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The Art and Science of Safety

December 1, 1997

13 Min Read
The Art and Science of Safety

Dana Leisten

Whether you manage a landfill, a materials recovery facility or a collection company, safety should be an integral and natural part of your operations. However, there can be a treacherous gulf between what you are willing (and able) to spend and what you must, in order to properly execute safety objectives and meet federal and state requirements.

Oftentimes, "companies want a safety program not to cost anything in terms of money or time," says Mark Lundegren, director of risk management for Go Pro Underwriting Managers Inc., Richmond, Va.

Understandably, businesses want to keep operations going. Thus, it falls to the safety manager to be both realistic and creative as he or she develops and implements an effective, cost-efficient safety program. "Safety is an art as much as a science," Lundegren explains.

If you must adhere to tight budgets, but still want to run a safe operation, Lundegren suggests the following approach: Review past losses to determine your most dangerous exposures. Next, target those exposures by developing tactics - the simpler the better- to predict and evade these hazards.

For example, encourage employees to think about and discuss safety issues by scheduling monthly safety forums. Then, regularly reinforce the ideas generated at these forums with employees, both individually and as a group.

Safety solutions can be as easy as good housekeeping, Lundegren says, or they may require more intrusive management techniques. For waste haulers, particularly, he suggests using hands-on or video-taped safety training, followed by incentive programs and, when necessary, disciplinary action.

SAFE ON THE ROAD "The biggest causes of loss for non-hazardous waste haulers are automobile-related," says Lundegren. And, with those losses comes a double-edged sword: responsibility for employee injury and liability for the damage done by the truck.

However, any number of measures may be implemented to alleviate the emotional and financial pressures caused by preventable accidents. For example, Superior Services, West Allis, Wis., uses a variety of tools to ensure its employees are aware of safety issues and their potential negative effects.

Remember, "safety is a process," says Pete Mattern, Superior's director of safety and risk management. "Application is one cornerstone, but owning the process - not the program - by all levels of employees is another."

Using a long-term approach, Mattern focuses his safety training/coaching on two key issues: anticipation and attentiveness. "Anticipation is a key factor in loss prevention," he says. "The employees should anticipate the risk in front of them and, then, pay attention to their surroundings - whether they're driving a garbage truck or doing any other type of work."

There are some general collection concerns that can be particular to route type, Mattern says. For example, on residential routes, attention must be paid to the way employees pick up garbage bags, cans and carts, and dump them into the truck.

"That's a repetitive motion that these guys constantly do all day," he explains. His solution? "We give [our workers] basic instruction regarding body mechanics and how to correctly lift."

For example, try promoting the "pivot don't twist" message, Mattern says, and already you've added an inexpensive, useful step to your safety plan.

Commercial routes are rife with safety exposures as well, Mattern says. "These guys continually push and pull on containers to place them correctly against the truck for tipping," he explains. "And, when ice hits the ground, [the company] really starts seeing problems. Now, not only do we have repetitive motion issues, but we also have slipping."

Since the refuse industry is relatively uncomplicated, Mattern contends that some of the more simplistic safety equipment can improve safe operations, especially for those operating on a tight budget. For example, treat your collectors to a footwear allowance so they can purchase lace-up, high-top boots, which will cut down on twisted ankles.

Also, a strong pair of gloves will reduce cuts and scrapes. Further, use of reflective clothes will make workers more visible on the roadways, especially at night or early morning when drivers' eyesight may be strained.

Likewise, constantly stressing safety awareness with frequent verbal and written communications is key, he says. "We produce a publication called SafeTalk, which in conjunction with a consultant, is developed monthly and sometimes bimonthly."

Here's how it works: Employees receive a one to one-and-a-half page safety coaching sheet. The team leader (who may be a supervisor, general manager or operations manager) receives a slightly different copy with some "for-your-meeting" suggestions. A meeting is called, and the sheet's contents, which describe one particular hazard that employees face on the job, is discussed, debated and, hopefully, remembered.

It's important to keep the info (and the meetings) centered on one point, Mattern stresses. "We also use this product to generate two-way communication, instead of lecturing. By requiring feedback, you get the employees thinking and, who knows the job best, but [them]."

Finally, "recognize your employees frequently," he advises. "I like to see companies use small rewards often for employees who work safely. It builds a strong culture."

ROPIN' THE WIND A relatively new safety incentive that Superior, as well as some of the larger waste companies (see World Wastes, May 1997, pg. 43), employ is a Safe Operators Rodeo.

For its second annual event last September, Superior catered to more than 1,200 people, including competitors, their families and guests at the company's Glacier Ridge Landfill in Horicon, Wis. The rodeo:

* recognized the company's safe performers for completing one year of incident-free service;

* positively impacted the company's bottom line by reducing incidents and associated costs; and

* generated safe operating cost savings, allowing the company to spend its money on activities that benefit its employees and the communities in which they live and conduct business.

"This was a competition for any employee that we consider to be in a safety-sensitive position, such as drivers, mechanics and equipment - including landfill compactors, dozers, loaders, skid steerers and forklift - operators," Mattern explains.

More than 200 employees - up from 76 participants in 1996 - competed for approximately $94,000, Mattern says. There were 11 competition categories with cash prizes: $3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place in each category.

The competition consisted of a written test and a day-long, rodeo-style skills test. The skills tests included: rearload; recycle; rolloff; Class A tanker; strait tanker and front load truck driving competitions; the heavy equipment and forklift/ skid steerer operators and mechanics competitions.

The company also invited families to participate in the day's activities. "We had amusements, such as blow-up slides, petting zoos and a clown that roamed the grounds, for children of all ages," Mattern says.

In addition to the rodeo, Superior conducted a competitors' dinner the previous night. "We invited the competitors and their families down to Glacier Ridge, and threw them a dinner right at the landfill site," Mattern says. "A local caterer cooked a big spread, and we had entertainment for everybody that evening." There were approximately 600 people at that event.

MRFING SAFELY "No doubt about it. The greatest hazard facing a solid waste worker is materials handling," Mattern proclaims. "Time and again, [this exposure] always will be with us."

Though a true statement now, material recovery facility (MRF) operators likely can expect some relief in the near future due to a new, ground-breaking standard, Z245.41, that recently has won approval from the American National Standards Institute, New York City.

"It is the closest thing we've ever done to a comprehensive safety program for any of our facilities," says Jack Legler, executive vice president for Washington, D.C.-based Waste Equipment Technologies Association (Wastech).

Wastec, which is an arm of the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C., sponsors safety standards development jointly with the Solid Waste Association of North America, Silver Spring, Md., and the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Scrap Iron And Steel.

"[The standard] will be our model should the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Washington, D.C.) go ahead with a mandatory comprehensive safety requirement as California and Minnesota currently have," he says.

According to Legler, the Z245.41 standard for commingled MRFs will apply to all new facilities and existing facilities' training sections 18 months from its approval date - October 14, 1997 - and to all MRFs starting five years from that time.

The standard is long and covers everything, explains Legler, especially in regard to system and machine integration's. "Basically, you're taking lots of different technologies from lots of different providers and [asking] the system's designer [to plug them all together]," Legler says. Thus, "the standard's main objective is to [guide operators through] these integrated operations - and that gets into many subjects."

The most significant points that are not included in the new standard are site safety (which concerns the actual lot and the roads leading into it) and aerosol can recycling.

Legler says that he has been unable to get enough input from the industry, in terms of time and interest, on these topics, but has reserved both for future development. "These [issues] will be dealt with as supplemental standards at a later time - hopefully within the next couple of years," he says.

In addition to Z245.41, two other standards - from the original Z245 series (see World Wastes, February 1997, pg. 39) - were approved for revisions: the Z245.2 standard on stationary compactors and the Z245.5 on balers.

Now, comes the challenge, Legler admits, since the standard is "a bit leading." However, he reasons that the document is the result of the industry's best and brightest putting their heads together - "and that's the way it ought to be," he says.

A recycle driver pulled alongside the curb: autumn leaves had been falling, and residents had raked them into piles by the curb for pick-up by the city.

The driver could have pulled his truck through the leaves to make his job easier - less steps with a heavy load. He though better of it, though, and stopped his vehicle just in front of the leaf pile.

When he exited his truck, he got a big shock: The leaf pile started moving as a little boy stuck his head out!

Driving through the leaf pile would have certainly severely injured the boy, or worse. How fortunate the little boy, his family and Superior Services Inc., West Allis, Wis., were that the driver had the foresight not to pull into the pile.

Excerpt from Safetalk, a printed safety tool used by Superior Services to advise its employees on safety.

What's the best reason to start a landfill safety program? Humans do not respond well to encounters with compactors, dozers and heavy trucks.

In addition to reducing pain, a solid safety plan will help you keep in regulatory compliance and salvage your bottom line by reducing workers comp premiums and liability claims, downtime and exposure to litigation.

In general, landfill site users want to get in and out of the area as quickly as possible, and if not controlled, serious accidents can occur. Remember, the landfill has an ever-changing landscape and a complex traffic situation. Thus, garbage trucks and landfill equipment should have a strict set of operational guidelines to keep them from interfering with human movement.

Another reason? It's the law. Both at the federal and state level, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., rules and regulations must be followed. Federal regulations require frequent and regular safety inspections of job sites' materials, equipment and training. Be prepared: OSHA pays particular attention to first aid; fire protection; proper lighting; personal protection equipment (such as hard hats, ear plugs and goggles); equipment function; and proper hazwastes handling.

Include the following when developing a landfill safety plan:

* site-specific accident prevention procedures;

* methods to limit exposure to disease and pollutants;

* regular equipment and operations inspections;

* list of safety rules for operations of site equipment;

* personal protective equipment;

* emergency notification procedures; and

* confined space entry procedures.

It also should identify each employee's responsibility and schedule a regular review of health and safety items. Use the plan to underpin safety discussions with site users: It's imperative that all landfills exude a positive attitude toward health and safety.

Try using a formal training package such as Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America's (SWANA) Health and Safety Training Package. In addition to the overview, the package includes five lesson components:

1. What employees should know details types of injuries that employees and site users most frequently confront, situations to expect, teamwork, the importance of accident reporting, recognizing unsafe conditions and practices and surroundings awareness.

2. General landfill health and safety issues discusses landfill traffic and equipment, adverse weather conditions, personal protective equipment, and the dangers of landfill gas, leachate, disease vectors and hazardous materials.

3. Landfill health and safety issues related to specific work areas outlines various areas such as the scale house, the working face, shop areas, traffic and unloading areas, waste screening pads, landfill gas and leachate control and processing facilities and special waste handling areas.

4. OSHA and federal regulation issues defines confined space entry procedures, blood-borne pathogen issues (such as AIDS and Hepatitis B), personal protective equipment needs, hazard communication standards, asbestos management and landfill gas management.

5. Loss control highlights how to prevent material and monetary loss.

The training manual is being used as a basis for a SWANA training course and also is available to purchase. For more information, contact Michael Hechter, P.O. Box 7219, Silver Spring, Md. 20907-7219. (301) 585-2898, ext. 239.

While most technicians "know" how to use tools and shop equipment properly, you can never stress safety enough. Try posting some of the following suggestions from the Hand Tool Institute.

* Always follow manufacturers' instructions on the tool/equipment/package.

* Use the right tool for the job. Most jobs can be done best with general tools, but sometimes special instruments are needed.

* Protect eyes from flying pieces/parts by wearing eye protection.

* Service tools regularly; they'll last longer and be safer.

* Never use hand sockets/attachments on electric/air powered driving tools.

* When possible, always pull rather than push a wrench handle and adjust your stance to prevent falling.

* Remember, ordinary plastic-dipped handles are designed for comfort, not electrical insulation.

* Never use a pipe extension or other form of "cheater" to increase he leverage of any wrench. Adjustable wrenches should be tightly adjusted to the nut and pulled so that the force is on the fixed jaw's side.

* Never use a pipe wrench to bend, raise or lift a pipe.

* Don't use pliers to cut hardened wires unless it is manufactured for that purpose. Always cut at right angles; don't rock from side to side when cutting.

* Metal-cutting chisels are intended for cutting, shaping and removing metal softer than the cutting edge itself. The hammer's striking face should have a diameter approximately 3/8 inches larger than the struck face of the punch or chisel.

* Ratchet mechanisms should be cleaned and lubricated periodically with light grade oil.

* Do not heat pullers' jaws when heating bearings or gears, as heating can change their temper. Puller forcing screws should be kept clean and lubricated with medium-grade oil. However, pullers should not be kept clean and lubricated with medium-grade oil. Pullers should not be cocked at an angle when in use. When using slide hammer pullers, be sure hands are well away from hammer on the back end of the slide rod.

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