Friday, May 7, 2010

Avoid Accidents, Injuries at the Plant

Back to basics tips take the challenge out of battening down the HMA and quarry sites for safety directors
by Sandy Lender, Editor AsphaltPro Magazine

As dusk drapes a heavy fog over the landscape, and stockpiles take on the form of hills and mountains, savvy plant personnel snap on additional lighting for personal protection. An object that looks like a skid steer loader burdened with material for the current mix slips into shadow at a certain time of day and becomes a trick of the eye.

Did the ground man hear that right? Is the loader coming up behind him? Or is the night air playing tricks with the echo off the new RAP bins? Can the loader operator see him?

Such worrisome situations don’t happen only as daylight is waning. When the sun is angled just right and summer temperatures are high, a man stops to mop his brow and a haul truck driver unfamiliar with your quarry site layout turns a corner too quickly. The worker standing in the yard with his hard hat in hand is in a danger zone. The sun blinds the driver. The worker jumps. Is he fast enough? Does the driver ever see him?

The chances for accident or injury abound at an asphalt plant or quarry site. Human beings with human failings work around large, heavy, moving equipment with large, heavy, moving parts. Accidents can happen on regular days when everything seems to be working smoothly.

Luckily, company officials hire safety directors to put health and welfare first and foremost in employees’ minds. Associations, departments of transportation and other groups research best practices and put together manuals, seminars, workshops and safety sheets to help train employees for clean and healthy work environments. The manufacturers of the equipment that asphalt professionals work around have tips and advice to help workers stay safe.

It’s that sense of caring for each other that George Moody, safety manager for Astec, Inc., Chattanooga, shared in his points for readers. One of the methods he promotes for keeping workers safe is keeping them in touch with each other. “Look out for others,” he provided. “Always use machine guards when you are working on or repairing equipment. If you need to step away from the machine, lock it out and tag it out.”

In Moody’s information, he suggested that it’s all right to let a supervisor know if a co-worker routinely does something unsafe. This falls under looking out for your colleagues. “If you see co-workers doing something unsafe, let them know. If they continue to work unsafely, talk to your supervisor. They are putting themselves, and others, in jeopardy.”

A good safety program will include a chain of command or hierarchy for protecting workers, and a way to reward those who have the good sense to speak up when dangerous practices are afoot. Owners aren’t promoting “backstabbing” or “tattling” in such a program; instead, they are promoting a safety culture where workers watch out for and respect each other. If a colleague doesn’t respect himself or a fellow co-worker enough to stop dangerous behavior, he will have to follow the direction of a superior.

This comes down to understanding and following the rules of a safety program. As Moody pointed out, “Understand the safety policies for your workplace. When it comes to workplace equipment, be sure you know how to properly operate it. Read your manual and understand the machine’s capabilities and its hazards; follow preventive maintenance guidelines. Remember, shortcuts aren’t worth the risk.”

Dennis Hunt of Gencor Industries, Orlando, Fla., reiterated Moody’s feelings. “Think,” Hunt said. “Stop and think before you do anything at the plant. Especially when there is break down. Don’t rush to fix the plant and put yourself or others at risk. You can never explain away an accident, injury or fatality by saying ‘I cut corners to get the plant running.’”

A good place to start with hot mix asphalt (HMA) plant safety is to know where your employees are. Jeff Meeker of Meeker Equipment, Lansdale, Pa., suggested owners have a sign-in/sign-out sheet that shows plant operators and managers who is on the site and when. If someone hasn’t been seen or heard from in a while, it’s a good idea to contact him or her by radio to make sure all is well.

Thus having a good communication system is integral to safety. And as Meeker pointed out, good communication systems contribute to a safe atmosphere at all times.

“Carry handheld radios or install hands-free intercoms in multiple locations on the plant,” Meeker said. “Radios allow for good communication between operators and ground personnel. Intercoms allow operators to communicate with other plant personnel in a hands-free mode when troubleshooting.”

Not all personnel will enter the quarry or plant with a walkie talkie in hand. Once a newcomer comes to the site, he or she needs to know where to go. Owners need another form of communication for them. Meeker reminded owners to post clear signage around the grounds for truck drivers and other visitors.

“Let drivers know where to place orders, where to get loaded, and the truck pattern for leaving and entering the site,” Meeker said.

Something that will go a long way toward communicating with personnel—both newcomers and regular employees—is sound. Meeker recommends owners use a plant start-up siren and/or start-up lights to signal the commencement of production. This is a sure sign that movement will begin, fires will start burning, the drum will start turning, etc.

“Start up sirens allow plant personnel, truck drivers, and others around the plant to know that the plant is about to start,” Meeker said. “This gives them time to move away to a safe place prior to the plant starting.”
When it comes to safety around the plant site, Gencor’s Hunt suggested starting with the senses. Rely upon your senses to stay in tune with what’s going on around you.

“Look around you before you do anything at an asphalt plant,” Hunt said. “Look where you are walking, standing or climbing. Be aware of your surroundings. There is constant motion of machinery and equipment at a plant site. Watch out for trucks and loaders; they generally have the right of way.”

Moody added to this with action. Report any hazards that you notice when you’re looking around, whether you think it’s your responsibility or not. It might sound cliché, but safety really is everyone’s responsibility.

“Think you can’t do anything about that dim fluorescent light or that loose railing? Think again,” Moody provided. “By immediately reporting safety hazards, you may save someone…from unintentional injury. If you notice a potential hazard, talk to your supervisor or building maintenance personnel right away.”

The next sense Hunt turned to is sound, telling workers to listen for sounds that aren’t normal or usual for the plant. If something sounds out of place or out of alignment, it probably is, and could pose a threat to someone’s well-being.

Finally, think about the sense of touch. Do you want to come in contact with a burner that’s heating asphalt to 300 degrees F? No way.
“Don’t ever touch moving plant parts,” Hunt warned. “Don’t touch lines, pipes or valves. Assume that everything at an asphalt plant is hot.”

With most surfaces at the plant storing heat, sources advise personnel wear the appropriate clothing for the job—long sleeves, thick gloves, safety glasses, etc. Something every source agreed upon was the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) also want to see plant personnel wearing safety vests, hard hats and the gear typically reserved for the paving crew in the work zone out on the highway.

“Wear safety glasses, hard hats, steel tip shoes, gloves, and bright yellow safety vests,” Meeker said. “There are many things going on at an HMA plant. Trucks are getting loaded. Liquid asphalt and fuel are being off-loaded into tanks. Loaders are filling bins. Aggregates are being delivered to stockpiles. With plant personnel on the plant and around the plant, highly visible clothing and protective covering allows plant personnel to be seen by many.”

Gencor’s Hunt took clothing a step further. “Long sleeve shirts are a must at an asphalt plant,” he said. But he also warned: “Don’t dress the same color as the plant.”

While safety programs should be in place to prevent haul truck drivers and skid steer loader operators from fighting sun blindness, worker fatigue or dusky shadows, the fact of the matter is gray clothing will blend into a gray plant. Light-colored clothing will blend into a light-colored plant. Be aware of your surroundings and try to stand out, both with your PPE and your uniform.

No matter how careful workers are at a facility, accidents and injuries do happen. When the unthinkable occurs, a well-practiced emergency plan can keep a situation from going from bad to worse.

Meeker suggested that owners institute a clearly defined emergency plan. Make sure personnel know the phone numbers for police, ambulance, hospital, etc. Moody recommended owners add evacuation routes and an assembly area to that plan. You want to meet in an agreed-upon area where all personnel can be counted, and accounted for, if a serious accident takes place.

If an accident happens, workers need to know what to do and need to be so comfortable with the plan that they stay level-headed throughout the emergency. With a good safety program and adherence to safety guidelines, the number of accidents at the asphalt plant will hopefully remain low. The goal is to have everyone go home safe and sound at the end of every shift.

Some good sites for safety directors to mine:
AEM Safety Pictorial Database

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites