Berke on Safety: Outside the Plant, Safety Lapses Burn the Public, too

Jan. 20, 2009
Many years ago, a woman I knew opened her front door to find the foreman of the road-paving crew bearing a message

Many years ago, a woman I knew opened her front door to find the foreman of the road-paving crew bearing a message: “We’ll be laying hot asphalt on the street in front of your home tomorrow, ma’am. Please keep your children off the street.” The woman’s six-year-old daughter had overheard and knew she was fast enough to sprint across the steaming surface before her feet got burned.

The next day she barrelled down the driveway, building speed, and took three steps on the asphalt. Then she began to scream.

At that moment, one of the road crew scooped her up and delivered her home without serious injuries. The foreman had seen this many times before. When the crew moved to the next block, he had assigned two workers to watch for daredevil children or other safety issues related to their work.

Jobs which necessarily take hazards into public areas, like laying blacktop, require special attention to the safety of the workers, but also of those who live near or pass by the job site. But strange as it may sound, many companies operating rolling stock — equipment on wheels that is towed or driven to a work site — seem to think OSHA regulations only apply in factories or on active construction sites.

Rolling-stock designers and manufacturers, however, are well aware of safety issues. Product-liability lawsuits regarding their machines and OSHA citations in their factories have alerted them to the need for safety. Although this awareness may be relatively recent to the industry, it has been growing rapidly.

Initially, end users of rolling stock sued for improved product safety. But for the last 20 years or more, manufacturers have taken the lead in ensuring the safety of their products. They recognize the hazards in using and maintaining their products, as well as the hazards after rollingstock operators leave the job site unattended.

Manufacturers have written owner’s manuals, put warning labels on rolling stock, and distributed additional literature that contributes to rolling-stock safety. These documents emphasize the importance of proper lockout/tagout procedures.

But, workers don’t always follow those procedures. Three years ago, I was called in on an asphalt-laying machine accident in which lockout/ tagout was not performed. In the course of the investigation, I reviewed the owner’s manual for the machine involved.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the manual discussed safety beyond operating and maintaining the machine. It extended to the vigilance needed to protect children like the woman’s daughter in the opening memory. The procedures the manual recommended were similar to those put in place by that foreman many years ago.

Next month, I will continue the discussion about safety outside the plant.

Lanny Berke is a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a question about safety? You can reach Lanny at [email protected]. Edited by Jessica Shapiro

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