Thursday, August 10, 2006

Look Before You Leap

In the world of safety terminology the direct cause of an incident is the energy released or hazardous material that caused the injury. An indirect cause is the unsafe act or condition that leads to the direct cause. When examining statistics for on-the-job injuries it will astound you how many times an indirect cause of the incident is not being able to see where you put your hands.

When you are at a busy intersection and about to cross the street, do you look both ways to make sure the traffic is stopped? How about a railroad crossing with no warning lights or barricades? Do you look to see if a train is coming? You wouldn’t drive down a curvy country road at night with no lights and your eyes closed. Why would you ever put such an important part of your body as your hands where you can’t see what will happen to them?

One of the biggest violators of this simple rule is electricians. The hazard is worsened by the electricians who do not use proper personal protective equipment such as electrically insulated gloves rated and tested for the voltages you may encounter. Reaching behind a wire and encountering a simple sliver of metal embedded in the wire can cause just enough electrical shock to fibrillate the heart if not an electrocution.

Another direct cause derived from lack of vision where you place your hands is spider or insect bites. Many times a mechanic might reach through a conveyor or other machine mounted above a pit in the floor. That pit, if not examined often or maintained, is a perfect harborage for poisonous spiders.

Let’s examine another situation often encountered by electricians. Cable trays are a very economical method to carry electrical cables between main power distribution points and motor control centers in various facilities such as paper and plastic manufacturing plants. Many times electricians reach into the tray to move a cable or examine a cable. They may be trying to move cables to make room for new cables. In this case the indirect cause, not seeing where you put your hands, causes an electrical shock to become an indirect cause. Often the shock does not have a chance to become the direct cause before the shock causes the electrician to fall and the impact on the floor becomes the direct cause.

Examine each situation carefully. Sometimes special tools can do the job and risk the hazard for you or provide the vision you need. Isolating the hazard means using proper lock, tag, and try procedures in most situations. In other cases your employer may provide a grasping tool to take the risk or mirrors to help provide the vision you need. Always use tools approved by your employer and make sure you use them properly. Is there a risk the tool will be grabbed by the machine and you still risk bodily injury? Did you check your personal protective equipment for integrity? Always examine the job carefully and make sure you can see the possibility for all the hazards before you risk bodily injury or even death. Following this simple rule will help you take home everything you intended to take home when you arrived at work.