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Shop Safety Awareness

April 16, 2014

There are many potential hazards within a maintenance operation that can cause injury, and there are real, and costly, consequences for working unsafely. A safe work environment is a combination of both the work area and the workers themselves.

Here is a roundup of what maintenance operations around the country are doing to ensure safety.

Vehicle Maintenance Department, City of Andover, MN

Submitted by John Wallace, vehicle maintenance supervisor

The Department makes available and promotes the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as disposable gloves and masks. Disposable nitrile gloves are preferred because they are chemically, high tear and puncture-resistant, helping protect technicians’ hands and keeping them cleaner.

These gloves also help safeguard hands against possible health issues resulting from long-term expose to petroleum-based chemicals and products.

A complete shop safety inspection is done once a month. During these, inspectors check all electrical cords for nicks and cuts, drain water separators, fill automatic oilers and check grinding wheels for safety shields, tool rest and cleanliness. 

Inspectors also look at the cleanliness of the shop and make sure all walkways and all fire exits are clear. At the same time, they examine auto lifts, floor jacks, air hose reels and other shop equipment for possible problems or hazards.

Truck Enterprises, Inc. (TEI), Harrisonburg, VA

Submitted by Woody Sanders, HR manager

Truck Enterprises considers itself a leader in accident prevention and safety programs. It was the first truck dealership in Virginia, and it believes in the U.S., to qualify for SHARP (Safety and Health Achievement and Recognition Program) certification.

SHARP is an OSHA program that recognizes small employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system.

TEI works diligently to promote a behavior-based safety culture through effective leadership and employee involvement. It has Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) teams at all of its locations. The teams, consisting of technicians, parts sales people, office staff, HR and managers, work together to promote and educate the workforce in safe work practices. 

TEI views safety as a continuous improvement process, always looking for safer ways of doing things, better ergonomic tools and equipment and safer work practices. It provides thorough training in all OSHA standards, including hazard communication, first aid and blood borne pathogens, respirator programs, emergency response and egress, forklift and LOTO (lockout/tagout). Best practices are shared among all TEI’s dealership locations.

The company has an annual safety slogan contest. The person submitting the best suggestion earns a $50 gift card and the slogan is placed on 4’-foot by 12’-foot banners which are hung in all dealerships. The slogan is also used in all safety bulletins and communications. 

The results of the continuous safety improvement process are tangible, and include lower workers compensation claims and premiums, along with lower health insurance premium costs. 

Tri-State Drilling, Plymouth, MN

Submitted by Wayne Seppelt, supervisor of shops

The company bought electric hydraulic lifts so technicians no longer have to use ladders to work on trucks or trailers. Using the lift to get technicians up in the air provides a more solid and much safer work platform that can accommodate two technicians. It also allows the technicians to be mobile while working off the ground around trucks and equipment.

When using hydraulic jacks to lift trucks up to work on, technicians are instructed to always use sufficient blocking or stands to secure the vehicle, and to never trust a jack to hold the load.

Technicians are also taught to never guess. If unsure of how to make a particular repair, or how to lift or block a vehicle, or whatever else, they are obligated to ask questions and learn what is needed to get the job done correctly and safely.

Tri-State Drilling lives by the phrase “Safety First,” and this is promoted through weekly safety meetings in small groups and a yearly safety meeting for the whole company. Employees are rewarded with incentives for practicing and promoting safety, and for safety suggestions that get adopted into company practices.

Because the company believes communication is one of the keys to safety, it mails a note, titled FYI, to all employees anytime there is an incident, possible incident or new safety suggestion. The intent is to keep everyone informed.

Transportation Services, Santee Cooper, Moncks Corner, SC

Submitted by Richard Winter, fleet manager

Key things done in its shops to create a safe work environment include the use of:

- Steering wheel covers with lockout/tagout devices.

- Wheel chocks for all trucks and heavy equipment.

- Spotters when backing out of the work bays to ensure no one has parked behind a vehicle and the way is clear of traffic and people.

- Portable safety steps instead of climbing on a vehicle’s wheels.

In addition, shop technicians are issued PPE and are required to use these appropriately. Technicians also complete monthly shop safety inspections.

Swift Shop Operations, Swift Transportation, Phoenix, AZ  

Submitted by Jeff Harris, director of shop training operations and compliance

Swift Transportation strives to be best in class for a transportation company and this includes top-notch safety efforts for everyone. In Shop Operations, technician safety is the number one concern and management uses a wide variety of measures to keep technicians safe in the workplace.

One of the most effective is the incorporation of a Six Sigma system that maps out shop organization at each of the operations’ facilities. A great safety record cannot take place without a well-organized shop.

Six Sigma is a business management strategy that uses statistical methods to identify defects and improve performance.

The Six Sigma initiative has also been incorporated into specific staging areas for tools, mops and buckets, trash, workbenches, computer stands, technician toolboxes, off-part staging, new part staging, jacks/jack stands, A/C machines and fluid containment equipment.

By way of example: Tools are kept on shadow boards located between shop bays. Tools are labeled on the board and the boards are categorized to specific jobs, such as wheel end/differential seals, brake boards and special tool boards. The boards, which are mobile, are strategically placed throughout its shops.

Swift Transportation has built and administers its own web-based safety courses through its internal learning website. Training programs cover lockout/tagout, hazard communication training, forklift operator certification, spill prevention control and counter-measures, safe welding/cutting practices and much more. There are safety videos on a large number of topics, including forklift safety, hearing conservation, safe work methods and slips, trips and falls.

Technicians are required to wear safety glasses and steel toe work boots within all shop facilities. As an incentive, safety lunches are provided for shops that achieve no time lost incidences for each quarter.

Seminole County Solid Waste Division, Sanford, FL

Submitted by Ed Kapalka, equipment coordinator

Before working on any vehicle, technicians always open the driver’s door window. This is done to prevent accidental lockouts because, all too often, a spare key is not readily available.

            Technicians always remove the key from the ignition and do not let anyone, especially the vehicle’s driver, sit in the cab. Someone may start the engine without realizing a technician is working on the vehicle and that could cause that person serious harm.

These may seem like small matters, but these suggestions can save a lot of time, money, injuries and all kinds of issues.

Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), Indianapolis, IN

Submitted by Shan M. Sturgeon, maintenance department

One of many simple things RNDC does to keep it vehicles, technicians and drivers safe is to regularly wash its equipment. Not only does regular washing remove contaminants which can impact a vehicle’s appearance and condition, its makes vehicles safer to work on.

Technicians are better able to see what they are doing and don’t have to worry about a lot of build-up of dirt and grime. The company doesn’t want its technicians, slipping or falling while working on vehicles.

Additionally, drivers are required to keep their cabs clean as well. Debris can be a real safety hazard – for both the driver and technician.

Remy International, Pendleton, IN

Submitted by Bob Jeffries, manager of fleet operations and service

The importance of battery safety and working around rotating machinery cannot be overemphasized.

Jump starting is not a spectator sport. No one, including the driver, needs to be looking over a technician’s shoulder as he performs the repair. Anyone not involved in the jump start, should maintain a distance of 15 to 20 feet away.

Furthermore, technicians need to be reminded to be extra cautious when working on batteries when away from an eyewash station, should the unfortunate event of a battery explosion occur and someone comes in contact with battery acid.

In these cases it is important to think and act quickly. Anything at hand that is consumable - soda, a bottle of water or even a half-filled cup of coffee that has cooled down - can be used to flush the acid as soon as possible to minimize the chemical burn.

Logistic Leasing, Charlotte, NC

Submitted by Jim Smith, company president, and Ralph C. Clemons, vice president of safety

The company works very hard to keep its shops safe. Monthly shop safety meetings are conducted and larger quarterly safety meetings are held to cover specific safety topics.

All employees go through safety training at Logistic Leasing’s Excellence Training Center (ETC). This takes place prior to or just after a technician is hired. The training covers a range of different safety subjects, including: ladder safety, working at elevations, fall protection, guarded equipment, PPE, road call procedures, fire extinguisher training, hazardous communication and safe machine operation.

Shop safety inspections are done on a regular basis, with accountability on all levels. More comprehensive safety audits are conducted at a minimum of twice annually, focusing on, among other things: facility and shop equipment, fire extinguishers, shop cleanliness and organization, and vehicle ingress/egress procedures.

Knife River Materials, Bemidji, MN  

Submitted by Kurt Lindquist, equipment shop supervisor

The company has gone to great lengths to get all employees – about 230 – trained and involved in the safety program, and the benefits are “outstanding.” Recordable injuries and lost time injuries have diminished considerably.

One of the key reasons for safety in the shop is the job hazard analysis (JHA). With all the different types of equipment and repairs that go through the shop, technicians do a JHA before they start any repair, even with something as seemingly routine as an oil change. The objective is to have the technicians discuss with each other the tasks of each job to identify any hazards and prevent them from occurring.

Knife River Materials wants technicians to be aware of do’s and don’ts of each job, and know what proper PPE should be used and when. Plus, the JHAs make for good safety topics at its safety meetings.

Fleet Services/Parking Enterprise Division, Sacramento, CA

Submitted by James Collins, division chief

First and foremost, safety in the shop and the field is a culture. Safety comes from the top down and it is each employee caring as much about their own safety as their coworker’s safety.

            Peer pressure is a powerful force in the shop. When workers know they will be criticized for working unsafely, they first avoid unsafe acts to avoid criticism. But given some thought, most will realize they are being criticized because someone else really cares about them.

Once a person realizes others are not finding fault, but rather are concerned for their safety, a culture of responsibility toward safety develops. They understand that safety more than just an individual’s concern.

Shop supervisors work to keep safety out in front of their workers by holding regular, interesting safety meetings and encouraging mechanic participation, among other things.

Nobody is more familiar with safety concerns in a shop than the technicians doing the work. When technicians make safety suggestions, the company finds a way to implement them. The resulting culture is one of improvement through participation.

The right tools and equipment for the job are also essential to safety. The use of worn out, makeshift or otherwise unsafe tools often result in an on-the-job injury and costly worker’s compensation claim. Tool and equipment maintenance should always come before truck maintenance.

Training on new tools, equipment and vehicles also is essential. Technicians cannot be expected to work safely when they do not know the hazards involved, how things work or what to do. On-the-job lessons can be expensive when they result in injury or property damage.

Training will return more than its cost in proficiency, morale and self-esteem. Failure to train and re-train will result in the same costly mistakes being made over and over again.

Housekeeping is the mirror of a safe and healthy work environment. Technicians need to keep their work environment clean and orderly. Shop supervisors and maintenance managers should set their expectations for a neat, clean and orderly shop, and make certain housekeeping is as important to technicians as the work they do on trucks.

Safety training programs, proficiency training programs and codes of safe practices for various kinds of work and work-related hazards should be implemented. Technicians need to come to work knowing they have a responsibility to work safely and report unsafe conditions when noticed, and know that problems will be mitigated.

Nobody works in a vacuum. Everyone has a well-defined role to play regarding safety on the job.

Central Maintenance Corp. (CMC), Little Rock, AR  

Submitted by Ron Gillen, director of purchasing and director of training and development

Because safety is the company’s number one priority, it has an excellent safety program and provides a safe work environment for its technicians.

To help keep safety front of mind, CMC’s foremen conduct a safety meeting with technicians before the start of every shift. Any and all personal protective equipment that is required for truck maintenance and repair is supplied to the technicians.

In addition, all technicians are kept up-to-date on all pertinent OSHA standards. 

Technicians perform a lockout/tagout and wheel chock procedure on all trucks before any work is performed. Various types of materials handling equipment is available for the technicians to prevent strains and sprains from improperly lifting loads, or from carrying loads that are either too large or too heavy.

Central Garage, City of Salina, KS 

Submitted by Robert Peck, fleet superintendent

Maintaining a clean floor is, perhaps, one of the most important measures for maintaining a safe shop can take. Continuous safety training is essential as well.

The Garage does not rely on the hydraulics to hold dump beds, lift gates, fork masts, etc., in place. Hydraulic systems can fail, which releases pressure, causing unanticipated releases or movements that could result in severe injures and even death.

The operation makes its own heavy duty safety props and has designed them to be located in positions that virtually eliminate dropping, closing or falling unexpectedly. Once positioned, the props are chained in place to keep them from “walking” away.

Weekly safety meetings are scheduled. Shops operate at a fairly consistent pace and technicians are not to rush repair jobs. This allows technicians time to think about what they are doing, and do what needs to be done to prevent accidents. Caution and speed do not go hand-in-hand.

The Garage doesn’t mind spending a few dollars up-front to avoid a costly accident later. “I don’t want to be the one to tell an employee’s spouse that he or she was injured or killed because we didn’t provide the correct safety measures.”

Brevard County School District Transportation Department, Cocoa, FL

Submitted by Chuck Stevenson, assistant director of transportation

When the District began ordering buses with roof-mounted air conditioning systems, technicians sometimes had to work on the top of these buses. It was determined some type of fall protection system should be installed at the shop to provide technicians with a real sense of safety, allowing them to better focus on carrying out repairs and maintenance.

Not satisfied with available fall protection systems, because they were too restrictive, District maintenance and equipment officials built its own. This was fabricated using I-beam material and a roller trolley and safety harnesses. The system was installed to the existing framework of the building.  

Once in place, the officials brought in a rigging professional to train all the bus shop technicians on how to correctly use the custom-designed fall protection system.

About the Author

David A. Kolman | Contributor - Fleet Maintenance

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