Because of the number of injuries, illnesses, accidents, and fatalities that were occurring in the workplace, OSHA was implemented by the federal government in 1971 to establish a safety standard for all workplaces to better protect their workers. Despite the fact that there will always be the possibility of incidents happening within the workplace, OSHA has significantly contributed to workplaces becoming much safer over the past few decades. However, since OSHA is a government funded program, the recent budget cuts by the federal government during sequestration has some safety experts worried heading into 2014. Workplace safety is currently the safest it has ever been, but if OSHA’s spending gets cut any more, there is the possibility of a reduction in OSHA’s ability to protect workers across the country.
The current state of workplace safety is great, and a large number of people and organizations are to thank for this. “It is a testament to the hard work of employers, unions, health and safety professionals, and the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said. “Through collaborative education and outreach efforts, and effective law enforcement, these numbers indicate that we are absolutely moving in the right direction.” However, a new concern has arose regarding OSHA and the federal government’s reduction in OSHA funding by 5 percent. There has not been a single increase in funding for OSHA over the past two years and the government shutdown in October of 2013 caused all OSHA operations to be effectively shut down completely for over two weeks, or 16 days.
A 5 percent decrease in federal funding doesn’t sound like a big deal, but upon closer inspection it will affect more than you think. Joe Van Houten, Senior Director of Worldwide EHS at Johnson & Johnson mentioned that, “It’s very difficult for an agency to plan a series of proactive, preventative activities when the funding for those activities could be discontinued at any time.” Van Houten also maintains that OSHA continues to be a very relevant organization, along with NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), when discussing safety related topics in the workplace. Although it is tough to directly relate safety in the workplace back to OSHA standards, it is indisputable that safety related workplace accidents have significantly deceased since OSHA’s implementation in 1971. In fact, injuries and fatalities have been on a downward trend almost every year since then. Butch Tongate, Deputy Secretary for the New Mexico Environment Department claims, “If OSHA wasn’t around, you would see those trends start going back up.”
We got a feel for what life would be like without OSHA during the federal government shutdown in October. On September 30th, when the government screeched to a halt after no agreement could be reached on the current budget, all “non-essential” government services were shut down. That meant most OSHA operations stopped, including routine inspections, and the organization only responded to imminent threats, catastrophes, and fatalities. During the shutdown, safety experts are convinced that workers got hurt because of it. “OSHA is sometimes the only thing between death on the job and safety,” pointed out John Newquist, Illinois based consultant and former OSHA Assistant Regional Manager. Additionally, consultation services were also a casualty of the government shutdown which resulted in State Plan states losing about 90 percent of their consultation funding. Tongate emphasized this point by stating, “When people are asking you for help and you can’t provide it, that’s concerning.”
There are mixed opinions as to whether or not OSHA will be able to make up for the lost 16 days, but it is apparent that the shutdown and the ongoing bickering and fighting in the federal government could very well eliminate the possibility of addressing policies that will promote growth which would be beneficial to both employees and their employers. “Those types of things aren’t good for anybody,” said Amanda Wood, Director of Labor and Employment Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “It’s not good to have those types of activities or conflicts going on.”
For now, the current budget is temporary, with the agreement currently in place only lasting through January 5th of 2014. We could possibly be seeing yet another government shutdown if a new agreement is not reached by then. OSHA’s future, and workplace safety, will be heavily dependent on the resolution reached. Hopefully, both sides will reach a resolution that will benefit everyone and OSHA can continue doing the good things they’ve been doing.
19 Dec 2013
Whenever you are welding on the job site, or for a particular task, you are producing fumes and particles that can be hazardous to you as well as the workers around you. Reducing exposure to these particles and fumes is one of the main elements of welding safety. One of the first steps to this is implementing an effective ventilation and exhaust system to protect against the illnesses, diseases, and general discomfort that can result from exposure to these particles and toxic fumes. Welding is often an important part of many jobs that involve manufacturing or construction, so it is important to be aware of the inherent dangers and threats that come with it and know what you can do to protect yourself from these dangers.
Along with implementing an effective exhaust system that provides the adequate amount of ventilation for welding fumes and particles, you will also want to use respirators to help reduce exposure. Respirators are one of the most important pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you can own, especially if you do not have an exhaust system in place yet. However, even if you already have an exhaust system in place, it still may not be effective enough to completely eliminate all of the dangers that welding poses. This is why you want to be wearing respiratory equipment at all times, even when there is some form of ventilation present. If you know that the fumes will be highly concentrated and lethally toxic, then you may have to use a supplied air hood type respirator.
You will also need to accurately evaluate and test the levels of toxicity of the welding fumes being produced. This will require the correct testing equipment. This is very important because, oftentimes, the toxic fumes created by welding do not have an odor or color to them, so they are virtually impossible to detect with just your nose and eyes. With this being the case, it is possible for someone to become overexposed without actually showing signs or symptoms. So make sure you test! To test the level of contaminants in the air, you will need to place air sampling pumps in the welding area as well as on the welder. The pumps will pull the air through a specially designed filter for a period of time. Eventually, the sample will be evaluated by a laboratory to identify the level of contaminants the welding is producing.
Once you’ve determined the level of contaminants polluting the air, you can now decide which type of ventilation system will be most effective at reducing this level. Oftentimes, this will depend on your location. If the job is situated out in the field, such as shipyards and outdoor construction jobs, you can attach “sucker” hoses that will pull fumes away from the welding area. You can also choose to use welding booths with local exhaust hoses for each station. This gives the welder a bit more mobility and flexibility while operating. If the job requires the welder to actually go to the work zone, then portable exhaust systems will be an option to look into. This is usually dependent the size, weight, or configuration of the work piece. If you are looking for a high velocity exhaust vacuum within an enclosure, then you may want to use a laboratory type hood for your ventilation. However, keep in mind that the welder’s hands and arms can only be in the enclosure while the welding is actually being performed.
It is absolutely imperative that ventilation and respiratory protection is understood and practiced. Welding can be a very dangerous, sometimes even deadly, job. This is why welding safety should not be taken lightly. It is not worth risking the health of yours or the workers around you just to finish a job quicker or because you were too lazy to follow best practices.
18 Dec 2013
More often than you would think, workers and employees on the job site will get foreign particles, or even worse, chemicals in their eyes, and they will need an emergency cleanup before it gets worse. The number one thing to remember when someone gets something in their eyes on the job site is that time is essential! Hopefully, there is an emergency eye wash station nearby so that the first steps of first aid treatment can be administered right away. If not, then the odds of permanent damage to the eyes increases significantly. Every job site should have plenty of eye wash stations available. The difference between having them and not having them can mean the difference between vision and blindness for whoever is needing one at the time. Don’t neglect eye wash stations! You may think they’re not that important, but you will quickly realize how wrong you are when an eye emergency strikes.
If someone gets foreign particles or chemicals in their eyes, then an emergency eye wash station or deluge shower is the first step of first aid treatment. If it is an actual chemical burn to the eye, then your emergency will be much more urgent. You will want to immediately use an eye wash station or deluge shower if:
- The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) identifies the chemical being used is toxic, caustic, or corrosive.
- The MSDS indicates that serious eye injuries will result if the condition is not treated immediately.
- Container labels have warnings such as “Causes Chemical Burns” or “Causes Permanent Eye Damage”.
Along with this, eye wash stations and deluge showers must contain the following:
- Pure, clean water.
- The ability to operate them without hands.
- Constant water flow for a period of 15 minutes.
- Unobstructed access.
- Highly visible signs and markings.
Remember, the single most important thing to do once someone has chemically burned eyes is to thoroughly and intensively clean them out within seconds of the injury occurring. You cannot waste time! This means that the person who suffered the eye injury should not have to navigate around or climb over objects on their way to the eye wash station. This wastes precious time. Ensure that there are no barriers of any shape or form blocking or impeding one’s path to the station. This can mean the difference between saving one’s vision and permanent blindness.
As for the eye wash stations and deluge showers themselves, they should be inspected on a regular basis. Deluge showers should have all functions working properly and have an adequate rate of water flow. They also need to be clean and sanitary. When water is not accessible to a particular area, or there is not enough water plumbed in to an area to provide enough water flow for a deluge shower, then portable emergency eye wash stations need to be made available. These units must have an anti-bacterial additive to maintain the appropriate water sanitation. Remember that it is better to flush out infected eyes with any type of water than nothing at all, although purified water will reduce the possibility of a secondary eye infection.
Another important thing to remember, although this should be obvious, is the fact that all employees who will be exposed to possible chemical splashes or foreign particles flying into their eyes must be properly trained beforehand on how to use an eye wash station or deluge shower. Training should cover:
- What to do immediately after the incident. This includes flooding the eye with water or an eye wash solution while using fingers to keep the eyes as wide open as possible. It is absolutely vital to clean out the eyes intensively and thoroughly.
- Rolling the eyes around as much possible. This will help to remove any foreign particles still underneath the eyelids. DO NOT use anything except water to remove anything from eyes.
- After thoroughly and intensively cleansing the eyes out for at least 15 minutes, the victim needs to be taken to the nearest hospital immediately. The eyes should continue to be cleaned out while being transported. Portable eye wash stations can be used for this.
Emergency eye wash stations can be one of the most important things you implement on a job site. They are easy to forget about, and a lot of times workers don’t necessarily consider them that important. However, once an emergency strikes and someone has damaging materials or substances in their eyes, eye wash stations become the most important part of the entire job site and the affected individual’s vision. Don’t neglect eye safety on the job site by simply refusing to implement emergency eye wash stations! Make sure you have properly working stations at strategic locations throughout the job site and you, and your workers, will be much better off for it.