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Why newbies are dangerous

March 24, 2014
The workers most likely to get hurt or killed on the job are new employees or those who have been newly reassigned.
The workers most likely to get hurt or killed on the job are new employees or those who have been newly reassigned. Take, for example, the case of a production-line worker at a small manufacturer of sports equipment. She had worked at the plant for some time but was reassigned to operate a tubing bender, which formed steel tubing into curved shapes by rolling it between radiused sheaves. After only a couple of days, her hand was pinched between a roller and the tube she was feeding, amputating multiple fingers. An investigation showed the machine lacked a proper guard on its feed chute, but the accident was also partly the result of poor training and supervision.

Those who design or specify manufacturing machinery should be intimately familiar with the ANSI and OSHA machine-guarding standards. The ANSI B11 standards address not only guarding but a broad spectrum of safety issues for machine tools. Manufacturers may find OSHA requirements, found in Subpart O of the regulations, to be useful. But the OSHA enforcement mandate is directed to employers, not equipment manufacturers.

Employers are held responsible for ensuring the safety of employees by guarding equipment properly. The manufacturer of the equipment, or its system integrator, is often better equipped to design guards, interlocks, and other engineering controls. Consequently, users may want to seek help in selecting and installing safety-related features and options. Even for machines with adequate guarding, employers should regularly inspect safety equipment. It is not unusual for employees to remove or disable guards or interlocks as a means of more easily accessing the work, to cycle the machine more quickly, or to speed up maintenance.

Inexperienced employees also tend to overlook proper lockout/tagout during maintenance. Employers unable to show they regularly inspect and enforce such rules run the risk of being cited by OSHA.

New employees need both general and specific safety training before they operate potentially dangerous machinery. General training can help the employee recognize hazards, think about how to avoid accidents, and comply with company safety policies. Specific training on a machine can sensitize the employee to the severity of the hazards and the risks involved, particularly if safety equipment or procedures are circumvented.

The same goes for temporary workers. Host employers should coordinate with staffing agencies to ensure workers get adequate training before operating machinery or performing other potentially hazardous tasks. They should be particularly careful with temporary employees’ claims of experience on a given machine or task. Such claims may be exaggerated.

Finally, an employer must be prepared to enforce its safety policies and penalize workers who refuse to comply. If the employer does not take its safety responsibilities seriously, workers cannot be expected to do so, either.

About the Author

Ciro Ramirez

Dr. Ciro Ramirez has over 35 years of engineering experience, including product design, structural and mechanical analysis, and forensic consulting. He is a licensed professional engineer, is a Certified Safety and Health Official, is ACTAR accredited in accident reconstruction, and is a member of a number of professional organizations. Have a question for Ciro? You can reach him at [email protected].

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