What the heck is GHS?

GHS PictogramIt’s been quite a while between blog posts for me, and for those of you who have been coming back to this site for safety information and finding nothing new, please accept my apologies.  Just been busy helping Clients with specific problems, but I’ll try to do better.  With so many regulatory agencies in existence, no workplace accident goes unnoticed.  When the number of incidences of a specific type rises, knowledgeable safety persons begin to look into how and why these accidents happened in hopes of making changes so the number of injured employees decreases or stops all together.  They say a little knowledge goes a long way, and I believe that to be true.

I know you are just trying to run your business, and you don’t have much time to worry about employees getting hurt.  It’s just kind of an assumption that no one would deliberately try to get hurt, but time after time safety professionals find that there are physical things that caused the accident, but long before the physical things, there were mental things that caused the physical things to come together.

Simply put, your business has chemicals in the workplace to make it run.  Everything from cleaners for the bathroom sink to other substances you might need to make the products to be sold.  No business is without chemicals of some kind.  Manufacturer’s of chemicals have been required to put labels on chemical containers, and provide additional information about the substance on a document called a “Material Safety Data Sheet”.   All businesses are required to have “MSDS’s” READILY AVAILABLE  where employees are exposed to those chemicals because Occupational Safety and Health regulations say employers have a DUTY to WARN employees about hazards in the workplace before they are exposed to them, and a DUTY to PROTECT employees from those dangers.

How well do you warn your employees and protect them from chemicals in your workplace?  The Federal Hazard Communication Standard of 1983 mandated the information found on today’s Material Safety Data Sheets.  It specified what had to be on chemical labels, but not what it should look like.  That’s the rub.  Since labels could look different from one another, your employee might KNOW  how the chemical could hurt them or not.  The law said “employees have the right to know how chemicals could hurt them”.

In 2012 The Federal Hazard Communication Standard was updated, and the responsible parties changed the language to say “employees have the right to UNDERSTAND how chemicals might hurt them.”  To make that happen, Federal OSHA adopted the chemical labeling system recommended by the United Nations.  The system is called GHS or the “Globally Harmonized System”.  This method of chemical labeling standardizes the way labels will look.  Every chemical label, no matter where it comes from, will have the same information in the same place.  When implemented, your employees will know and understand quickly the dangers they face when they open the lid of the container and are exposed to the harmful substance waiting inside.

As part of the same law, “MSDS” (Material Safety Data Sheets) will now be referred to as simply “SDS” or Safety Data Sheets.  Once again, all SDS’s will look alike so employees don’t have to thumb through 10 pages to find “First Aid”, as it will always be found in section 4.

It might seem like just more government regulation to make your job of running your business more difficult, but I see it a little different.  You and your employees work hard to be profitable at the end of the year.  All that effort goes to waste when someone gets hurt causing insurance to rise and hardship on the remaining employees, not to mention the suffering of the individual involved in the accident.  Chemical labels are confusing to say the least, and my guess is that your employees simply ignore them.  A little knowledge goes a long way!  That’s why the new law requires you to train your employees on the GHS labeling method coming, and the changes with Material Safety Data Sheets.  In fact, you are required to train them by December 1st of this year (2013)!

It’s not about the financial penalties for failure to train employees by the date, it’s about making your employees safer in your workplace.  It’s about your employees not suffering chemical injuries because they are lazy or uninformed, and about you driving your hard earned dollars to the bottom line instead of giving them away to the insurance Company.  Do your own research.  Buy somebody’s training package.  Or buy the one I have created for you on this web site.  Educate your people so the number of chemical related work injuries can go down.  Remember, safety is what you and your employees DO, not what we talk about.



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To Clean or Not To Clean

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I observed an interesting phenomena, which prompts this blog.  Walking down Las Vegas Boulevard from casino to casino you will encounter a large number of individuals (not sure if they are someone’s employee, or independent contractors), who will attempt to hand you some baseball type cards, of attractive females, with phone numbers to dial should you wish companionship.  In a matter of one block, a person can easily collect enough cards to rival a complete set of “Topps” for the current baseball season with every player having their own card present.

When there is a miscue on the hand off, or if someone realizes what they have just acquired, the multicolored cards fall to the sidewalk, where they will stay for many hours until the evening is pretty much over.  These cards that are dropped and stepped on are somehow magically removed by morning when the whole routine will begin again.  Observing this ritual made me think about “HOUSEKEEPING” and it’s importance in keeping your workplace free of obstructions and hazards that could injure your employees.

When I visit a workplace, I’m always on the look out for things with the potential to harm someone.  I visited a sheet metal fabrication shop where piles of scrap sheet metal were allowed to be near walk paths instead of having bins or dumpsters for the scrap where the lids could be closed ensuring no contact with workers was possible.  I wasn’t surprised this company had a large sign that read “Clean Up Your Blood”.

I visited a flower shop where employees were encouraged to just create bouquets without regard for where the flower stems were falling.  The policy of “We’ll clean up later” was not only tolerated by management, they had created it.  For the sake of speed, employees were allowed to step on the wet stems (slip/trip hazard), and if they were cut by a rose thorn, it was just part of the job.  Customers waiting for flower arrangements watched employees deal with their work environment in addition to performing work activities.

Housekeeping defines who you are.  It is part of your reputation, and it contributes to creating and maintaining a safe workplace.  We aren’t required to follow the laws sometimes, and ignore them when we’re busy.  We’re required to follow them all of the time.  Safety concepts aren’t just for others, they are for everyone to follow, especially when you’re busy!  “Create and maintain a safe workplace” means exactly that.  A few well placed trash cans can keep the flower stems and thorns from contact with employees.  Insisting trimmings are placed in those proper containers sends the right message that employees must perform work safely all day every day no matter how busy we are.  When you go to a car dealership or a hospital, the housekeeping gives you confidence that the employees working there will perform work correctly.  Poor housekeeping will send you someplace else for services.

Safety is what you and your employees actually do.  Putting stems in the trash can and not dropping them on the floor is actual safety.  Anything else will contribute to an accident or employee injury eventually.  Putting the scrap sheet metal in a dumpster with the lid closed would have kept the employee who fell into one such pile from needing over 100 stitches to handle the cuts inflicted by the actual accident.  Cleaning along the way is important to keep employees safe.

Clean workplaces, are high productivity, and excellent quality workplaces.  I have been in a truck repair shop… 18 wheeler repairs, where you can eat right off of the floor at any time of the day.  Every drop of spilled oil is wiped up immediately.  Every part, and hose, and belt, is in it’s designated place.  Cleaning time is built into each repair job, and because everything is where it belongs, mechanics don’t spend large amounts of time looking for things.  They are able to spend their time fixing trucks, which is what they are paid to do.  The clean workplace reduces the amount of time needed to repair the trucks which is why they are given the truck repair contracts in the first place.  If someone can fix your truck in one hour instead of two, that’s a win for everyone.  By the way, the shop I have been describing has had one employee injury in 30 years.  That’s a safety record to be proud of.

Stop looking for ways to get out of being safe.  Instead, look for ways to get the work done without placing your employees at risk.  I know you can do it, and when your housekeeping is perfect, so will your quality and production also be perfect.  Satisfied customers is a good thing.  Doing the job right the first time is a good thing.  Having customers sing your praises instead of complaining about your work will keep business coming your way.  Remember, safety is NOT what we talk about, it is what you and your employees actually DO.

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Safety Challenge

I have not updated this blog for the last month due to business commitments and a much needed vacation.  I want to get going again by issuing a “Safety Challenge” for all of you, and hopefully you will pass it on to friends and family.

Over the last month it has come to my attention from some observations, that many people have no consideration or idea whatsoever that there are consequences for their physical and mental actions.  In every post I have indicated that “Safety is NOT what we talk about, it is what you actually DO”.  I must tell you about three recent encounters to make my case.

While driving on an Interstate highway, I observed a vehicle swerving back and forth across three lanes.  I thought the driver must be tired (driving while impaired is indeed dangerous to both the individual and others on the road), but as I got closer I saw a person texting while driving instead.  Although the State had laws prohibiting this practice, the individual simply ignored them.  I can only conclude the person had no consideration that there were consequences to their physical and mental actions taking place.  The danger didn’t matter, the other drivers and road conditions didn’t matter, and even the safety of the baby in the back seat didn’t matter.  Only telling someone “I’ll be home in 10 minutes” or something else insignificant and the possibility of a ticket mattered. No one cares when you’ll be home!  They do care however, if you cause an accident and there are deaths, injuries, and damages.

While at a resort with beautifully manicured grounds (kept that way by 20 to 30 groundskeepers), I observed an individual working on their golf swing choosing a different spot each day.  This person didn’t have the slightest notion that each swing produced a divot making the manicured grounds look like the “practice tee” for all paying customers, especially non golfers to enjoy.  Perhaps this person was just special, and rules and even common sense just don’t apply to their mental and physical actions.

My last example came from a recent airplane ride where an individual chose to listen to music, all the way through the landing, rather than turning off the electronic device when instructed to do so.  What song could be so important that the safety of hundreds of people on the airplane didn’t matter?  Was it just a rebellious act, or was it simply that the person didn’t believe there were any consequences to the physical and mental actions taking place?

Now for the challenge:  “Start thinking in terms of the potential consequences of your mental and physical actions“.  There wasn’t an accident that I know of, but looking into your lap to text (so the police officer won’t know) while driving takes your eyes off the road.  Good drivers actually look out the window using all the skills they learned to get from one place to another without incident.

It’s true the grass will grow back, but the people expecting to enjoy their holiday and the myriad of groundskeepers were disappointed.  Not much danger involved here, unless someone decides to take issue with the golfer in the form of throwing something from a fourth floor balcony, or starting a fight over the mess being created.  In tropical locations groundskeepers even carry machetes!!!  That could be trouble!

As I am writing this from my office, clearly the airplane didn’t fall from the sky.  If the music doesn’t matter, the airlines would say so.  As they deliberately state over the loud speaker that “all electronic devices must be turned off and stowed at this time”.  Don’t make a flight attendant confiscate your device, or have some other passenger rip the ear buds from your silly head (darn I had a window seat).  Simply follow directions so everyone can be safe.

Perhaps we’ve been trained by video games to believe there are no consequences to our actions.  If you drive the video game car off the road or into a wall, we just hit the reset button, and start over.  It’s not that way in real life.  Vehicles running off the road or into walls usually produce death and destruction.  So the challenge is to start thinking of what might happen instead if thinking nothing will happen.  What can happen if you remove the guard from the saw?  What can happen to the baby in the back seat if you look into your lap to text while driving?  What can happen to the on-board computers because they pick up electronic emissions from music devices?  When you modify your perspective, amazing changes can take place.  Remember Safety is NOT what we talk about, it is about what you actually DO.


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Post Your Log 300 Forms

It’s that time of year when “Log 300″ forms must be posted in an employee area.  Your employees have a right to know how safe their workplace is.  During the year, all workplace injuries and lost time are tracked, and summarized on the Log 300.  It must be posted where employees can see it from February 1st through April 30th.  It can be taken down on May 1st and placed back in your Human Resources file.

When posting the form, do not show the names of those individuals with lost time, only show the numbers by folding the document on the line marked to do so.  Federal law requires the posting of this form each year.  General Duty clauses, both State and Federal, indicate employers must provide workplaces that are healthful and free of hazards.  Posting the Log 300 form makes it clear how safety conscious the company is.  The numbers reflect the commitment each person, Management and Non-Management has made to creating and maintaining a safe workplace.

The numbers on the Log 300 can also be used to identify particular things that could be done to reduce injuries.  If, for instance, there are numerous slips, trips, and falls,  engineering controls such as handrails can be placed to reduce the potential for further injuries.  I know of one instance where female employees were told they could no longer wear footwear with small heels until the slip, trip accidents went away.  A heel the size of a dime has much less coefficient of friction than one that is three inches across.  ,

I’m not suggesting the banning of certain footwear in the workplace.  I’m saying use the Log 300 to help identify the causes of injuries in your workplace, then take some action to stop it.  We’ve been told to “watch where we’re going” since we were small children, but about 20% of the workplace injuries are related to not doing that very well.  I’m sure you have all seen the youtube video of the lady who walked into the fountain because she was texting.

This post is short as I’m on the road, but posting the Log 300 is too important for me to wait any longer to bring it up.  Safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s about what you and your employees ACTUALLY DO.


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How much do you know about fire extinguishers?

Probably all of you know their are fire extinguishers in your offices and companies, and you might even know that someone comes by once a year to service them.  I’m betting you don’t know which OSHA regulations they fall under, and what additional requirements are included to make you FULLY compliant instead of being somewhat compliant.

For starters, there are different regulations for fire extinguishers based on the industry you are a part of.  There are specific fire extinguisher regulations for Tunneling, Mining, Ship building, Construction, and General Industry.  For this post, I will focus on General Industry, as I believe most of you reading this blog fall into that category.  I will focus on two sets of regulations, the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR 1910.157) for portable fire extinguishers, and Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, specifically General Industry Safety Orders 3221 (Fire Prevention Plan), 5543 (Fire Control), and 6151 (Portable Fire Extinguishers).

GISO 3221 requires employers with more than 10 employees to have their Fire Prevention Plan in writing.  It must include the “identification of potential fire hazards, potential ignition sources (such as smoking areas) and their control procedures, and the type of fire protection equipment or system which can control a fire involving them.”  In addition, the plan must include the names or job titles of those who will be responsible to maintain the systems installed for fire prevention, the names or job titles of those responsible for the accumulation of flammable or combustible waste materials, and what housekeeping methods will be used to prevent those materials and residues from contributing to a fire emergency.

GISO 5543 (Fire Control) requires “Suitable  fire control devices, such as small hose or portable fire extinguishers, to be available at locations where flammable or combustible liquids are stored.  At least one portable fire extinguisher (10-B units rating or more) must be located not more than 10 feet from the door opening of a room used to store flammable liquids, and not less than 10 feet or more than 25 feet from any class I or class II liquid storage area located outside of a storage room but inside a building.”

We all seem to know there are portable extinguishers hanging around in our workplaces, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen them blocked by something.  In Body Shops for instance, it’s really easy to place the hood of a car, or a huge tool box in front of the extinguisher hanging on the wall.  In addition to fire extinguisher regulations, there are others concerning “Access Egress” that talk about paths of escape and keeping clear paths to fire control equipment.  Your sprinkler system may not kick in until the fire is seriously out of control.  That extinguisher may be the only chance your employee has to get to safety.  They shouldn’t have to move things to get at a fire extinguisher.

GISO 6151 is specific to portable fire extinguishers in California.  Although there are some exemptions to this regulation, it establishes that “employers will provide approved portable fire extinguishers, and shall mount, locate and identify them so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting the employees to possible injuries.”  There are specific types of extinguishers that are not approved for use based on the agents inside, and employers are required to “assure that portable fire extinguishers are maintained in a fully charged and operable condition and kept in their designated places at all times except during use”.  The regulation also establishes the distances that employees should travel to get the extinguisher.  Class A fires (wood, paper etc.) is no more than 75 feet, Class B fires (flammable liquids) no more than 50 feet, and Class C fires (electrical) shall be added as part of the pattern in addition to the Class A and B extinguishers.

Most companies know to keep the bill or annual record that a professional maintenance company has inspected and certified that each portable fire extinguisher in the workplace is fully charged, and in good working condition.  This is a requirement of both California GISO 6151, and 29 CFR 1910.157.  What you may not know is that those two regulations also require the physical inspection, and documentation of that inspection, for each portable fire extinguisher in your workplace on a monthly basis.  There are tags placed by your servicing company right on each extinguisher.  It’s easy to look at the gauge, make sure the yellow needle is in the green, then write in the date, and initial the tag, but when it’s everyone’s responsibility, it’s no one’s responsibility.  I’ve been in many workplaces where the tags weren’t dated and initialed.

The things I’ve written today are paraphrased or actual text from the laws.  If you aren’t doing the things above, you are vulnerable to fines and citations, and more important than that, you are potentially rendering your employees helpless in an emergency fire situation.  I’m hoping you are curious about what a 10-B unit rating is, and that you will go to Bing or Google to look it up.  I’m also hoping you are inspired to wander through your workplace making sure there is a clear path, you have the right kind of extinguishers in the right places, and that every tag is marked with monthly inspection dates and someone’s initials.  If your portable fire extinguisher is fully charged and in good working condition today, it has been that way since it was annually serviced.

Remember, Safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s what you actually DO.


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Do you have 2011 State and Federal required posters?

Happy Safe and Prosperous New Year to you all.  With a little focus and maybe some re-training we can get back to the business of running our companies now.  As the new year rang in, over seven hundred new laws took effect in California.  I heard on the radio yesterday that the total new laws from the Federal Government and the fifty States, taking effect on January 1, 2011,  exceeded 31,000.

One of the mandatory State and Federal safety (OSHA) requirements is to have certain postings visible (prominently displayed) in an employee area.  OSHA laws also indicate employers must “communicate with employees in a form that is readily understandable.”  That means there should be posters visible in other languages as well as english if you have employees who don’t speak english.

The posters are intended to convey employee “rights” concerning issues such as “Discrimination”, “Workers Compensation”, “Pay Days”, “Minimum Wage Notices”, “USERRA” (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) and how to get help from “OSHA” when the workplace is unsafe and the company won’t do anything about it.  Employees have a “Right To a Safe Workplace” as well as the responsibility to work safely.  There were 13 required posters in California in 2010.

Posters don’t necessarily have to change from year to year.  If the change is cosmetic such as an address change for an OSHA office, the poster still contains the required information for the new year.  If the substance of the poster changes as a result of changes in the law associated with it, then the poster must be changed out for the new one (don’t forget in multiple languages).

There are many companies out there in the poster business.  They stay on top of regulation changes, and print new posters to reflect the changes.  The poster sets can range in price from $25.00 to $175.00, and you can buy them laminated or not.  Shipping will always be additional.  The issue is having the correct posters prominently displayed in an employee area.  The price of the posters is less than the price of the fines for not having them.

I recommend my California Clients to get the new poster sets from the California Chamber of Commerce or from us (MarComm Consulting).  I get the posters from the Chamber for Clients who just want to interface with us.  The Chamber follows the laws carefully throughout the year, and they have both english and spanish posters printed around December for the following year.  No matter where the poster sets come from, the issue is “are they current”?  When I visit a workplace, one of the first things I look for is posters.  OSHA inspectors, EDD, and EPA Representatives will do the same.    It’s a point of vulnerability that can easily be fixed.

I recommend you all start the new year by dealing with this issue.  If you have multiple locations, you need a poster set at each one, in an employee area, prominently displayed.  I have some Clients who have requested me to “automatically” send them poster sets whenever the new ones come out.  Easy for them, easy for me, and no vulnerability.  Remember, safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s about what you and your employees actually DO.  Happy New Year!


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New Year’s Safety Resolution

We are swiftly approaching the New Year which usually comes with “resolutions”.  You know, the promises of things we have good intentions to do, but fail shortly after the words leave our mouths.  My personal choice has always been to do something positive that I didn’t do before.  I never liked giving something up, like smoking.

My resolutions include things like purchasing business items from struggling companies.  I started with just one.  This year I’ll be looking for five struggling companies to buy from, as I travel around.  I don’t set a purchase limit, or specify they must be a MBWE.  If a company has something I can use in my business, and it looks like they could use a sale, then I buy it.

I’m recommending a New Year’s Safety Resolution to all of you.  That is “ZERO ACCIDENTS AND INJURIES IN 2011″.  That’s a tough resolution to go after, but think of the alternatives.  Is it ok to say we can have three or four accidents this year?  I think not.  To make this resolution a reality takes a lot of hard work.  You can’t just wish and have it come true.

To have zero accidents and injuries it takes everyone working together.  It takes upper management projecting that work must be performed safely no matter how long it takes, or how much personal protective equipment is needed to ensure workers are able to avoid potential hazards.  It takes middle management executing safety procedures instead of telling workers they can get more done if they forget about the safety rules.  I did a class on Bloodborne Pathogens once, and following the training I overheard a supervisor saying “now I’ll never get them to do their work”.  I guess his preference was to have the employees contract HIV or other diseases!  That individual no longer supervises other people.  I put in a good word with the Vice President about his poor “Safety Attitude”, which is one of the two things that keep people safe.

Safety procedures are created from previous injuries or potential hazards.  They are not impediments to productivity.  Safety glasses, for instance, are a much better alternative to replacing injured employees because they went blind from flying particles or hazardous substances.

There is simply NO MAGIC when it comes to safety.  There is only HARD WORK.  There is looking for workplace hazards and FIXING them.  There is having regular inspections and having BOTH recognition and discipline for performing work safely or unsafely.  There is providing the personal protective equipment employees need, and INSISTING they wear it.  I had a construction client who had a problem with half of the sub contractors showing up to the job site without safety equipment (PPE).  When I was asked to help correct the problem, we set up ONE entrance to the site, and anyone showing up without PPE was sent home.  It only takes once for word to get around.  Sub contractors want to get paid, and if they know the safety rules are enforced, they will show up with hard hats and the other required items.

Once again, there is NO MAGIC!  There is only HARD WORK!  I know you can achieve the goal of zero accidents and injuries in 2011 if you work at it.  Deadlines are no excuse for injuries.  If you allow an employee to be injured, someone else will be needed to fill in.  That person will need training as well as safety equipment.  Nothing gets done without your employees, so treat them as your most valued resource.  Simply put, keep them safe no matter what it takes.  It’s better and cheaper for you in the long run.  If you have too many accidents, OSHA will be knocking on your door to HELP make your workplace safe.  They may even issue fines and citations to make sure the whole organization has a good safety attitude.

I wish you all a happy and safe new year.  Thanks for dropping by from time to time.  I hope you enjoy my thoughts about workplace safety, and remember, safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s what your employees actually DO!


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Holiday Safety – Part 3

Keeping safe is all about identifying potential hazards (things that could hurt someone) then, taking some action to ensure no problems arise.  In December, people are extremely distracted making hazard identification virtually impossible.  The purpose of this blog is to help point out some potential “inside hazards” now that I know you’re all safe from the “outside hazards” identified in the last segment.

Potential inside hazards include issues with fire, slips, trips, and falls, electrical, toxic vapors, and potential food poisoning.  I’m sure everyone knows what I’m about to share, but just in case even one person needs to know, here goes.

Fire is a major concern during the holidays.  It only takes three things to start one:  (1) fuel, (2) a source of ignition, and (3) oxygen.  The Christmas tree you purchased after Thanksgiving was cut down in the forest or tree farm about a month prior to that.  The dryer the tree becomes, the more it changes from your indoor decoration to fuel.  If you place it near a heater, or keep your home too warm, it will dry out even faster.  Make sure you trim about one inch from the bottom of the tree so it will absorb water, and keep the stand filled to get the best results.  The fresher the tree, the harder it is for a fire to start.

Tree lights and ornaments can also generate heat.  Large bulbs are of more concern than twinkle lights.  Some people carry on the tradition of using the lights their parents used.  Those lights are much less safe than new ones from today.  Always inspect to make sure lights are in good working condition.  One old tradition was to have actual lighted candles on the tree.  Remember, fuel, oxygen, and a source of ignition is all it takes.  An open flame on your tree is asking for trouble. . . tradition or not!

When the holiday is over, do not try to burn the tree in your fireplace.  Most chimneys are not designed to handle the immense amount of heat your old tree will create.  Instead, take it outside, and pay a boyscout or someone to bring it somewhere it can be burned safely or turned into mulch.  When I do “Holiday Safety” training for Clients, I show a film where a Christmas tree catches fire and fully engulfs a living room in less than 60 seconds!  Make sure your fire extinguisher is in good working condition and easily accessible.

Slips, Trips, and Falls can occur in a number of ways.  Decorations, presents, electrical cords, and simple clutter can potentially cause a trip problem.  Spilled powders and liquids during the cooking or baking process associated with holidays can be a slip problem if  not wiped up immediately.  Falls can happen as a result of ignoring ladder safety and the belt buckle rule explained last time, or by standing on a chair with wheels to place a decoration somewhere.  There will be thousands of people ignoring these common sense notions, and finding themselves in an emergency room as a result.  It doesn’t have to be that way!!

Electrical hazards can be created in a number of ways.  Some people rip the third prong of the extension cord off so it can be used in a receptacle with only two slots.  Simple adapters exist (2 prongs with a green wire to attach to the screw holding the plate cover) to allow you to not change the integrity of the cord, and still plug it in.  Most living room circuits are rated at 15 amps.  When decorations etc. request more than 15 amps, the extra power will come, heating up the wiring as the electrons seek a path to ground.  If your decorations blow fuses, don’t just get bigger fuses.  They blow for a reason!!  You are just asking for more amps than the wire can safely handle.  This fire can start by simply plugging in a vacuum while all the inside tree lights and decorations are lit.  Check the condition of decoration cords, keep them tucked out of the way to avoid trips, vacuum with the inside lights turned off, and don’t overload the circuits.

We don’t think about the potential to be exposed to toxic vapors around the holidays, but there are two potential hazards to be discussed.  When cleaning, we should never mix products.  For example, mixing a chlorine based cleaner (Comet) with an ammonia based cleaner (Windex) will create chlorimine gas which could substantially injure or kill someone.  Use all products as specified by the Manufacturer, NO MORE and NO LESS.  If the product doesn’t do what you need, get a different one and follow the instructions provided.  Even chemists have a hard time knowing the result of mixing two products together.

Our second exposure to toxic vapors may come when presents are opened.  People enjoy the pretty colors when wrapping paper is tossed into the fire and burned.  The problem is that the pretty paper has glues, and inks that could become toxic as the paper burns.  Vapors coming into the house instead of going up the chimney could be a problem especially for the youngsters who need a close look.  Simply dispose the pretty paper in the trash, and the potential problem is solved.

Finally, I know everyone knows about putting food away and proper cooking.  Still, I also know many people suffer from food poisoning on holidays.  Do more rather than less this holiday to ensure the safety of your loved ones.  Use thermometers to know the meat or fish has reached the proper temperature.  It all sounds simple, but statistics say we can all work harder to keep holiday accidents and injuries down.  Re-heating food in “Styrofoam  Containers” can make people sick, because bacteria on the container might not reach a proper temperature to render it safe for consumption.

I wish all of you SAFE HOLIDAYS, and remember, Safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s what you actually DO.


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Holiday Safety – Part 2

It will take years to know from the statistics, but hopefully, in 2010, there were fewer structural fires related to cooking equipment than in previous years.  Once again, the manufacturer has to tell end users how to use the product safely, but it’s up to the users to actually do it.

So now, in terms of Holiday Safety, we turn our sights to Christmas.  This holiday surrounds itself with both outside and inside hazards.  Because there are so many items to cover, I will restrict this article to outside activities.  Checking the general conditions of outside decorations is a must.  Bad weather and cold temperatures can make new  electrical cords and sockets become brittle over time, causing cracks where moisture can get in.  We already know water (moisture) and electricity “Just Don’t Mix”.  Find out how many strings of lights will go together safely by reading the instructions, or going to the manufacturer’s web site.  The old, large bulbs can only take three sets together before the wires will begin to overheat.  Some of the newer lights can string as many as ten sets together.  Find out what kind you have, and then hang them correctly.  Do NOT remove fuses to add additional strings.  The seasonal “Structural Fire Statistic” is just waiting for someone to overload the outside circuits.

When hanging those outside decorations you’ll need a ladder.  We’ve all seen our friend Clark Griswold in the movie “Christmas Vacation” use a ladder improperly, but how many people make the same mistakes?  OSHA requires ladders to extend 36 inches above the roof you are leaning the ladder against because it is safer for you to step off than it is to try crawling over the top to get on the roof.  Ladders are also required to be tied off when used as access egress, so if you will be in one location for a while, use a bungee cord to tie off your ladder.

Roughly 20% of all workplace injuries are from falls, and I can assure you there will be plenty of falls from ladders and rooftops this month.  Ladders must be properly placed using the “One to Four” rule.  For every four feet of height, the ladder should be placed one foot out from the wall.  The ladder should be placed on hard, flat surfaces, and not on rocks or in mud that could cause the ladder to shift while you’re on it.  Place a sheet of plywood over the rocks or mud, then place the ladder on the wood.

Some things we already know about ladders, like not stepping on the rungs of a a-frame type ladder without spreading the legs out first.   We also probably know not to stand on the very top step or the next to the top step of that same ladder.  When this year’s injuries are investigated, we’ll find people guilty of violating both common sense items above.  They simply won’t have time to set the ladder up properly, or get a bigger ladder if the one they have isn’t tall enough for what they are doing.  Well, how much time will it take to go to the emergency room if you were lucky enough to avoid landing on your head?

One last thing to share about ladders.  There is a safety rule called “The Belt Buckle” rule.  It says that when you are on a ladder of any kind, when your belt buckle goes beyond the ladder’s rail (either side), gravity will take over and pull the ladder and you down to the ground.  That’s why reaching too far is not a good idea.  Simply come down and move the ladder over instead.  This is another ladder safety concept that will be violated over and over this month by people who think accidents can’t happen to them.

Finally, the roof is a very dangerous place.  If you have been going up there to do your holiday decorations for the last ten years, you have only been up there twenty times (ten times to put them up, ten times to take them down).  If you worked for my roofing Clients, that would probably be one to two weeks worth of experience, which is not very much.  Stay back from the edges, wear good non slip footwear, and remember the roof is very slippery during the cold months, and most slippery in the early morning.  There are also places on the roof like “exposed flashing areas” where you are guaranteed to slip no matter what shoes you wear.  If you’re getting on in years, don’t go up there.  Get a younger person to help instead.  They could probably use the money, and being “tough” or “independent” won’t pay for the ambulance ride.  Balance and agility is traded for the wisdom that supposedly comes with age.

I think we’ve covered the outside hazards of the holidays pretty well.  People know when they are unsafe or doing something improperly.  Hopefully now you know a little more.  My goal is to provide more safety tools, and knowledge for people to use.  Common sense is a relative term that’s hard to identify, but the two things that keep people safe are straight forward.

The first thing is “attitude” or how someone feels about being safe in the first place.  Attitude decides who we are today, and what we will do in any given situation.  Charles Swindel has claimed that “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I feel about it”.  The first safety task of every day is to manage who we are.  Good personal management yields good decision making, and less trouble to deal with.  Bad personal management yields decisions made when distracted, angry, or stressed, and problems galore will take place.

The second thing is “Safety Awareness” or the ability to do what you’re doing without being distracted.   I’ve addressed this topic before, but doing the right thing is not possible when the brain is somewhere else.  Please focus this holiday season on what you are doing, and the temporary hazards that exist where you are.  Check the decorations, use ladders properly,  be aware of the hazards on the roof and avoid them, and remember, “Safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s about what you actually DO”.


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Holiday Safety – Part 1

I probably should have written this post last week where you might have had time to think about all the temporary hazards that arise during the holidays.  November and December are some of the most dangerous months of the year.

The number one hazard is STRESS!  We’re worried about who will come to dinner, and who’s not coming to dinner.  We worry about whether dinner will be acceptable to all, and then the mental choices and physical things of the day begin to happen.  Stress makes us “distracted” which I discussed last time.

While we’re trying to please everyone, we sometimes place the whole event at risk.  There are quite a few families that cause structural fires in their homes each year from cooking equipment.  In fact, according to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), there were over 1400 such incidences in the United States in 2006 and 2007.

FOLLOW the manufacturer’s instructions for your cooking equipment.  They are required by law, to have safety devices in place to keep the user from the “point of operation”.  They are required by law to instruct the user to operate the equipment safely.  If the manufacturer doesn’t do these things, they can’t sell the product.  Do NOT remove the safety guards thinking they aren’t necessary.  They ARE necessary to keep users from getting injured.  Safety protection is not designed to make people miserable, it’s designed to protect them from areas where people have been injured.  Simply put,  without safety protection, people get hurt.

Let’s take your deep fryer for instance.  How many people begin this cooking adventure remembering that oil is lighter than water, that boiling oil does not get along with water, and that if a fire starts as a result of the fryer tipping over, or somehow, the oil finds the burner, that water is not a good solution?

What’s the right way to be safe with this piece of cooking equipment?  The manufacturer has told you specifically, but just in case you have lost your instructions, here goes:  the boiling cauldron of oil belongs outside, away from buildings, on level cement.  Do not overfill the fryer with too much oil, or place a bird that is wet or partially frozen inside.  If your fryer does not have a thermostat the oil will simply heat up until it catches fire, so you must manage the flame instead.  Do not leave the fryer unattended, even for a short time to go get a beer.  Keep children and pets away from the fryer even after the turkey is removed, because the oil will remain hot for a long time.

It may sound silly, but PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is also a good idea when operating this piece of cooking equipment.  Safety glasses or goggles will keep the splattering oil from burning your eyes.  OK, wear sunglasses if you need to be cool, but remember, you can’t see as well with a shaded lens.  Wear long sleeves to keep the oil from leaving battle scars, and have an “ABC” type fire extinguisher close by.  Putting water on an oil fire really makes the fire big.  The burning oil simply floats on top of the added water, and the fire will not go out.  If you have to use the fire extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS”.  (1) PULL the pin, (2) AIM the nozzle at the base of the fire from a few feet away, (3) SQUEEZE the handle, and (4) SWEEP from side to side.

Thanksgiving is the first safety hurdle of the holiday season.  It will be filled with temporary hazards that may not exist any other day of the year.  We keep our workplaces safe by identifying hazards, and either fixing them ourselves, or telling someone so we can get them fixed.  When your children identify hazards, don’t ignore them.  If you think something is unsafe, it probably is.  If someone tells you something is unsafe, it probably is.  Take a moment to investigate the claim before something gets out of hand.

I believe the first settlers had to be safe to just get those three, tiny boats across the great Atlantic Ocean.  The cooks had the best living spaces on those three ships because they carried a burden others didn’t have.  They were charged with keeping the crew fed without burning down the ship, the same task all cooks will face tomorrow.

I’m thankful for my family, my friends, for God and for my Country.  I’m thankful that American Indians brought food for the 53 pilgrims that were still alive (half the original party) on their adventure to the “New World”.  And, I’m really thankful to have the time and space to maybe keep some of you safe during this special day.

Remember, safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s about what you actually DO.


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