Workplace Safety

Drive to Survive With Forklift Safety

Worker practicing forklift safetyYou get to drive a forklift at work. How awesome is that – you’re behind the wheel of a 14,000 pound beast that can lift an average of one to five tons. The warehouse is your highway. But, with such great power comes the potential danger that could possibly injure or kill you or those around you.

There are nearly 100 fatalities and more than 95,000 injuries every year from accidents while operating forklifts. According to the Industrial Truck Association, 90% of all forklifts will be involved in some type of accident during their useful life. With so much power and likely danger at your fingertips, here are some ways you can stay safe while operating forklifts.

Before You Start Your Engines
Being properly trained in operating a forklift should be done before ever climbing into one. It’s illegal for anyone younger than 18 to operate a forklift, and some states require proper training and certification before anyone can operate a lift truck. Make sure you have all of the proper qualifications before handling heavy equipment. If you don’t, get with your supervisor to set up training times.

Your employer should also have a checklist of things to look for before starting a forklift. Things like fuel/battery power levels, tire conditions, control panel testing, etc. should be checked before every shift and logged. If anything isn’t working properly, make sure a manager knows immediately. Also, honk your horn to make sure it works, check to see if safety lights are working, and confirm the backup alert works once you have cleared everything else.

Know Where to Go
You really need to see where you are going. Make sure your path is always clear, dry, and open. Some forklifts can be going 10 mph, which takes about 22 feet to come to a complete stop. That’s why you don’t want to have anybody between the forklift and a hard surface like a table, bench, or wall. The same goes for passing a slower forklift. You don’t know what’s ahead and you might not have the stopping distance to avoid a collision.

If the load blocks your view, drive in reverse unless you’re going up a slope. In that case, have a spotter with you on the side to help guide you. The spotter shouldn’t be in the forklift with you because that extra weight can cause the forklift to tip over, which is the most common forklift accident.

Maneuvering slopes and inclines can be tricky when operating forklifts. If you come to an incline with a load, always travel with the load pointing uphill. But if you don’t have a load, always travel with the forks pointing downhill.

You’ll Take the Slow Road, and I’ll Take the Low Road
Almost every worker faces deadlines and time limits for projects, but that doesn’t mean you can cut corners – literally. Always turn corners slowly and honk your horn so anyone on the other side will know you’re coming. Honking the horn should be done when entering or exiting any area like going from outside to inside or going through any open doorways in order to access a different part of the building. You may be in a rush, but quick corners lead to quick tipovers and serious injuries.

Another way of keeping your forklift from tipping over is to keep your forks as low to the ground as possible when moving. Keeping the weight of your lift toward the bottom will give you a better center of gravity and more stability.

Forklifts can be a very useful and necessary tool to do your job, but remember these safety lessons so that you can keep riding your forklift free of injury and danger.

Avoid Heave-Ho No-Nos with Proper Lifting

proper lifting techniquesWe often joke about how much we hate to pick up the house, tidy your desk, or clean the garage. We hear the phrase, “See a penny, pick it up. All the day you’ll have good luck,” spoken all the time while growing up. But for many in the workplace, lifting objects bigger than a penny is no laughing matter when it comes to potential injuries from improper lifting. Disabling back injuries can not only keep you from earning a paycheck, but it can also keep you from enjoying your personal activities and time with family.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one in every five workplace injuries or illnesses.

Most of the pain and lost time can be prevented if you are aware of how to lift safely to protect your back. Here are some ways you can keep your body free from injury with a few simple posture reminders.

Head
The most important thing to do before lifting anything is thinking about what you’re going to lift. Are there places to grasp? Does it have any slippery surfaces? Is the path you need to take clear? If you are unsure of what you’re about to lift, look it over for any potential hazards.

You shouldn’t just go by looks. Many objects that appear small and light, could be heavier than they look. If possible, gently test an item’s weight by pushing it with the side of your leg. If it’s heavier than what you think you can lift, get a co-worker to help. When lifting, tuck your chin to your chest. This will help keep your back as vertical as possible.

Shoulders
Keep your arms and shoulders as close to your body as possible. The farther your joints are away from your body, the more stress is put on them, which leads to an increased chance of arm injuries. If the load’s center of gravity moves away from your body, there is a dramatic increase in stress to the lumbar region of the back. You should try to minimize any turning or twisting, but if you must turn while carrying the load, turn using your feet.

Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes
You need a solid base of support when lifting anything. Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and take short steps. If your feet are too close, you’ll be unstable. If they’re too far apart, you won’t move very well.

Your leg muscles are much, much stronger than your back muscles, so let your strengths work in your favor by lowering yourself with your knees instead of your back. Once you have a grip, lift with your legs and keep your back straight. When lifting objects, try not to twist with your body by taking small steps to face a direction. Keep your eyes up, too. Looking upwards will help keep your spine in a safe position.

Check with your manager as many companies have policies in place requiring maintenance staff to move heavy objects. Lifting and carrying heavy objects at work can leave you vulnerable to serious back injuries, which can keep you from earning a paycheck for months. If you keep in mind these helpful guidelines about proper lifting, you won’t be dropping the ball on your health when picking something up.

3 Weapons to Beat the Heat at Work

Beat the heat  and stay cool at workIt’s hot outside! In fact, last year was the second hottest in recorded U.S. history and the hottest in 75 years, and this year isn’t much cooler. In some parts of the country, May temperatures reached triple digits. Even the NBA champions are associated with the rising temperatures.

While the summertime is mostly associated with having fun in the sun, for many people working outside this time of year can be very dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were more than 15,000 reports of heat-related illnesses at work between 2003 and 2009 with nearly 300 of those resulting in death. Don’t let the sun sabotage your ability to work. Here are three things you can do to keep yourself healthy during the summer months.

Get Some Cool Fuel
One of the most important things to remember when working long hours in the heat is to remain hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids will not only keep you from getting heat stroke, cramps, or exhaustion, but it will also help prevent workplace injuries. Try freezing large refillable bottles of water overnight and taking them to work the next morning. They will stay cold all day and keep you hydrated when you need it the most.

You should also be wary of drinks with a high concentration of sugar, alcohol, or caffeine.  Those types of drink will not keep you hydrated as long, and in some cases they will increase the rate of dehydration. Also, try avoiding eating foods high in protein, like meat, that increase metabolic heat production, which increases water loss.

Mind Your Medicine
Some medicines have negative reactions with extreme heat or sunlight. Make sure you’re aware of what medicines you take and the warnings that come with them. If you’re taking medication, check with your doctor for any that have negative side effects when you’re working in the heat. Discuss safer alternatives or other strategies for avoiding negative effects. You should also talk to your doctor about your working conditions whenever receiving medicine.

Get a Shield for the Sun
You may think that because of the heat, you should wear summer clothing like shorts and tank tops, but that isn’t the case. When your skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation for extended periods of time it can cause a painful sunburn which can contribute to skin cancer risks. Try wearing long sleeve, loose-fitting clothing and a hat with a brim to shield you from harmful rays. Wear lightly-colored or white clothing when working in the heat because lighter colors reflect light better and don’t get as hot as easily. If you have to work outside with exposed skin, remember to regularly apply sunscreen.

Working in the heat all day can be dangerous if you don’t take care of yourself. If you’re interested in learning more about how to identify and avoid heat-related illnesses, you can check out the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s resource page on beating the heat. What are some tricks you’ve developed to help beat the heat this summer?

Safety Matters When Climbing Ladders

safety matters when climbing laddersThere’s a common saying among professionals about “climbing the corporate ladder,” but there are hundreds of thousands of workers who climb real ladders as a profession every day. There’s also a common superstition that walking under a ladder will bring seven years of bad luck, but in reality, there are more than 500,000 people treated in emergency rooms and nearly 300 deaths relating to ladder use every year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Just like climbing them, proper safety and use of ladders is taken one step at a time. In order to keep you out of the emergency room and on the job, here are some steps you can take when working with ladders.

Check Before Climbing
Before climbing any ladder, thoroughly inspect it for anything that could be damaged, broken, or bent. Also, make sure it’s clean and free from mud, oil, or other slippery substances. When climbing ladders 6 feet or higher, the smallest slip could be fatal.

Also be knowledgeable about which ladder to use when working a job. Your employer should have training on proper use and maintenance of the types of ladders needed. There are also external resources you can use to gain a better knowledge on the different types of ladders out there.

Power of the Pyramid
One of the best ways to avoid falling off your ladder is to keep your hands and feet in a pyramid or triangular shape.  When facing the ladder, have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand in contact with the ladder. The ladder is less likely to become unstable should you slip during the climb using this technique. Just remember not to carry any objects in your hands that can interfere with a firm grip on the ladder. Otherwise, you can’t properly keep hold of the ladder if a hand or foot slips.

It’s All About Location, Location, Location
The placement of where you and your ladder are can mean the difference between a day at work and a day in the hospital. Depending on what kind of ladder you’re using, there are proper ways to place your ladder so it can be as sturdy as possible. No matter what ladder you’re using, make sure it’s placed on a flat, even surface and not on top of any objects.

If using a single or extension ladder, use the 4:1 ratio when leaning on a surface. 4:1 means placing the base of the ladder one foot away from whatever it leans against for every four feet of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top. If using a trestle ladder, climb as high as indicated on the ladder. Avoid placing anything on the top ledge of the ladder because you don’t want anything falling off and hurting those around you.

You should also be mindful of the placement of your ladder. Make sure you’re away from power lines, insect or bird nests, closed doors, or strong wind. If you have to work near these conditions, make sure your ladder is made of the right material. For example, if you’re working near power lines, use a wooden or fiberglass ladder since metal conducts electricity.

Using a ladder is much safer than trying to stand on stacked objects, chairs, or shelves, but the added safety shouldn’t be disregarded by misuse. When you’re safe, you’re more productive. If you fall off a ladder, you might face something worse than seven years of bad luck.

Keep That Workspace Clear of Clutter

Keeping your workplace clear of clutterHas it been so long since you’ve cleaned your workspace that you can’t remember what color your desk is? Go ahead, time yourself to see how long it takes you to find an important tool you suddenly need. For many workers, keeping the workplace tidy isn’t something that is maintained consistently. Many of us are busy with mounting deadlines and more projects coming in than projects getting completed, so it’s easy to see why cleaning our working area becomes an afterthought and gets pushed to the bottom of our to-do list.

While there are quick and easy ways to clean your workplace, sometimes it’s important to thoroughly clean your area. Here are some suggestions to help you get started at clearing your workstation and relieve some stress.

Digitize it
Do you have anything that could easily be saved on a computer? Take all of your sticky notes full of deadlines, meetings, and other random notes for you to remember. For example, try putting events and meetings into a digital calendar on your computer and set reminders for yourself. If your employer doesn’t use Microsoft Outlook, there are free sites like 30 Boxes that can keep up with your schedule and email you reminders. You can also scan your files and papers into the computer to help you be faster and more efficient at work.

Stack of Hotness vs. Stack of Junk
If your computer can’t help or if the information is too urgent to file away, divide the mess in two separate piles – one for important or high priority items and one for items that don’t pertain to you. Your “hot” stack will help you focus on your job better and keep your area from getting littered. You can then get to your “junk” pile later to file or throw away later, but for now, it keeps your workspace cleaner and easier to work in.

When in Doubt, Toss it
If it’s outdated, not yours, unneeded, or broken, throw it away. Old magazines, journals, papers, software, broken tools or accessories, or equipment can all be tossed. Keep an eye out for crumpled paper, spills, and debris. If not tossed or cleaned up, other more serious health and safety hazards may be taken for granted.

File Away
Take 10 minutes at the end of your shift to put away documents, tools, or spare materials. Store whatever is possible into your filing cabinets or company storage areas. Many employees share work areas, so be sure your area is clean so you aren’t slowed down trying to sort through your mess and can be safe from tripping or slipping, or causing someone else to.

Keeping your workplace clean includes having work areas neat and orderly, maintaining halls and floors free of slip and trip hazards, and removing waste materials and other fire hazards. It also requires paying attention to important details like the layout of the whole area, aisle marking, the adequacy of storage facilities, and maintenance. A clean work environment is an ongoing operation, not an occasional task when time permits. What policies are in place for keeping your work clear of clutter?

Don’t Get Carried Away Working on Conveyor Belts

belts and loose clothingConveyor belts don’t seem like much. Compared to crushers and screening machines, belts seem rather harmless and easy. But in some industries, belt speeds range from 200 to 500 feet per minute, which can go more than eight feet per second. For the average person, the time needed to react is about one second.

Getting pulled up to eight feet is enough time to draw your hand, arm, or loose clothing into a pinch point before you can react. To avoid serious injury, here are some ways you can work safely on a conveyor belt.

Know the Rules
Before you touch heavy equipment like conveyor belts, make sure you are fully trained and educated on the proper safety procedures. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with deadlines and stressful work environments, which can lead to cutting corners on safety policies and processes. Also, before using a conveyor belt, be sure to know where the emergency shut-off is.

If you feel undertrained or unqualified to work near certain types of conveyor belts, notify your manager and request proper training. If you’re concerned with retaliation, consider weighing the importance of your health and safety with your job.

If the belt breaks down and you need to make a repair, be sure the belt is locked out. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the belt should also have a sign reading “Do Not Operate” while the belt is under repair.

Protection is Pivotal
When operating or repairing a conveyor belt, loose clothing shouldn’t be worn. And remember never to lean over or across a conveyor to retrieve an item, because it increases the chance to be injured. Be sure to know your employer’s requirements for safety clothing before operating the conveyor belt.

Also, especially when repairing a conveyor belt, OSHA recommends that you should consider wearing safety equipment like hard hats and closed-toed shoes. Hard hats can protect a blow to the head when working below a conveyor belt. Safety glasses should also be worn to prevent pieces of debris from hitting your eyes.

Your employer is responsible for having all conveyor equipment carefully checked to ensure that guarding is provided for all exposed power transmission equipment and that guarding is maintained.

Don’t Make it a Hairy Situation
Loose clothing shouldn’t be the only thing kept away when working on conveyor belts. If you have long hair, make sure to keep it tied up and securely tightened on your head or in a safety hat. It’s best to keep it from hanging because it’s possible for hair to get caught in the belt, which can lead to head injuries. Accessories like jewelry or any item of clothing that could potentially be caught in the machinery shouldn’t be worn while working.

Being safe doesn’t have to interfere with your productivity and can actually improve it in the long run. Conveyor belts don’t have to be dangerous situations if you’re smart, follow safety procedures, and avoid wearing lose clothing and accessories.

Safety Squeeze – Identify and Avoid Pinch Points

Pinchpoint_march2012_webWith St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, most people will be sporting their favorite green attire to avoid getting pinched on March 17. To most of us, a pinch isn’t taken very seriously. We remember pinching the cute girl or boy growing up in school, getting our cheeks pinched by our relatives who came from out of town, or getting a “pinch to grow an inch” during a birthday celebration.

But, for many of those working today, getting pinched can become very serious injuries called pinch-points. A pinch-point is when a person or part of a person’s body is caught between moving parts of a machine, between the moving and stationary parts of a machine, or between material and any part of the machine. With these easy guides, you can know what a pinch-point is and how to keep them from happening.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Pinch

Pinch-points can be as small as a pair of pliers slipping and pinching a hand causing a blood blister, to being crushed against a wall by a truck that was backing up. This hazard can happen at any time at the workplace.

A pinch-point injury on the job can be seriously disabling, even causing amputation or death. A serious pinch point injury can put a heavy emotional and financial burden on you or your family. If there is a place where equipment is transmitting energy, there is a potential pinch-point danger with that equipment.

There’s No Easy Way Out

Often pinch-point injuries are the result of improperly trained workers who don’t realize the dangers of machinery, or take shortcuts to get the work done more quickly. Work can be stressful with deadlines and training new people, but it’s important to keep in mind the safety rules and mechanisms that were put in place to keep you safe. Ignoring those procedures can put you at risk and cause more work for everyone else.

Never perform a task without proper training. It’s not uncommon for managers to place workers in front of a machine without proper training and expect them to perform their job, but it is up to the worker, for the sake of their health and life, to not work on equipment that they haven’t been properly trained for. The consequences could be serious.

Keep Your Guard Up

Pinch-point conditions are also one of the most difficult hazards to guard against. Improperly guarded punch presses, oscillating or reciprocating parts, heavy steel doors, heavy covers, and belt conveyors can inflict serious injuries.

Many pinch-point injuries occur when a ma­chine is stopped temporarily for service or cleaning, so it’s extremely important to follow necessary procedures for lockout and tagout (LOTO). Workers can follow guard policies for when the machine is running, but when it’s stopped and the guard is removed, if the equip­ment is not de-energized, a worker is not safe.

A little thought will bring to mind the many pinch points in your workplace. Take some time to review your work station and those around you to see if there could be potential pinch-point dangers. You could spare an injury, even your own.