A 10th-grade student was badly burned while grinding metal in his school’s metal shop when sparks ignited his clothing. He was unsupervised when the accident happened and was wearing minimal protective equipment.
The student was working on a science project in the shop during his study-hall period. The shop instructor was two rooms away teaching a wood-shop class. He had given the student permission to work with tools in the metal shop and was checking on him occasionally.
Shop students had learned about handheld angle grinders along with other metalworking equipment earlier in the semester through their textbook and in-class instruction. The instructor taught shop students how and when to operate the grinder, but he didn’t discuss the grinder’s potential hazards like sparks and fragmenting wheels.
The manual for the grinder involved in the accident notes that sparks from the grinding wheel can ignite nearby flammable materials. It also calls for an operator to wear a “face shield or at least safety goggles, dust mask, leather gloves, and shop apron capable of stopping small wheel or workpiece fragments.”
Although hearing protection, face masks, and leather aprons were available, the instructor only insisted on safety glasses. He left decisions about other protective equipment to each student’s discretion. The injured student was wearing a loose-fitting flannel shirt, a cotton T-shirt, jeans, safety glasses, and ear coverings when the accident happened.
Sparks from the metal he was grinding ignited the flannel and quickly spread through the loose weave. The student tried to put out the fire at a nearby sink, but couldn’t work fast enough to stop the flame from spreading. He ran outside and tore off his shirt in the snow where he was found by a janitor. He sustained third-degree burns over 9% of his body. He had to be airlifted to a regional burn center where he received donor skin grafts on his back, side, and arm.
Just like any industrial environment, the school should have had formal safety procedures that met or exceeded OSHA regulations. Students should have learned to put out fires with extinguishers, fire blankets, and “stop, drop, and roll.” And the school should have required close supervision of minor students using powered equipment. Having others nearby in case of an accident is a basic power-tool safety practice, even for adults.
In class, the instructor should have covered the hazards of each piece of metalworking equipment. Because students weren’t told the grinder could generate sparks and ignite a fire, they couldn’t make informed decisions about the use of protective equipment.
Edited by Jessica Shapiro
This month’s safety violation comes from the files of Lanny Berke, a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a safety violation to share? Send your images and explanations to [email protected]