workplace. Improper lifting, twisting, pulling, and pushing are all aspects of back safety. Whenever lifting something heavy, workers should always bend at the knees and keep their back straight. One person should never lift large and heavy loads. When carrying something heavy, you should always turn with your legs and not at your waist. Equipment should also be used when appropriate to help lift and/or move heavy objects.

    Trench Safety

    Trenching is a method of digging into the ground to install things such as pipes. Whenever work is done inside a trench, special precautions need to be made in order to protect workers from the possibility of a cave-in. There are specific requirements based on the depth of the trench. If trenches are shallow (less than five (5) feet) then the danger is not as great as it is with deeper trenches. However, workers can still get trapped in shallow trenches. When trenches are five (5) feet or deeper, special protection is required. This protection is referred to as shoring, shielding, or sloping. If there is enough room, then sloping is allowed. Sloping is the process of reducing the depth of a trench by removing soil and opening the width of a trench to prevent the trench walls from collapsing. Shoring and shielding is the process of using equipment placed up against trench walls. The dirt being excavated (referred to as spoils) should be placed at least two (2) feet away from the trench edge and on the side opposite of the pipe being installed. If trenches are long, then ladders should be placed within twenty-five (25) feet of workers. Another important aspect of trench safety is proper supervision. Special training must be provided to individuals overseeing trenching activities. These individuals providing supervision are referred to as a “Competent Person”.

    Confined Spaces

    A confined space is defined, as a workspace, which has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, is large enough for an employee to enter and perform work, and is not designed for continuous work or occupancy. Confined spaces are defined as “permit-required” and “non-permit required” confined spaces. In order for a confined space to be classified as a permit-required confined space, it must meet the following conditions:

    • Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
    • Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant
    • Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section
    • Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard

    The internal atmosphere of a confined space must be tested for oxygen content, flammable gases, and vapors, potentially toxic air contaminants, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Ventilation equipment should be used to provide acceptable air conditions. Three (3) or more workers should be involved with permit-required confined spaces. One (1) or more workers inside the confined space, one (1) worker in communication with the worker(s), and one (1) worker to respond and retrieve emergency personnel if needed.

    Respiratory Safety

    As previously mentioned, it is important to provide workers with respiratory protection if the surrounding atmosphere is not adequate for a working environment. Respiratory hazards include, but are not limited:

    • Dust from rock, cement, coal, and wood
    • Dust from toxic materials such as lead, arsenic, and asbestos
    • Mists and fumes from chemicals and heated materials
    • Vapors and gases from chemicals such as chlorine, ammonia, and carbon monoxide
    • Oxygen deficient environments

    Respiratory problems can range from very mild irritation causing coughing and wheezing, to death. Respirators can be broken down into two main types, air purifying and atmosphere supplying.

    Air-purifying—These types of respirators use cartridges, filters, or canisters to remove contaminants from the air. In order to remove vapors and gases, a granular porous material referred to as an absorbent needs to be used. The type of filter, cartridge, or canister is dependent on the type and amount of the airborne contaminate. For example, a particulate filter would not necessarily remove vapors or gases. Therefore the employer must identify the contaminant(s) and provide employees the proper protection against dust, fumes, mists, and solid particulate matter.

    Atmosphere-supplying—In certain circumstances, the surrounding atmosphere is not suitable for breathing and purifying the air may not be sufficient. Therefore, a respirator where clean air is provided should be used. A common situation where this might occur is when the surrounding atmosphere lacks adequate oxygen levels or is considered oxygen deficient. At this point, atmosphere-supplying respirators are required.

    There are a number of various other safety topics, which should be considered if potential hazards exist. Some of these topics include, but are not limited to hand and power tool safety, electrical, head, body, and extremity protection.

    Traffic Control

    Utility workers often work in roadways. Whenever work is performed in traffic areas, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways should be used. This manual is published by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) and specifies approved traffic control devices and procedures. Some states have their own traffic control reference manuals and those should also be reviewed before working in the street. If improper traffic control is set up, the utility can be held liable for damage from accidents. Often times special permits, such as encroachment permits are required as well as special traffic control plans need to be submitted to the governing agency. Traffic control devices such as cones, pylons, and other systems are used to channel the flow of traffic to designated areas. There are five (5) zones within a construction worksite in roadways:

    • Advanced Warning Zone—This area is a warning to drivers letting them know what to expect. This advanced warning can be as simple as a single flashing light to a series of signs and notifications prior to the temporary construction work and change in the flow of traffic.
    • Transition Zone—Whenever the redirection of the normal flow of traffic is required, a transition area is needed. Traffic must be channelized from the normal flow to the new path in order to avoid the construction area.
    • Buffer Zone—While not required, it is an important area for the protection of workers. It is an area between the flow of oncoming traffic and the area where employees are working.
    • Work Zone—This is the area where the work is being performed. Workers and equipment are within this area. By the time traffic reaches this area, it should be completely redirected out of this zone.
    • Termination Zone—As with the transition zone, the termination zone is redirecting traffic. Except in this zone, traffic is being returned to its normal flow path.

    The taper lengths and buffer zones have specific distances in relation to traffic speed. More traffic control devices, longer taper lengths, and larger buffer zones are needed as the speed of traffic increases.

    Occupational Injuries

    All injuries in the workplace should be reported immediately. This early reporting not only helps the utility determine if the injury occurred at work and it also speeds up the process for the employee to start any type of worker’s compensation. An occupation injury is defined as any personal injury sustained by an employee during the course of work. Employees should report their injury to their supervisor or to the organization's safety representative. Utilities typically have injury report forms. These forms should be simple but informative. They should contain information from both the employee and supervisor. The employee is responsible for reporting the injury and the supervisor and safety representative are responsible for making sure the report form is completed correctly.

    All injuries should be investigated. Accident and injury investigations provide an opportunity for the safety professional to speak with the employee and any witnesses. It allows for feedback on the cause of the incident and give the safety professional the opportunity to provide feedback on the necessity of exercising care and caution. It also presents the opportunity to identify any unsafe work practices or conditions and allows for recommendations on workplace improvements.

    Safety professionals should prepare and review a variety of reports associated with workplace accidents and injuries. These include, but are not limited:

    • Number of lost-time injuries—any injuries resulting employees missing time from work
    • Number of injuries requiring first aid—first aid kits should be provided at each workplace and with workers who work in remote locations
    • Number of injuries requiring medical attention—any injury where an employee receives assistance from a medical professional
    • Number of lost time days—when employees miss work due to an injury, this is referred to as lost time

    There are also OSHA related performance measures safety professionals use to track and interpret the prevalence of workplace-related injuries. These include:

    • Incidence Rate—This is based on the number of injuries requiring more than first aid per 200,000 hours worked
    • Frequency Rate—This is the number of lost time accidents per million employee hours worked
    • Severity Rate—This is the number of days lost or charged per million employee hours worked

    OSHA has specific reporting requirements related to workplace injuries. Most organizations are required to maintain an OSHA Form 300 Log. This log lists all recordable workplace injury and illness. OSHA defines a recordable injury or illness as:

    • Any work-related fatality
    • Any work-related injury or illness that results in loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work, or transfer to another job
    • Any work-related injury or illness requiring medical treatment beyond first aid
    • Any work-related diagnosed case of cancer, chronic irreversible diseases, fractured or cracked bones or teeth, and punctured eardrums

    In addition to these definitions, there are also special recording criteria for work-related cases involving: needle sticks and sharps injuries; medical removal; hearing loss; and tuberculosis. In general, minor injuries and injuries requiring first aid treatment do not need to be recorded. All employers are also required to notify OSHA directly when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. Fatalities must be reported within eight (8) hours and in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss must be reported within twenty-four (24) hours.

    Safety is a very important aspect for all occupations. Water utility operations are no exception. It is important for safety to be supported from the top executives all the way down throughout the organization. Ultimately, the primary person responsible for safety is…YOU!

    Sample Questions

    1. When symptoms develop rapidly within a person it is considered ___________.
      1. A chronic health effect
      2. An acute health effect
      3. A disease
      4. Both 1 and 3
    2. What is the primary responsibility of the safety officer?
      1. Should be a line function
      2. Should be a staff function
      3. Should provide all the training
      4. All of the above
    3. Traffic control should be set up in the following order:
      1. Buffer Zone, Transition Zone, Work Zone, Termination Zone, Advanced Warning
      2. Advanced Warning, Buffer Zone, Work Zone, Transition Zone, Termination Zone
      3. Advanced Warning, Transition Zone, Buffer Zone, Termination Zone, Work Zone
      4. Advanced Warning, Transition Zone, Buffer Zone, Work Zone, Termination Zone
    4. Fusible plugs are designed to ___________.
      1. Melt, preventing combustion
      2. Melt between 158°F - 165°F
      3. Fuse the valve connection to the hose
      4. Only 1 and 2
    5. A 1-ton chlorine cylinder has ___________.
      1. 2 fusible plugs and 6 valves
      2. 2 valves and 6 fusible plugs
      3. 1 valve and 5 fusible plugs
      4. 5 valves and 1 fusible plug
    6. The IDLH for chlorine gas is ___________.
      1. 5 ppm
      2. 10 ppm
      3. 20 ppm
      4. 100 ppm
    7. All fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses must be reported to Cal/OSHA within ___________.
      1. 8 hours
      2. 16 hours
      3. 24 hours
      4. 48 hours
    8. A chronic health effect is ___________.
      1. An adverse effect developing rapidly
      2. An adverse effect resulting in cancer
      3. An adverse effect developing over a long period of time
      4. A disease with little or no symptoms

    1.6: Safety is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mike Alvord.

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