Worker Safety: The 10 Most Common Violations

When we talk about dangerous professions, what jobs are you reminded of? Working in a mine, oil refinery or the construction industry have its own share of risk. What about maintaining institutional, commercial and industrial facilities?

A top priority for every maintenance and engineering manager is to protect building occupants, workers and visitors. But managers too often forget the people who work behind the scenes and perform the most dangerous tasks in the said environment — the front-line maintenance personnel, more so the engineering technicians.

It is said that, annually, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues about 40,000 citations in USA. To avoid injury to maintenance personnel, as well as citations and fines, we must develop a plan for worker safety that complies with OSHA or any other local safety body and create a healthier environment for the maintenance staff.

Repeat Offenses

10 most common violations of the safety code are covered below. While we emphasise safety during training sessions and supervising the maintenance staff, departments still commit many common violations related to:

  • Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Training of personnel in use of PPE related to their individual deployment is as important as enforcing their use. It should become a part of their psyche to use all the prescribed PPE in every job they do.
  • Electrical hazards. Awareness of general conditions is a must for every individual. Detailed instructions are to be given to the personnel actually working in areas with electrical hazard.
  • Machine guarding. As a rule, all machines come with suitable safety guards; these get misplaced or damaged over the years and slowly vanish from the place. Regular audits of machine guards availability is a must and personnel in charge of equipment, machinery and systems should be held responsible for the safety aspects on the items allocated to them.
  • Hazard communication. This is a very weak link. Everyone should be trained and encouraged to report hazards that they find in the place of work or otherwise, irrespective of its severity.
  • Misuse of flexible, extension chords. Very commonly seen violations are: Usage of chords without proper plug tops, lack of earthing, non provision of ELCB, unsafe joints in the cable, overloading etc.
  • Fall protection. On many occasions we see personnel wearing the fall protection with the arresting chord wound around their torso. In other cases, the fall protection chords are not anchored properly.
  • Lock Out and Tag Out (LOTO) on energized equipment and systems. Safety of personnel working on downstream equipment and system elements is paramount. A well established LOTO will help in avoiding mishaps due to personnel unknowingly energising electrical circuits on which work is in progress or starting machinery being repaired. 
  • Inaccessible portable fire extinguishers. On many occasions, portable fire extinguishers provided with good intentions are found to be obstructed from view or even totally inaccessible. This would defeat the very purpose for which it has been provided in the first place.
  • Welding and hot work. Proper inspection of the hot work site and peripheral areas are at many times overlooked. Barricading the work area is a good idea. Issuing hot work clearance certificates involving all the affected groups, including security personnel would reduce the probability of an accident and help in emergency reactions.
  • Compressed gas cylinder stowage and handling. Compressed gas cylinders need to stowed and handled properly to avoid mishaps.
  • “Near missreporting. Many times an actual accident may not have occurred, but a “Near miss” would have. People are diffident in reporting such events for the fear of repercussions and lengthy administrative inquiry / hazard analysis. “Near miss” reports can help in avoiding recurrence through process or activity changes or making physical changes to an area as the case may be.
  • Documented training records. Though not directly affecting safety, these records would help in understanding training needs, planning training sessions and documenting training outcome. Record keeping is at times perceived as an administrative chore, hence neglected.

Depending on the scope of a department’s activities, each of these issues can endanger maintenance personnel and operations. We must ensure these common violations do not hamper the department’s efforts to create a safe, efficient and effective work environment.

Adapted from an article by David Casavant in Plant Engineering Issue