According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the metal manufacturing workforce in America oscillates around 380,000 workers. And the steel industry, in particular, continues to attract more and more employees as it develops. It’s easy to see why: in 2018, global steel production shot up by 4.6 percent compared to the previous year. And according to Trading Economics, steel production in the United States has increased by about 300 metric tons from June to July 2019 alone!
Effective steel manufacturers know that creating an efficient and safe work environment goes hand-in-hand with staying ahead of the competition. Part of that involves reducing occupational risks like trips, slips, and falls. Remember, steel milling factories are high-risk environments for workers. Without sufficient fall protection systems like safety rails, people can sustain injuries that can not only cause them personal harm and distress, but significantly slow down production, lead to hefty OSHA fines, and even risk legal recourse. On the other hand, maintaining a safe steel plant not only helps your bottom line but keeps your workers happy and healthy to boot.
Falls in Iron and Steel Plants
You probably already know that OSHA reports falls as among the leading causes of workplace injuries. For this reason alone, fall protection should be a priority—especially in the steel manufacturing industry. Not only do steel manufacturing plants frequently include multiple elevated walkways and work zones, but the process of manufacturing steel is also precarious itself. Blast furnaces, cook ovens, cranes, derricks, and wall and floor openings and holes make for a hazardous mix.
OSHA requires the protection of any worker on walking or working surfaces from falling into holes “more than 6 feet (1.8 m) above lower levels, by personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems erected around such holes,” which naturally makes sense. When auditing a steel manufacturing plant for safety, you’ll also need to consider other ways a trip, slip, or fall could be a big liability. Are there open vats or galvanizing tanks? Open stairwells or conveyor belts? Dangerous forklifts? Or even simpler equipment that may cause a trip, and therefore needs guarding? Safety rails can go a long way in protecting your employees from the risks they take simply by showing up to work. And if your workers are ever on a rooftop, then guardrails or other fall protection systems are a no-brainer.
OSHA Regulations in Action
How can you make your booming steel manufacturing plant safer? First, let’s take a quick refresher on the OSHA basics when it comes to fall protection requirements. Safety railing systems and other fall protection have different height requirements depending on the industry. Here’s a snapshot:
- Four feet in the general industry.
- Five feet in shipyards.
- Six feet in the construction industry.
- Eight feet in long-shoring operations.
Additionally, OSHA requires fall protection over dangerous machinery irrespective of the possible fall distance. With all the aforementioned equipment typically found in steel production, machine guarding is especially important. Depending on the workplace, you may leverage guardrails with other fall protection systems to minimize hazards or their impact.
For floor holes, OSHA requires employers to use safety railing systems with a toe-board or floor cover to prevent accidental falls. This is also true for all elevated, open-sided floors, runways, or platforms.
OSHA expressly assigns the following obligations to employers:
- Ensuring that working conditions are free of known dangers.
- Keeping the floors clean and as dry as possible.
- Providing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers, free of charge.
- Training the staff about work-related hazards in an understandable language.
Help New Employees Stay Safe
As the steel industry grows, new employees join the workforce daily. With a rapid boom, keeping them safe on the job must be the number one priority. Here are some things you can do to get them started on the right foot:
1. Train Them. When it comes to staying safe, knowledge is power. All employees should be trained and well-versed in workplace hazards, and how to avoid them. Likewise, any employee working with a safety harness or lanyard needs special training in how to inspect, wear, and use said equipment.
2. Train Them Again. Training is an ongoing process, not a once-and-done task. To keep safety top of mind, conduct frequent safety refresher courses.
3. Highlight Danger Zones. Warning signs, warning lines, and yellow tape serve as visual reminders of workplace hazards. Make sure yours are well marked.
4. Install And Inspect Your Guardrails. Ensure your workers’ safety by installing safety railing systems anywhere that might be a risk—whether at height or around dangerous equipment. Remember, the upper edge of your safety rails should be from 39 to 45 inches above the walking area. Various conditions will determine this height. If the job, for instance, requires workers to wear raised shoes, you have to consider the elevation. Guardrails should withstand at least 200 pounds of pressure per two inches without the top getting depressed below the 39-inch mark.
Safety Best Practices
Are your new employees aware of your safety best practices? Below are a few points to include in your list of safety rules.
- On jobs that require PPE, workers should wear them at all times and inspect them before and after each use for wear and tear.
- Machine operators must follow the operational manuals, regardless of experience level.
- Loose clothing and jewelry should be prohibited when operating machinery.
- Machines should be in safe working condition before starting them.
- Everyone must be vigilant about their surroundings—and if an employee notices a hazard, they should feel comfortable reporting it without repercussion.
Any growing industry is going to attract new employees to the field. With an influx of new employees, a business needs to make sure safety doesn’t fall to the wayside. In the steel industry where there are considerable hazards, fall protection systems aren’t just a requirement, they’re a necessity. It’s not just about liability or OSHA fines. When it comes to a productive, efficient, and profitable business, your employees—new or old—are your greatest asset.
At BlueWater, we’re safety experts. If you’d like to partner with a team that will be able to outline the best safety equipment for your plant, give us a call. We can walk you through the options that will best fit your needs, keep you compliant, and keep your workers happy, healthy, and on the job.