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 and morale, which leads to higher productivity and reduced turnover. A successful safety program is also your legal obligation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. But what exactly does OSHA say you need to do and where do you start?
First and foremost, OSHA requires that employers identify all potential hazards at work sites. Once the hazards are determined, the employer must take preventive measures. Many injury risk factors are present in the surfacing industry. These include chemical and/or dust exposure, manual lifting, working in awkward postures, use of hand tools and machinery, and exposure to vibration, heat and sharp edges. In addition to ensuring basic compliance with electrical and fire codes, you are likely to need a Hazard Communication program, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Ergonomics Training, Machine and Tool Safety programs and a Lockout/Tagout program for equipment maintenance. The table, "Required Safety Measures" shows a summary of your obligations as an employer. You may require more or fewer safety programs, depending on what you actually do at your shop.
Hazard Communication (Right-To-Know)
Hazard Communication violations are one of OSHA's most frequent citations across all industries. The primary chemicals used in surface fabrication are denatured alcohol and adhesives, along with some caulk and sealers or polishes. These chemicals and others, as well as any housekeeping or yard maintenance chemicals, must be included in your Hazard Communication program and associated training. You must determine safe handling and storage procedures, provide proper PPE, and make available showers and eye wash stations when harmful chemicals may be splashed on parts of the body. You must have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on-site for each chemical in your workplace and you must have a comprehensive training program for all employees with exposure. If you have more than 10 employees, your Hazard Communication Program must be in writing.
Your Hazard Communication Program must include silica if you cut, sand, polish or similarly process granite or other stone containing silica at your facility. You must take measures to reduce exposure to silica dust as much as possible. Using water-fed tools or finding other ways to supply water at the point of operation to suppress dust is one common control method. Local exhaust ventilation systems can also be used to reduce exposure levels in the area where the dust or silica containing mist is generated. If you cannot reduce silica exposure to permissible levels, a complete respirator program must be put in place. This respirator program must include proper selection, fit-testing, cleaning and maintenance, supervision, training and written procedures. OSHA has recently issued a new respirator standard and now is a good time to review your respirator program or your need for one.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Employers must provide and ensure that employees wear PPE when necessary. PPE must provide adequate protection for the work to be performed. PPE must be reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions, must have the proper fit and must not unduly interfere with the movements of the wearer. It also must be durable and easily cleanable. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that each employee has the right PPE, and that it is kept clean and in good repair, even when an employee chooses to provide their own.
Head And Foot Protection
Surface fabrication generally involves the storage, receipt, transport and handling of stone or e-stone slabs, plywood and/or solid surface sheets, and therefore requires head and foot protection. Helmets and safety-toe footwear are required for protection from impact and penetration from falling and flying objects, from limited electric shock and burn and from being crushed by falling objects. This PPE must meet the requirements and specifications established by OSHA.
Eye And Face Protection
Employees using hand and power tools to cut, sand, drill and route stone or solid surface materials are exposed to flying and abrasive objects. Safety glasses or full or partial face shields are required for protection from these hazards. OSHA has specific requirements regarding fit and use of such equipment for employees who wear corrective eyeglasses.
Dust reduction should be accomplished first by engineering control measures such as enclosure, ventilation, air cleaners, wet-cutting, vacuum systems and scrubbers. In addition, dust masks, or filtering face pieces, may be needed. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that masks are used properly, and are discarded at the end of their recommended period of use, or after excessive resistance or physical damage. Again, if your employees are exposed to silica dust above permissible levels, respirators are required and you will need a full respirator program.
Various types of gloves can protect hands from lacerations, burns, abrasion, absorption of toxic chemicals or skin irritation, and reduce hazards associated with vibration exposure. Cut edges can be extremely sharp, and there is a need to provide the right gloves and training to prevent lacerations on the freshly cut edges. If thermal forming equipment is used in your operation, the hot surface temperature of solid surface sheets can be 300 to 390 F. Include the heat source and the hot sheet material and all other specific hazards in your written PPE plan. You must select and provide the right gloves for the hazards of each job and train employees on the use of these gloves.