Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Can you contain your energy?


December 2, 2008
By Alyssa Dalton


Topics

By Bill Valedis…

Every
day, workers are exposed to a variety of hazards from equipment,
industrial machines and processes. Although each worker is responsible
to ensure that safety procedures are followed at all times, companies
are obligated to ensure energy control procedures are in place and in
compliance to applicable standards.

Companies are responsible
for the development of procedures to ensure zero energy state, and
prevent inadvertent start-up of equipment, machines or process to
protect workers. Every company using equipment, industrial machines and
processes that could potentially expose workers to hazards, should have
an energy control policy or similar plan in place that describes all
safety procedures for each job function. This policy must be made
available to new workers during orientation, and must explain all
safety procedure types, including when and how to use them. The policy
should describe all company-worker requirements and include the
frequency of worker retraining or skills demonstration.

Depending
on the type of manufacturing environment, the energy control policy may
need to describe methods of energy control that go far beyond the
traditional lockout method, keeping in mind that lockout is not the
only method of energy control. When special circumstances exist, other
methods can be used in accordance with CSAís Z460 standard, making
matters more complicated for energy control policy developers.

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In
spite of all the efforts made by companies to implement energy control
programs, we continue to hear about workplace accidents regularly,
begging the question why?  In my opinion, there is a great deal of
misunderstanding when it comes to energy control policies. Workers
donít understand the difference between energy control policy, a safety
device and a safety procedure. Recently, a worker was arguing with me
during class. Why do we need safety procedures when safety switches are
installed to protect us? Safety protection devices and the steps on how
to perform a task safely are two different things.

Yes, we
need safety protection devices to ensure energy is interrupted under
certain operating conditions, but hazards are all around workers when
multiple energy sources are present. The only way to ensure a task is
performed safely is to follow the steps outlined in a safety procedure
after all risks have been assessed.  

In my opinion, the most
common causes of work-related accidents are: human error, outdated
safety procedures and/or lack of training, and improper risk
assessments.

• Human Error: Some workers continue to believe
that just because they have performed a task several times, they have
memorized the steps, and are convinced they could perform the task
safely every time. This is definitely a fallacy, and the cause of
numerous workplace injuries. During one of my classes, I had an
individual tell me that “if I canít perform this task without the piece
of paper, then I should not be called a tradesman, and definitely
should not be here doing what Iím doing.” I was very sympathetic with
the individual and knew where he was coming from; still, I stressed
once again, the reason for writing procedures is so that we read them
every time we perform a task, to ensure the task is performed
consistently, without forgetting a step in order to minimize risks. By
not following written procedures, we accept higher risk, which may lead
to worker injury.
• Outdated Safety Procedures: Safety procedures
must be maintained and current at all times.  Safety procedures should
be reviewed when equipment, machines or process modifications are made,
because workers rely on them to gain safe access to equipment, machines
or processes. Making modifications on interlocks, operation and/or
safety devices, demands a complete review of all relevant safety
procedures and a PSR to be conducted, to ensure risk assessment is
complete and all energy sources are isolated or controlled. It is also
very important to train and/or re-train workers on how to use safety
procedures. It is wise to involve workers from different departments
during the assessment, escalating the importance of safety, creating
meaningful dialogue and raising the awareness level.     
• Improper
Risk Assessments: Safety procedures in general must be developed by
qualified people, and must always be based on the results of a risk
assessment. Conducting a risk assessment plays a key role in any safety
procedure implementation in that it identifies all energy sources,
hazards and equipment/process interactions or interlocks that may cause
inadvertent start-up of equipment. The result of a risk assessment
identifies all hazards and the steps required to eliminate them, which
may include “specific controlled actions” by the worker. I witnessed
one situation where the worker performed a task inside the hazardous
envelope, without a written procedure and all energy sources present.
Someone had told the worker it was okay to do this on the machine, when
no one was looking. I believe you can figure out on your own how much
risk the worker accepts by performing a task inside a hazardous
envelope, without a written safety procedure.

An energy
control policy should be the most critical element driving any safety
program. It is like a business strategy plan; deserving much greater
attention from both employers and workers. 

Bill Valedis is the president of Imperial Automation Technologies Inc. He can be reached at bvaledis@precisionservices.ca.