Protecting your employees and protecting the bottom line for your business go hand in hand. Every injury that is prevented saves money, in terms of workers' compensation claims and premiums, and in increased employee comfort, which leads to increased productivity and reduced turnover. A successful safety program is also your legal obligation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Many injury risk factors are present in the solid surface fabrication (SSF) industry. These include manual lifting, use of hand tools and machinery, heat and sharp edge exposure, working in awkward postures and exposure to vibrations, chemicals and dust. Much of the work is done in the fabricator's shop, where employers are subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations under the 29 CFR 1910 General Industry Regulations. Some fabricators also go into the field and install the surface materials. This installation activity is considered a construction activity, and is regulated under 29 CFR 1926.
OSHA requires that employers define a comprehensive program to identify potential hazards at work sites. Once the hazards are determined, the employer is required to take preventive measures. This may include hazard communication training, machine and tool safety programs, ergonomics training and provision of personal protection equipment (PPE).
Many publications and fact sheets on OSHA standards are available for download or purchase through its Web site at www.osha.gov, although some of them can be difficult to understand. Another alternative is to purchase industry specific guidelines on training materials from a private source.
Hazard Communication Training
The primary chemicals used in SSF are denatured alcohol and adhesives, along with some caulk and paint. These chemicals and others, as well as any housekeeping or yard maintenance chemicals, must be included in your HazCom program and associated training. The employer is required to determine safe handling and storage procedure, provide proper PPE and make available showers and eye-wash stations when harmful chemicals may be splashed on parts of the body. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each chemical in a shop must be on file and available to all workers of all shifts.
Ergonomics and Safe Lifting
While there are no specific ergonomic regulations for this industry, there is certainly a need to review and train on safe lifting techniques due to the weight of the sheet goods. Materials assistance transport equipment should be utilized insofar as feasibly possible. Also, as much as is practical, reduce the size of objects that have to be manually lifted. Some fabricators may try to make their tops in one piece to avoid a field seam. This can result in back injury. Keeping tops to certain length and width to make them easier to handle and install on site can actually be less expensive in the long run, and most importantly, can prevent back injuries to your employees. A number of products are available to assist with lifting and transporting heavy materials, such as carts and dollies, forklifts, vacuum lifts, hoists and scissor lifts, to name a few. Of course, efficient shop layout can minimize the amount of lifting necessary to accomplish required fabrication tasks, and plenty of thought should be put into this subject.
Personal Protection Equipment
Employers are required to provide and ensure that employees wear personal protection equipment (PPE) when necessary. PPE must be of safe design and construction for the work to be performed. When employees provide their own protective equipment, it is the employer's responsibility to assure its adequacy, including proper maintenance, and sanitation of such equipment. PPE should be reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions, have the proper fit, and must not unduly interfere with the movements of the wearer. It also should be durable and easily cleanable. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that all PPE is kept clean and in good repair.
Head and Foot Protection
SSF generally involves the storage, receipt, transport and handling of plywood and solid surface sheets, necessitating head and foot protection, and requiring safe manual lifting techniques for back protection. Hard hats or caps and safety shoes are required for the protection of occupational workers from impact and penetration from falling and flying objects, from limited electric shock and burn, and from being crushed by falling objects. This PPE has to meet the requirements and specifications established by OSHA.
Eye and Face Protection
Employees using hand and power tools are exposed to the hazard of flying and abrasive objects. Employers must provide a type of protector suitable for the work to be performed, which provides adequate protection against these hazards. This may include safety glasses, or full or partial face shields. OSHA has specific requirements regarding rules for usage and fitting of equipment for employees who use corrective lenses in spectacles.