Are you a believer? It’s not too late!

No, this is not a sermon. Well, perhaps it is….

It’s amazing to me that many facility managers and maintenance supervisors still think they don’t need to worry about workplace safety. You might be one of those who says, “Arc flash won’t happen to me,” or “There’s little chance of something happening in our facility.”

Tell that to the electrical technician at Republic Steel in Blasdell, New York who suffered third degree burns on her hand and first degree burns on her face while working on a fan motor in October 2014. It seems her employer failed to ensure that she use personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate to the task. In this case, the employee was wearing leather gloves and safety glasses, but they did little to protect her from the arc flash that resulted when an ungrounded electrical conductor touched a grounded surface.

The result? In addition to the employee’s serious injuries, the employer is being fined nearly $150,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That’s $70,000 for failure to wear hand protection, plus $70,000 for failure to wear face protection, plus another $7,000 for failure to protect employees against contact with energized electrical equipment. This was Republic’s second similar citation for incidents occurring in 2014, the first of which occurred at its Lorain, Ohio facility.

Of course, it’s terribly unfortunate that many employers seem to think they are immune from these risks, and it often takes an incident like this one to make them realize they are. At least no one died in this case. But, I am absolutely amazed that this company had been cited for similar violations (and fined in excess of $2.4 million for a wide variety of workplace safety violations) and had not taken corrective action to prevent such an incident.

OSHA is very clear about the fact that every employer has a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that their employees are properly trained in the use of, equipped with, and actually uses, personal protective equipment to protect from arc flash and other hazards. In this case, that equipment should have included a face shield and rubber insulating gloves. Pretty simple, but some people just don’t seem to get it.

Besides the use of proper protective equipment, OSHA recommended – among other things – that Republic Steel conduct an arc flash analysis and follow the practices found in NFPA 70E. The problem is that many employers think such steps are cost-prohibitive. On the contrary, I would argue that a fine of $150,000, plus the expense of treating a seriously injured employee, plus the possible lawsuits that could result, are more cost-prohibitive.

Other employers may simply not know how to deal with these kinds of hazards. They are intimidated at the prospect of dealing with these issues, or they think ignoring safety hazards will somehow make them magically disappear. To be blunt, that’s just stupid.

Instead, we urge facility managers to deal with these issues head on and make the relatively small investment in a comprehensive safety study – including not only arc flash analysis, but an overall workplace safety review.

That’s where Mitchell & Lindsey comes in – we are experts in workplace safety, and we’re here to help. Stop ignoring the risks and deal with them before it’s too late! Call me (Mark Mitchell) 502-682-8491 for a free consultation.

Read the OSHA citation. Read the OSHA news release.

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