Chain of Thought

Make Safety Training Magnetic—and Stick to It

Material handlers see their fair share of carnage on the job. Injuries from improper operation of lift trucks are among the most common safety issues. Go to OSHA's web site and you'll find hundreds of press releases detailing the consequences of employers and employees failing to take powered industrial truck safety seriously.

You'll also find some interesting stats. According to OSHA, more than 145,000 people work in about 7,000 warehouses. Talk about carnage, the fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries. In addition to the unsafe use of lift trucks, OSHA identifies the following as the most common warehousing hazards:

• Improper stacking of products;

• Failure to use proper personal protective equipment;

• Failure to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures;

• Inadequate fire safety provisions; and

• Repetitive motion injuries.

So when you hear about any company that goes without injuries for an extended period of time it's cause for celebration. That's just what Eriez Manufacturing Co. did recently when it announced that as of May 19, 2011, the headquarters of this manufacturer of magnetic, vibratory and inspection equipment had gone 1,000 days without a lost time injury.

The Eriez plant's previous record for days worked without a lost time accident was 259, so going a thousand days was quite an achievement for them. The company's president and CEO, Tim Shuttleworth attributed this success to increased employee awareness. “We have made a number of changes to better integrate safety into every aspect of our day-to-day operations,” he said.

The company is so proud of this achievement it threw a party at its Erie, Penn., headquarters and invited the media to attend. Although I couldn't make it there, I wanted to share their news with you—along with an observation.

In their media announcement, Mr. Shuttleworth said his company also takes customer safety seriously, and wants to make sure injuries from magnets don't happen.

“To avoid magnet injuries, customers must make sure their employees know the risks involved with each piece of magnetic equipment and have a basic understanding of how magnets work,” he explained. “Moreover, they should develop and enforce proper procedures for working around them.”

I went to the OSHA site to see how many citations there were involving injuries from magnets, but I couldn't find any. So I e-mailed Tina Myers, process/safety manager at Eriez and asked her: How common are injuries from working around magnets and what is their nature?

She acknowledged that although magnets are not a common hazard in most manufacturing environments, the injury that is most common from handling strong magnets is entrapment. That's when any body part of an employee becomes trapped between a magnet and another magnet or a magnet and a ferrous object. Entrapment of the hands and fingers is the most common injury associated with these kinds of magnets.

The fact that accidents involving magnets aren't that common might make you think less of the Eriez announcement about its safety success, but there's more to tell. I also asked Myers if their safety record included other material handling devices such as lift trucks—the masters of occupational disasters. Here's what she said:

“Due to the size of some of the equipment we manufacture here at Eriez, it is critical to use material handling devices. There are six forklifts at the headquarters manufacturing facility, multiple jib cranes, one bridge crane and a variety of stainless steel carts. It can be challenging using some types of material handling devices when dealing with charged magnets as they are ferrous.”

NOW I'm impressed. The fact that I couldn't find one OSHA press release about some poor lift truck operator trying to get himself unstuck from a huge overhead magnetic hoist tells me that the buyers and sellers of material handling magnets are doing a great job on safety education.

That would make for an educational and entertaining Youtube video, though.

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