Snow and Ice Removal: The Details Matter

Snow Season Isn’t Over

In the realm of slip and fall prevention, attending to snow and ice control is a given in regions where cold winter temperatures are the norm. At the moment, with spring officially here and warm temperatures in many places, some operators have put snow and ice out of their minds. Yet the season is not fully over; for example, much of the Metro Denver area experienced 3-5 inches of snow this morning and it’s not likely the last snow of the season. I encountered a spot in a parking area this morning that is instructive for those charged with maintaining the safety of parking areas and exterior walkways. Here are two photos of the spot in question. I’ll outline the issues below.

Metal Walkway Plate with Snow and Ice

Metal Walkway Plate with Snow and Ice

Walkway metal plate

Side View Showing Drainage Channel

Why Does This Condition Exist?

First, you’ll notice the strip of snow across the walkway, in a localized spot, surrounded by clear sidewalk. The strip of snow if there because the walkway has a drainage channel across that spot, covered by a steel diamond plate cover. Because the steel cover is exposed to air on the bottom, it freezes much sooner than the regular walkway. This phenomenon is the same as what occurs on highway bridges and overpasses. Takeaway: Have you identified spots of special concern in your walking areas and do you know the factors in play?

What About the Cone?

Next, notice that there is a cone in place. It turns out this was placed there a few hours before the photos above were taken. The maintenance person who placed it there put it in place because the steel cover underneath was slippery due a layer of ice on its surface, under the snow. When the cone was placed, the whole walkway was covered with snow. This cone is beneficial because it helps alert pedestrians to the hazard. It is also not ideal because there are several preventative measures that could have been put in place, perhaps removing the need for a cone. Takeaway: Eliminate or reduce hazards first, then deploy warnings.

Possible Corrective Actions

Here is a round-up of possible preventative measures that could have been employed here:

  • Use a different material for the cover that would not function as a heat sink and be as prone to freezing.
  • Put a textured coating or finish on the cover so it would have better traction when wet or covered in snow.
  • Remove the snow from this cover after any snow accumulation, not just after the trigger level of 2-3 inches that prompts full-scale parking lot snow removal.

There may be other solutions as well, but this should give you a good glimpse of how effective risk control requires specific attention to the real-world details of your situation. The sidewalk and cover in question met building code requirements, which is a good start, but in this case prudent risk control takes more than that.

Auto Repair Shop Carbon Monoxide Control: A False Sense of Security?

Car dealer service department

Large auto repair operations often have vehicles running inside.

That was the reading on the handheld carbon monoxide detector brought along on a follow-up safety consultation visit to the service department of a large automobile dealership. The conditions were typical for the the early part of their service day – several vehicles running at once inside their 20,000 square foot service area, with one of the six large overhead doors fully open to the outside and the others closed. A discussion with the service manager revealed that this was typical in the morning, when cars would be brought in to be checked out and run briefly for diagnosis.

Exposure With Consequences

The spot reading of 400ppm of CO does not tell the whole story related to exposure in the garage. Just a few minutes before, the shop was closed and the reading was effectively zero. And a few minutes later the reading began dropping from the peak. But the 400ppm number was definitely cause for concern. That level is enough to approach short-term exposure issues (see the CDC data on that risk) with exposed workers, and if it is sustained for long it could cause serious issues.

Why Was This Occurring

Even though the facility was equipped with good means of ventilation and a dedicated exhaust removal system, neither of these controls were helping much. The early spring moderate temperatures meant that the ventilation system wasn’t running in the morning, and not one of the running vehicles were hooked up to the exhaust removal system. When asked about this, one of the mechanics said that they will use the system if running a car for a while. When he and others were queried further as to just how long that meant, the answer was far from definite. “More than five minutes.”  “Any extended time.” “Ten minutes or more…” It was clear that this wasn’t well defined, and also was not based on any actual determination of what level was an issue. It was much more about convenience, an informal determination on each technician’s part about if it was worth the trouble of hooking a car or truck up.

Learning from Other Environments

Some of the work I’ve done recently that centers on parking lot and parking garage safety has highlighted the usefulness of carbon monoxide monitoring systems. Though I was focusing on pedestrian safety and vehicle-into-building crashes, many elements of parking safety were looked at to some degree. It became clear that the issue of carbon monoxide in parking structures had been given a lot of attention and had subsequently become the focus of regulatory activity. This set the stage for some great technological options for reduction, monitoring, and exhaust of carbon monoxide that could be applied. In the case of the auto dealership service department, it was monitoring that was a glaring omission from their arrangement.

Industrial Carbon Monoxide Detector

Industrial Carbon Monoxide Detector

Appropriate Detection

A survey of some other auto repair environments showed that some were employing consumer/household style carbon monoxide detectors. The rise of UL standard 2034 and its inclusion in many building codes has led to good availability of simple consumer style detectors. Many more homes are protected today than just a few years ago, but the problem with using a UL2034 detector in a commercial setting such as a garage is that the standard for these residential detectors places a great deal of importance on avoiding false alarms, which means that these detectors are not nearly as sensitive as  most commercial models. The right solution for a garage environment typically requires some analysis by an industrial hygienist, and would include an appropriate advanced detector along with both alerts and possibly automatic activation of  ventilation.

What About Procedures?

Note that the engineered solution is the right place to begin controlling this hazard. The service manager’s suggestion that they begin with a procedural response, including a shorter timeframe to attach the exhaust removal system, and more overhead doors open was not a sufficient solution. The way the shop operated, the longstanding practices employed, and the difficulty in determining action triggers in the existing environment all pointed toward not accepting an administrative-only solution. Naturally, every situation is different, and this case does not indicate that all similar operations should employ the same controls, but it does show that the right factors need to be considered, and any controls employed should have a good expectation of actually being effective!

Parking Lot Safety: It’s Three Dimensional – and More!

park-44333_1280

As I was working on a set of safety management guidance materials for a large chain restaurant operation, I looked at what existing materials they had across their brands and regions. One interesting finding was that when it came to parking lot and parking area safety, is that sometimes only part of the picture was being addressed.

Here’s what I mean. Do a simple web search for “Parking Lot Safety” and see what sort of material comes up. You’ll see that sometimes the emphasis will vary but there are three different dimensions to safety in parking lots, sometimes not all addressed in preventative planning.

parking-lot-684160_1280

Vehicular Safety is one dimension: preventing collisions in parking lots and on the way in and out.

Security is another dimension: Preventing crime and making parking areas less likely spots for criminals to target.

Pedestrian Safety is the third, protecting people as they walk in, through, and around parking areas.

The last one, pedestrian safety, has an additional aspect beyond the traditional idea of the people using the lot directly (hence the “and more” in the title of this article.) That added aspect is the protection of people who may be adjacent to a parking area, either on a walkway, at a building entrance, on a patio, or inside a nearby structure. Vehicle-into building crashes, or storefront crashes are the particular risk in question. Here’s an article from the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks’ “Development” magazine where I was interviewed about this topic. This aspect of parking area safety is receiving more attention all the time and is beginning to become the focus of risk management groups, consensus standards and legislative attention. The question of how to best protect people and property is getting regular media attention as well. This issue certainly qualifies as an emerging one, with new information about the nature of the risk and protective measures being developed regularly. Expect to see more and more focus on this issue over time.

More Restaurants Get This Key to Sanitation Wrong Than Get It Right…

Kitchen Pass in Restaurant

Horizontal Surfaces are Everywhere in Restaurants and They Need Care!

The goal of a safe and healthy restaurant operation when it comes to the condition of surfaces is for them to be consistently clean and sanitary throughout the operational day. Modern approaches have resulted in the mediocre operations get better, the poor ones stay the same, and some of the good ones to get worse. Why? Because of a change in sanitation approaches and regulations. What exactly is it that many restaurants get wrong?

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Most Workplace Ergonomics Approaches Miss This Simple Truth

Are you aware that there is a simple factor missing from (or buried so deep as to have negligible impact) most workplace ergonomics approaches? Let’s set the stage with a quick look at what most industrial and office ergonomics improvement approaches entail.

computer on desk

An overview of ergonomics approaches

Workplace ergonomics approaches (including both industrial ergonomics and office ergonomics approaches) typically begin with considering how the job can be best fit to the worker. This includes such considerations as:

Job design

The overall design of the human work activity by assignment, including what work is being performed, for what purpose, what personnel are involved, and what means are used to perform the job.

Tools and equipment

The tools and equipment used to perform the job, and how they are set up, adjusted, and used. This also includes specifications about whether equipment is specified for a given task or if there are options that the end user can choose from.

Posture and movement

This category goes by various names, including “physical technique”, “body use and position,” and “movement skills and habits.” All of these refer to the idea that the worker has a level of options available to them related to how they position their body and move it to accomplish the work at hand. These options are limited by several factors including:

  • The worker’s physical size, condition, and capabilities (including any limitations they may have)
  • Skills and understanding of movement approaches and options for a given task
  • Environmental factors that affect posture and movement choices (for example, a chair that without height adjustability dictates possible seating positions, and handle cutouts on a bin may limit hand positions available for carrying) which also relates to other human factors in the perception of the task and options available the worker for the approach to a physical task.

Aids and assists

This includes devices and equipment that may make an existing task easier, such as straps to aid in lifting, or a powered lifting aid. Note that this is technically a subcategory of tools and equipment, but is particularly referring to aids and assists that can be brought to bear in an existing job or task, rather than being made part of the core job design

In practice

Those basic areas describe most of what is addressed or changed in workplace ergonomics. Picture an office setting, where there may be two basic components that are evident from this sort of intervention

  1. Setup is changed by means of altering chair, monitor, and keyboard equipment and position.
  2. Instruction is given to the worker regarding preferred body position at work and how to achieve it with adjustments to their setup.

What’s ignored…

So you have a reasonable and well-put together approach as is described above (which turns out to be fairly typical for office ergonomics interventions in particular) that is regularly deployed in workplaces all over, yet a very important concept is often glossed over if it is covered at all. The concept is this: Even a very well optimized body position does not work so well if the worker does not vary their position regularly.

Why is this an issue?

Static loading, where muscles must hold the body in a single position for a long period, is an established musculoskeletal injury risk factor. holding positions for extended periods without movement reduces circulation and contributes to stress on the muscles and connective tissues. The greater the exertion required to maintain a given static position the higher the stress on the body.

How to implement this idea

Consider how that understanding and conveying the benefits of varied body position can improve your ergonomic program results significantly. Move your discussions and instruction from the idea of one correct setup to a range of preferred setup options. Here’s a little exercise to convey the concept:

Midway through your ergonomics training session, after the basic setup concepts have been discussed, show your trainees an example of a traditionally good workstation setup, such as the one below.

One example of a "textbook" setup

One example of a “textbook” setup

Ask them how favorable it would be to use that position at work. (note how the question is worded in a bit of a vague way to encourage some engagement with the idea). You may get a range of answers, but if the consensus is “yes, ” then ask the clarifying question, “So would this be a good position to work in all day?…” At which point you can highlight that is a great starting position, but that even still needs to be varied to reduce stresses on the body.

At this point, you can highlight that they have a few options for varying positions, including:
Small variations in the same basic configuration (leaning forward or back a bit, bringing legs forward or back), which can be attained without re-adjusting anything in the workstation.
Small adjustments to the workstation, such as raising or lowering the chair slightly.
Switching basic positions, such as going from sitting to standing.
Brief deliberate “micro breaks” at the workstation, such as sitting back and performing a hand and arm stretch for just a few seconds every now and then.
Leaving the workstation for a time, either to perform a different task, or as a purposeful break of a certain duration.

What do you do to convey this concept?