When news such as this most recent E. coli outbreak striking romaine lettuce hits the industry and the food chain, it is cause for concern and action. Safeguards get challenged, systems audited, processes analyzed, and conventional wisdom is questioned. There can be no areas off-limits, no “sacred cows” that avoid scrutiny. Everything must be assessed to ensure we protect the security of the consumers and all the elements of the world’s most complex and efficient system feeding Americans and people worldwide.
Getting employees to follow the rules, even rules that keep them safe, is difficult. For some segments of the population this seems impossible. Everyone knows, for example, that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, and against the law in most states. But a large percentage of the population continue to talk on a handheld phone while driving anyway. This is even more true of texting and driving. And accidents and deaths continue.
When challenging and important manufacturing tasks get tackled, risks abound. Materials choices, volatile material handling methods, confined space working areas, complex machinery, and many more factors and conditions apply pressure to safe and efficient work. We can take lessons from past events and near-misses and remind ourselves to study our practices to ensure that corners are not cut and best practices are employed to assure workplace safety.
This month, Optimation surpassed two years without a lost time incident. In our line of work providing engineering, design and build solutions for industrial and manufacturing companies, this is a difficult feat. But it's not an unattainable one. It takes planning and training, employee dedication, and a culture of safety to make milestones like these possible. This means an investment of time and money for companies who are serious about working safely. But the cost of not working safely can be very high.
Machine guarding is often thought of as something associated with industry and manufacturing plants. It is true that the potential for hazards from machines is greater in those settings. But even in our homes we often have machines where safety guards have become common. Our garage doors have sensors so that if anything cuts the plane of the door the opener will reverse the action and open the door. Riding lawnmowers have seat interlocks to shut down the engine when we get off the mower. Table saws have sensors to shut the blade off quickly if it comes in contact with a finger. And even kitchen appliances like a food processor have interlocks to keep clumsy home operators from cutting their fingers.
Say you are a manufacturer with an aging production infrastructure, faced with the opportunity to sell more of your goods (if only you could up your output from your existing equipment). As you begin your investigation into your options to increase your volumes, and consider the possibility of a capital investment, you may then be faced with the need to deal with parts of your existing system which may have to be brought up to current code. The modifications you may desire for your current machinery, which will enable the integration of new equipment to give you the added production you are seeking, are also now mandating certain regulated updates (this can happen to electrical components and wiring, and can also drive necessary improvements to guarding for operator safety).
A couple of buzz words in today’s industrial vocabulary are Arc Flash and NFPA 70E.
Arc Flash is a type of electrical explosion or discharge that results from a low-impedance connection through air to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system. In layman’s terms, it’s an explosion of light and heat that contains electrical energy that can cause substantial damage, harm, fire, injury and financial loss. (It is something that you want to prevent from occurring in your facility!)
Many companies employ systems of interconnected piping, pumps, accumulators, filters, heat exchangers, etc. and associated control systems to produce a specific set of conditions or products in a manufacturing or production process. Optimation specializes in this space, delivering such systems on skids or in pods for food, chemical, industrial coatings, or other products. Often these systems are designed and engineered to yield an environment for controlling processes using gases such as nitrogen or argon, etc. This requires use of specific technologies and materials, combined in such a way that they not only deliver the right pressures and volumes, but also employ the proper materials, fittings, piping, and valves. We also must consider the safety features that accompany such conditions in the presence of electricity which introduces a whole other set of risks.
Last week we made a milestone at Optimation. We reached 400 days and over 500,000 hours without a lost time accident. It was a time to celebrate, a time to look back and be proud of what we have done and a time to look ahead on how we can up our game and work toward the million-hour mark (which we did reach once before in the last decade). Milestones like this are not reached by chance. It takes training, planning, attention to detail, coaching and teamwork.