Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The World of Hand-Held Grinders

In the world of the steel fabrication shop, hand-held grinders are used every day.  Although they are fairly innocuous looking tools, they are actually quite hazardous if handled improperly.  And, injuries from these tools can range from minor cuts to amputations, or even worse.

Hand-held grinders are used to grind, or smooth and shape steel to a nice finish before painting.   They are used much like the disk sander that you might use when doing woodwork.  Hand-held grinders in the steel fabrication shop are meant to take several different types of blades, but to keep it simple, let's reduce that to two categories:  1.  a "hard" inflexible disk; and 2. a flexible disk (like a sanding disk or buffing "blade).

            7" Grinder with "hard" disk properly guarded

When using the "hard" disk, a guard is required on the grinder.  The guard is designed to keep pieces of a broken disk from hitting the grinder operator.  Although the guard may protect a workers's fingers, it's primary purpose is to keep broken blade pieces from causing harm.  

With the "flexible" disk, or "sanding" disk, a guard is not required.  The guard might protect the operator's hand from contacting the disk, but remember, the primary purpose of the guard is to protect the worker from flying pieces of a broken disk.
       4.5" grinder with flexible disk and no guard

         4.5" grinder with flexible disk and guard

Are broken "hard" disks common?  Well, not in my experience, but it does happen and there have been deaths as a result of pieces striking workers.  The good news is that with the proper precautions, we can reduce the likelihood of injuries when using hand-held grinders.

  1. Always inspect disks for imperfections, cracks, and other damage.  Performing a "ring" test may help identify cracks that you may not be able to see.
  2. Always follow the appropriate lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures when changing disks.  In this case, LOTO means unplugging the tool before you change disks or guards.  And, be sure that you keep your hands clear of the trigger plugging it back in.
  3. Wear gloves when operating this tool.  The disks operate at high speed and can "kick" back at you.  Gloves can prevent many minor injuries to your hands.
  4. Never use the grinder above chest height. 
  5. Always wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  In this case, at least use safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, and a face shield.  Our shop reduced eye injuries in our shop by 65% after we required the wearing of face shields in addition to safety glasses.  Although all previous eye injuries were minor, it is evident that face shields work!
Because these tools are potentially hazardous, we conduct training on the use of grinders beginning at safety orientation.  Then, throughout the year, we also conduct tool box safety talks on grinder safety.

Recently, we conducted a tool box safety talk about grinders emphasizing the use of guard and we always end with a reminder of the LOTO procedures.  Imagine my surprise when, about 20 minutes after the training session, I was called the the first aid room to find an employee with a grinder injury.  He had just completed a blade change (a "hard" disk) and had followed the proper LOTO rules.  But, when picking up the grinder to begin work, the glove web between thumb and forefinger contacted the grinder's trigger.  The spinning disk pulled his gloved left forefinger into the blade pinching it between the blade and the guard.  He had an ugly gash on his left forefinger, but luckily, required only a few stitches - no permanent injury.

So, even when you think you are following all of the safety rules, PPE, LOTO, etc., you must always remain diligent when using a grinder.  And always keep you mind focused only on what you are doing.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Have you ever noticed that "if you're from out of town, you're an expert," but in your own workplace you don't know anything?

A few days ago I told a worker that he was using the wrong PPE and then told him what he should be using.  Well, that started a rant about how "OSHA doesn't say that I have to.  I looked it up."  I carefully explained that the standard was a performance standard. You know, that's where the relevent OSHA standard tells you what to achieve but not exactly how to achieve the goal?  Then I explained why the PPE that he was using did not meet the criteria.

Ironically, I had trained this employee in the proper procedures, but for some reason, after several years of conducting the operation with the appropriate PPE, he had decided that he would not do it that way anymore.   Then the inevitable "show me where OSHA says I gotta."  I then carefully explained "performance standard," and why his choice of PPE was inappropriate.  Again, ranting and raving that I need to speak with his immediate superior, etc.  Obviously, the employee received a disciplinary note in his personnel file and an admonition that continuing to use the wrong PPE would result in more severe discipline.

So, as you might imagine, I visited his immediate superior to explain the situation, how I handled it, and told him what I had explained to his subordinate.  I was met with, "I looked it up in the OSHA standard and it doesn't say that."  Again, a carefully crafted explanation of "performance standard," OSHA interpretations, and "best practices" ensued.  Then, as you might expect, the "I need it in writing from someone that says I gotta."

Yes, I know that I should be the last word on the issue, but that does not often work in the real world.  Nevermind that I was hired because of 30+ years of safety experience, a degree in Occupational Safety and Industrial Hygiene, past safety teaching experience at a community college, and the OSHA 500 course authorizing me to teach OSHA 10 and 30 hour courses.  So, I pulled out an article that I had written a few years ago, added a pseudonym at the bottom of the article.  The article explained the situation in exactly the terms that I had verbally given both he and his subordinate (obviously, because I had written the article), but now the name of the author wasn't my name.  He read the article and said, "that's better, now I understand.  You need to communicate more like this guy."  Really?

I have had no compliance problems with this issue since.  I know, I could have gone up the line to the supervisor's superior, but I'm not sure that the consequences would have been worth the effort.  The immediate problem was solved and it looks like I may have a strategy for solving future problems.

But, the guy that wrote the article was from outside the company, so he knew better!  Imagine that!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thanks to the people at The Mesothelioma Center (at for this post.

Beware of Dangerous Asbestos during Construction
Asbestos once was considered a miracle mineral for its unique ability to resist heat and strengthen almost anything. It was used extensively throughout the construction industry and lauded for its versatility and affordability.
Unfortunately, it is also toxic when its microscopic fibers are unknowingly inhaled or ingested, leading to a variety of long term respiratory health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.
Although its use has been significantly reduced in recent decades, it remains a serious threat to anyone involved in the renovation, remodeling or demolition of a structure built before the mid-1980s.
Beware of the danger. No level of friable asbestos exposure is considered safe. If you believe you’ve been exposed to asbestos it’s important to see a doctor and discuss possible treatment centers.
Workers should take the proper precautions when working on an older residence or commercial building. Asbestos likely will be in the flooring, ceilings, walls, plumbing and electric fixtures.
Many common building materials contain asbestos. When these products begin to deteriorate or if someone drills, sands or disturbs them, the fibers often enter the air.
Although the immediate danger may seem minimal, the asbestos fibers can become lodged in the lining around the lungs. Over time, they will cause inflammation and scarring, which can lead to serious problems.
Protective gear should be worn, helping avoid any inhalation. A firefighter, for example, will wear a special breathing apparatus when entering an older building where the toxic fibers are in the air.
Construction workers should take similar precautions. In newer construction, roofing shingles often still contain asbestos, which is designed to resist heat.
Any clothes worn when working on a remodeling project should be left at the worksite or properly cleaned before coming home to avoid subjecting others to the unwanted exposure.

The use of asbestos may have dropped dramatically, but the dangers have not.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New OSHA Recordkeeping Rule

Okay, so it's been awhile since my last post!  Anyway, here's some news of which you need to be aware.

Remember that OSHA rule that said you must call OSHA to report any fatalities within 8 hours?  Or to report hospitalization of 3 or more employees?  Well, that rule is about to change!

The new rule, effective on 1 January 2015, like the old rule, requires the reporting of any fatalities within 8 hours.  However, under the new rule, you will also have to report any work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours.  I don't really think that this is a bad thing, because we are all trying to avoid those occurrences anyway.   But, I might have missed the rule change had I skipped the September meeting of my ASSE Chapter.

Want more info on the new rule change?  Click Here!
Want more information on how to join the American Society of Safety Engineers?  Click Here!

Monday, January 17, 2011

OSHA Rescinds Old Residential Fall Protection Directive

As a long-time safety director in the construction industry I say "IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!"

OSHA finally announced the withdrawel of a 1995 directive that allowed residential builders to ignore many fall protection requirements. According to OSHA, the 1995 directive was meant to be "temporary" until feasible fall protection solutions could be found. Well, there have been feasible solutions long before now so, IT'S ABOUT TIME!

OSHA's action rescinds the Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction, Standard 03-00-001. Prior to the issuance of this new directive, Standard 03-00-001 allowed employers engaged in certain residential construction activities to use specified alternative methods of fall protection rather than conventional fall protection required by the residential construction fall protection standard. With the issuance of this new directive, all residential employers must comply with 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13). Where residential builders fine that traditional fall protection is not feasible in residential environments, 29 CFR 501(b)(13) still allows for alternate means of providing protection. In my opinion, it will be very rare that conventional fall protection cannot be used. About 1996, the Saf-T-Strap made creating safe anchor points very easy.

Construction and roofing companies have up to six months to comply with the new directive. OSHA has developed training and compliance assistance materials for small employers adn will host a webinar for parties interested in learning more about complying with the standard. To view the new directive, visit

It is also my opinion that compliance, in most cases, is very easy and inexpensive, and it should not take six months to comply.

Friday, January 14, 2011

FMCSA Issues Proposed Rule on Hours-of-Service Requirements for Commercial Truck Drivers

The US Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in December issued a regulatory proposal that would revice hours-of-service (HOS) requirements for commercial truck drivers.
"A fatigued driver has no place behind the wheel of a large commercial truck," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We are committed to an hours-of-service rule that will help create an environment where commercial truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job."
The publication of this proposed rule coincides with the timeframe established in a court settlement agreement that requires FMCSA to publish a final HOS rule by 26 July 2011.
This new HOS proposal would retain the "34-hour restart" provision allowing drivers to restart the clock on their weekly 60 or 70 hours by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. However, the restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6:00 am. Drivers would be allowed to use this restart only once during a seven-day period.
Additionally, the proposal would require commercial truck drivers to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday, and to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for at least a one hour break. It also leaves open for comment whether drivers should be limited to 10 or 11 hours of daily driving time, although FMCSA currently favors a 10-hour limit.
"In January, we began this rulemaking process by hosting five public listening sessions with stakeholders across the country," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "This proposed rule provides another opportunity for the public to weigh in on a safety issue that impacts everyone on our roadways."
Driving hours are regulated by federal HOS rules, which are designed to prevent commercial vehicle-related crashes and fatalities by prescribing on-duty and rest periods for drivers.
Commercial truck drivers who violate this proposed rule would face civil penalties of up to @2,750 for each offense. Trucking companies that allow their drivers to violate the proposal's driving limits would face penalties of up to $11,000 for each offense.
Other key provisions include the option of extending a driver's daily shift to 16 hours twice a week to accommodate for issues such as loading and unloading at terminals or ports, and allowing drivers to count some time spent pared in their trucks toward off-duty hours.
A copy of the rulemaking proposal is available on FMCSA's website at The rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on 29 December 2010 and the public has 60 days to comment. Information on how to submit comments and evidentiary material is available at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010