Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Prevent Death and Dismemberment at the Wash

Prevent Death and Dismemberment at the Wash

Can you imagine what it’s like to tell a family that their son or daughter has lost a limb or been killed? As an owner of a Car Wash, you may have to have that conversation someday. I know you’ll agree that you would do anything in your power to prevent such a tragedy.
If you own a business, you have a responsibility to keep your employees safe. Now ask yourself, have you done all you can to prevent injuries to your employees, as well as your customers? If you answered “yes”, you could be leaving yourself and your business open to a possible disaster. Safety is an ongoing process that requires constant analysis. You should continually evaluate your organizations safety procedures and implement changes and updates when a new best practice arises.

When evaluating and developing your safety plan, the best place to start is identifying the most present and dangerous exposure that could jeopardize the safety of your customers and employees. Once the exposure is identified, you can develop a pro-active plan to mitigate or eliminate the factors that most contribute to that risk.
For most washes, the greatest risk comes from the hazards associated with moving vehicles on the property. Generally, this risk is the worst when a vehicle suddenly accelerates, whether due to mechanical problems or human error.
Recently, in a two-week period, there were reports of driving related catastrophes at two unrelated carwashes. One incident resulted in an employee losing a limb; the other resulted in death.

You may be surprised to learn that both of the previously mentioned incidents occurred with a customer behind the wheel. In the car wash industry, we tend to focus on developing safety procedures when our employees have control of a vehicle, but often forget about the dangers associated with a customer driving their own car. Many full-service washes have meticulous procedures to reduce these extreme risks, but exterior washes are not immune to these dangers either.
The following are some ideas that you may want to consider at your locations:

1.       Towel Washing Operations:

a.       Often times, there are part-time employees working in this section. Most washes spend some time reviewing how to hold the towels, the proper clothing to wear and general instructions on how to avoid damaging customer cars. However, training should also include understanding the dangers associated with vehicles moving through the tunnel. Most importantly, employees must be held accountable anytime they are observed deviating from this training.

b.      Evaluate the configuration of your exit area. Some specific areas to focus on are: 1. the distance from the end of the conveyor to the employee station 2. Driving patterns that may direct traffic towards employees 3. Safe areas for employees away from exiting traffic 4. Procedures to recognize and address the added exposure of busy days vs. slow days.

c.       Consider and address the negative impacts caused by distractions while driving. There should be signs posted prohibiting the use of cell phones and other hand held devices while operating a vehicle. You should have a protocol in place for when a customer appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Employees should always make sure the customer is comfortable driving on the property before allowing them to enter potentially dangerous areas. The main focus is to establish a procedure to determine whether a customer driving the vehicle will maintain a safe environment, and if not, creating a process to alleviate the potential danger.

d.      You may want to consider using a visual aid to alert customers when the wash cycle is done. Many washes currently deploy an audio alert, such as a horn, that can surprise a driver and cause potentially dangerous situations. A visual aid can help keep the driver focused on the environment near the exit and remain alert of potential hazards. A simple Stop & Go light could potentially save a life.

e.      Be sure that employees are wearing bright colored clothing. These outfits will keep drivers more alert and aware of their surroundings.

f.        Make note of where the sun shines during the day. Employees should be aware of certain times when a customer exiting the wash may have their vision impaired by glare.

g.       Be sure to implement, and enforce, a policy forbidding the employees use of headphones while working. Their senses should be free of as many distractions as possible.
2.       Detailing Operations:

a.       When backing vehicles out of the bay, be sure to deploy a spotter. Make sure the spotter can be seen by the driver and is aware of the traffic pattern.

b.      Employees should never stand directly in front of, or behind, a vehicle.

c.       Make sure employees use their horn when backing out of the bay to alert other operators of the moving vehicle.

It can be difficult to identify some of the causes of incidents involving moving cars. However, the best defense is a continuous and comprehensive analysis of your safety practices to help identify hazards and address potential risks, before an accident can occur. Start evaluating your safety procedures today!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Devastation of Arc Flash Burns

The Devastation of Arc Flash Burns

An arc flash, or arc blast, is a type of electrical explosion that results from a low-impedance connection to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system. The results are often violent and can lead to serious injury, or death, when someone is near.
At this time, I would like to introduce John Albanese. John is an IBEW member of almost 20 years and a service tech assigned to respond to and repair electrical emergencies. He works with and around live electricity every day, with voltages ranging from 12 V to 34,500 V. He also works regularly in the Car Wash Industry. Recently he disclosed a story that is definitely worth sharing. The following is his account of events that lead to a shocking and frightening situation that could have turned out much worse than it did:

The most devastating electrical incidents that I face are from arc flash. When that phenomenon occurs, the center of the arc flash can reach temperatures as high as 30,000°F. They happen completely without warning and almost always when you least expect it.

I was called to assist a customer that needed to tie into their 480 V switch gear to power up a new line of battery chargers for their forklifts. Since this facility is a 24/7 operation they wanted it done without power interruption to the plant.  When I arrived, the customer showed me where they had run the conduit and wire, but were afraid to punch into the main gear. I knew I would be working with live 480 V three-phase power, so I called for assistance to have another qualified electrician with me. Once he arrived, we decided to open the side of the gear to have a look at where the ground and neutral would be tied in. I was going to remove the cover over the bus where the I - line breaker was to be installed to make sure it was in good shape to accept the breaker. The gear was old and untouched for many years, so my partner was tapping on the screws of the side panel to break them loose. While he was doing this, I started to remove the bus cover. All of a sudden there was a horrific explosion. Less than a second later I found myself on my knees screaming. I wasn't sure what happened initially.  I quickly realized what had transpired and wondered if I was hurt. I first felt my face and it felt hard and my hair was crispy. I knew the power was out because it was completely black, but then I realized it was more than that, I was blind. I was scared, burnt, and blind and not sure where exactly I had landed and what dangers may be next to me. I had to call for help. My partner took my arm helped me up and led me back to my service truck to sit down.

I was rushed to the hospital and somewhere along the way I got my vision back, slowly creeping in from my Peripheral to my center vision. I was lucky; only second degree burns on my face and some hair loss.

After the investigation as to what had happened, it was discovered that the gear had two 4 1/2 inch holes knocked out on the top. This facility handled thousands of aluminum kegs every day. The banging of aluminum kegs had created an aluminum dust which settled on top of everything inside the gear. When we started banging on the screws it jarred the dust airborne and created a path for the voltage. Aluminum dust is highly explosive, which compounded the explosion.

I have always been safety oriented and felt that I was not in danger at that point of our task. My gloves, flash suit, and face shield sat in a bag on the bumper of my truck ready for use when I got to the point that I felt I needed it.

Anytime electricity is present there is a danger. I learned that no task is without the potential for an unintentional occurrence.  This is a great example of how something totally unexpected can turn ugly fast. I should have been wearing my personal protection equipment before I exposed the live internal parts of the switch gear. Even with all my years of experience, my best lesson was not to ignore the safety gear available.”

After reading this, I looked up pictures of electrical burns on the web with the idea of showing a few examples. I elected not to post any of these pictures due to the graphic and disturbing nature.
Every time I write a blog I try to put myself in the position of the reader. When I wrote this, I thought, “This is serious and I’m certain many will think this can’t and won’t happen to them.” I just hope that in the future, when you are working around electricity with that casual attitude, you remember this story. John, a seasoned expert, didn’t think it would happen either!

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that employers "shall furnish to each of his employees, employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Arc flash is considered one of these recognized hazards, and thus, failing to take proper steps to avoid arc flash is a regulatory violation. Be sure your wash is in full compliance and has a written program, if applicable.
It is important to not just understand the dangers associated with arc flash, but to convey these dangers, and how to protect against them, to everyone in your organization through training. It is also important to make the use of protective equipment mandatory in any situation where an employee would come in contact with electricity. If it is not already, make this a written procedure in your safety manual today!

Remember, A Safe Wash Protects People and Profits!