Shop (Floor) Talk

July 1, 2009
Not all measures to improve shop floor safety are expensive. Common-sense actions can go a long way.

Available are scores of manuals, programs, instructional aids, videos, signs and other aids to keep workers in tune with most current regulations aimed at keeping them safe. Good practices lead to good results. Not being in compliance during the course of an inspection by OSHA can result in everything from recognition of a minor violation that may be immediately resolved to a willful violation that can entail serious monetary penalties.

In looking at the safety issues associated with manual material handling, Sandy Smith, editor of EHS Today, characterizes the risks in three broad categories. EHS Today, the magazine for environment, health and safety (formerly known as Occupational Hazards), is an authoritative source of trends, management strategies, regulatory news and new products aimed at providing safe and healthy work sites.

One group of risks, according to Smith, involves manual material handling: carrying boxes, lifting crates, pushing, pulling and so forth. Activities of that sort are related to stress and strain injuries and sometimes traumatic injuries. “For a brief time,” she explains, “OSHA had an ergonomics standard that addressed some of those issues. But that was overturned with the Bush administration, and there has not been anything new added to the books. However, there has been some talk that OSHA might once again examine ergonomics.”

The OSHA standard referred to the amount of weight a person could lift and types of repetitive exposures. If a worker was lifting a box 100 times a day, for example, it examined those types of issues. “I think smart businesses follow the old OSHA rules. Those kinds of muscular and skeletal injuries can be incredibly expensive,” notes Smith. There are about 350,000 over-exertion injuries each year, with some two-thirds or more of those associated with lifting.

Smith recalls that Liberty Mutual Insurance conducts a great deal of research on lifting and slip-and-fall injuries — which also is a concern in many facilities — and estimates the cost of over-exertion injuries to businesses is about $13 to $14 billion a year. Costs include medical care, workers' compensation payments, insurance and re-training of an injured or new worker.

In looking at reasons some companies may hold back from taking measures to reduce risks to workers, Smith says they may think solutions will be expensive. “In many cases,” she claims, “actions may not even have a cost associated with them. It might be the difference between having employees lift boxes weighing 40 pounds versus those weighing 70 pounds. That sort of move may save some $100,000 in injury costs.”

Smith sees another risk involving industrial trucks. “Many times,” she says, “if a lift truck overturns or goes off of a loading dock — that happens a lot more than you may imagine — the operator may be seriously injured or killed.”

Many manufacturers are working to improve lift truck safety, and Smith says Toyota Material Handling USA is doing an excellent job. For example, the manufacturer's 8-Series lift truck offers a system of active stability (SAS), which uses sensors to note various factors that lead to lateral instability and potential overturn, she notes. When those conditions are detected, SAS instantly engages the truck's swing lock cylinder to stabilize the rear axle, substantially reducing the likelihood of an overturn.

Ergonomics are of concern to Toyota, as well. The 8-Series incorporates such operator comfort attributes as hydrostatic power steering, low wide entry step, a non-cinching seat belt and a four-way, adjustable, vinyl, full-suspension seat.

The other risk area Smith notes are slips and falls or other matters that have to do with housekeeping. OSHA has a number of regulations that relate directly to reducing injuries due to slips and falls. They are fairly straightforward and require common-sense practices.

Here, for example, are three such regulations: First, “keep floors clean and dry [29 CFR 1910.22(a)(2)]. In addition to being a slip hazard, continually wet surfaces promote the growth of mold, fungi and bacteria that can cause infections.” Second, “where wet processes are used, maintain drainage and provide false floors, platforms, mats or other dry standing places where practicable, or provide appropriate waterproof footgear [29 CFR 1910.141(a)(3)(ii)].” Third, “keep aisles and passageways clear and in good repair, with no obstructions across or in aisles that could create a hazard [29 CFR 1910.22(b)(1)]. Provide floor plugs for equipment, so power cords need not run across pathways.”

With a new administration in Washington, there may be some regulatory changes, says Smith. “To a certain extent, it doesn't really matter whether an administration is Republican or Democrat,” she notes. “OSHA still functions, goes out and does inspections and still issues citations.”

Smith feels during the past eight years there was not much emphasis on new regulations, and that has already started to change. “The first regulatory agenda for the new administration has come out, and there are a lot of things in it that were put on the back burner during the Bush Administration,” she says. They are covered in the Federal Register for May 11, 2009, Part X.

If a company needs assistance in developing a shop floor safety program, Smith notes there are training companies and those that can individualize training for a particular facility. “If, for instance, lift truck safety is an issue, they may tailor a lift truck safety training program. There are a number of really good consultants who analyze work places and come up with good ergonomics solutions.”

Not About Lifting Alone

While it's taking a closer look at issues involved with manual material handling, that is hardly the only matter being examined by OSHA. Here are two other areas to which the government has been paying close attention of late.

  • Under its ongoing National Emphasis Program to reduce employees' exposure to combustible dust hazards, the agency has increased its visits to companies where employees may be exposed to such hazards. As this article was written, nationally, there had been 3,662 violations identified in the course of 813 inspections.

    Industries drawing the most attention under the program are agriculture, chemical, textile, forest products, furniture products, wastewater treatment, metal processing, paper processing, pharmaceutical and metal, paper and plastic recycling.

    For more on the hazards of combustible dust, see MHM's July 2008 feature, “Deadly Dust” (p.20). In that article, we predicted that OSHA would strengthen its combustible dust regulations.

  • In May, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis drew together a panel to draft a proposed ruling on occupational exposure to diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl under the aegis of OSHA. Called the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, in addition to OSHA, the panel was made up of the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy and the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The Secretary explained, “I am alarmed that workers exposed to food flavorings containing diacetyl may continue to be at risk of developing a potentially fatal lung disease. Exposure to this harmful chemical already has been linked to the deaths of at least three workers. These deaths are preventable, and it is imperative that the Labor Department move quickly to address these hazards.”

Who Is OSHA?

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA's role is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach and education. For more information, visit


Here's a quick look at some resources available for those looking for help in improving workplace safety.

  • Lean Ergonomics

    Involved in lean manufacturing? Humantech Inc. is a full-service human performance consulting firm specializing in workplace ergonomics. Since 1979, it has focused on improving the performance, safety and well being of workers. Major areas of service include management systems, workplace ergonomics assessments, engineering and design and ergonomics training.

    The company's ergonomics experts have been part of a number of improvement initiatives in lean manufacturing, including Kaizen continuous improvement. It has been instrumental in work for major manufacturers in a variety of industries in ergonomics risk reduction, reducing lost time due to accidents, lowering recordable injuries and incidents and reducing workers' compensation claims.

  • Preventing Slips and Falls

    Inventor of the Original Pig Absorbent Sock for leak and spill control in the workplace, New Pig Corp. offers a large selection of contained absorbents: absorbent mats, socks, booms, pillows and pans. It also has products for material handling, personal protection, spill response, liquid filtration, maintenance, industrial wipers and workplace safety.

    New Pig is a multi-channel, multi-brand supplier of products designed specifically for leak and spill management, industrial safety and plant maintenance. It serves more than 200,000 customers in 70 countries.

  • Multimedia Training

    Videos, DVDs, posters, handbooks and much more are available from Summit Training Source. Its most recent training program, “Manual Material Handling Safety,” covers safer lifting, hand trucks, manual pallet jacks and material stacking. The program teaches proper techniques of lifting that can reduce back strain, decreasing the risk of injury. It has been filmed on site in multiple settings to present a variety of real-life scenarios.

To meet the needs of a diverse workforce, many Summit programs are available in foreign languages. They are fully translated, with graphics and audio in the requested language. Custom language translations are also possible. A number of Summit programs are in closed-captioned format, and more are being reformatted all the time.

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