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As a maintenance group, many of our responsibilities are to maintain equipment in a fully functional state. Repairing and maintaining equipment is only part of our duties. Often, we are saddled with safety responsibilities like fabricating guards, building handrails, and other issues to keep everyone safe. Often the maintenance department neglects to see maintenance safety issues they work with every day. How many times have you used a hammer and a punch without the proper punch guard protection? Did you miss the punch and hit yourself on the hand with the hammer? Or maybe you used the grinder without the safety guard in an attempt to fit it into a tighter spot? Or used the cutting torch without the proper shielding or eye protection?
Who has ever seen a container in a work area/job site with no labels and no warnings? Doesn't this mean you have no idea what is in it? So, what do we do? We open the lid, we look at it, we swirl it around and then we sniff it. Most of the time, we get lucky and it’s not a poisonous gas. Or we get a small enough amount that it only makes us a little sick.
Think about all the jobs we do on a daily basis. The tools we use and the equipment/machines we work on. Take a minute and picture your work area in your mind. See if you can identify three simple fixes to make your work area safer for proper maintenance safety. What kind of standard operating procedures (SOPs) do you have in place? Can you improve? I think more often than not the answer would be yes. Frequently in the maintenance department, we are tasked with developing major safety precautions. But it’s the simple things that usually catch us off guard.
What about cleanliness? Is cleanliness a maintenance safety concern? In our shop facility, we strive to keep our shop, wash bay and milling facility extremely clean. Being a mine, we are subject to random, unannounced Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspections. They can last anywhere from a day to two weeks. We have made it through inspections without any citations due to the dedication and hard work of the employees at our facility. We have had inspectors come for inspections, go home and fill out their report, and then show back up the next week with their superiors. This is because they can’t understand how their inspectors could find no citations.
As employers and employees, safety should be everyone’s responsibility. It is odd to think that something as simple as sweeping the floor, labeling a container or washing a window has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expense. Something as simple as the shoes we wear can prevent an accident from changing our lives. Look at your job, the tools you use and the functions you do. What kind of footwear do you need? Do you need steel toes? Do you need shock-resistant, oil-resistant or slip-resistant soles? How about a metatarsal guard? I almost had to learn this lesson the hard way.
As workers, how easy is it for us to use safety as an excuse not to do a job? I can’t think of a job that has ever been performed that cannot be done in a safe manner. Yes, sometimes it is faster to take that shortcut to accomplish your task and move on rather than to take the time to take the proper steps safely. If you use safety as an excuse to not do your job, I have two words of advice to help: stop it. Safety should never be an excuse to not complete your assigned task. However, it is always an excuse to take the proper steps to complete your task and remain in a healthy state.
As employers, we should never ask our employees to take that chance and risk their well-being to accomplish an assigned job and jeopardize their life and livelihood. There needs to be understanding by both parties that maintenance safety comes first.
When doing a job, don’t just take the time but make the time to survey your work area. Then understand the task at hand and make a preplan to accomplish the things you need to in a safe manner. If while doing your job or assigned task you recognize a maintenance safety concern, don’t ignore it, don’t go around it and for heaven’s sake don’t leave it as a trap for someone else. Pull the brake, call a mayday or shut the job down if need be until a solution can be thought of to mitigate the issue. Involve co-workers, bosses and fresh eyes. Have a panel discussion, consult the gypsy fortuneteller, do what it takes to allow you and those around you the opportunity to return home safely.
If you work for an employer who asks you to jeopardize your safety and well-being for a task they need done, be brave and tell them to pack sand because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Believe me, a month of unemployment or three months of unemployment is a lot easier pill to swallow than it is to sacrifice your limbs or life for a job. There is common ground between employee and employer that can be reached.
In my mining career, I have been very fortunate to work for the J.R. Simplot Company, specifically at the Smoky Canyon Mine, where personal safety has not only become an attitude but a culture. The amazing thing is that production and maintenance have progressed over the years and improved while accidents and injuries have decreased. Not only can it be done, but it should be done. There was a certain incident that helped create this mindset and culture. This incident happened 10 years ago and affects me and my family every day of our lives, with no end in sight. I know safety isn’t always the most popular thing in the world, but in my opinion it is way more popular to do your job safely than it is to lose your life.