Spotting Safety Hazards in the Workplace

Spotting Safety Hazards in the Workplace

by Scott Curry
American Agent & Broker Magazine

In my eight years as an insurance agent in California, I have inspected hundreds of different manufacturing plants. At every facility, I continually spot the same safety hazards and OSHA violations, which all too often lead to workers compensation claims. Whether at a plastic-bag manufacturer or a foundry, I find the same hazards in 99% of the plants I visit.

I’ve attended many safety inspections with insurance loss-control representatives. Every inspection has increased my knowledge of safety- compliance issues and has demonstrated to me how plain common sense can reduce losses. In this article, I’ll explain how agents can spot some commonplace safety hazards and help their clients correct them.

Forklifts:

Many people think that just because they bought their forklift “new” it should be equipped with all the required safety features, just as new automobiles are. But what is true for cars is not true for forklifts. In California, OSHA requires a forklift’s weight capacity to be clearly stenciled on its vertical upright, as well as on a place easily visible to the operator. I have not found one “new” forklift that complied with this rule. Even if you are not required to follow this rule, it’s a good one to observe. Additionally, check for backup beepers and yellow lights, which often are missing from forklifts or inoperable.

High-pressure gas cylinders:

If any welding is conducted at the facility, then a gas cylinder is close by. That cylinder is a potential missile, if it is not properly secured. High-pressure gas cylinders have been known to fly through a plant, destroying everything in their paths. This can happen if a cylinder falls over and its nozzle is dislodged. That can be prevented by looping a sturdy chain around the tank and securing it to a beam or solid surface.

Debris blocking electrical panels:

Practically all electrical panels I see at plants have raw materials, finished product, equipment or debris surrounding them. It is as if a sign were posted above the panel reading “Parking At Any Time.” This condition presents a hazard that may prevent workers from swiftly shutting off power to a machine that may be malfunctioning or even injuring someone. A 30-inch yellow perimeter should be painted around the electrical panel to deter “parking” in this area.

Bench grinders:

Every facility I inspect has a maintenance shop, and every shop has a bench grinder. I have found that operators sometimes unsafely modify their bench grinders. For instance, they may remove the grinder’s clear protective visor. That enables sparks and metal debris from grinding to fly into the operator’s eyes and face rather than into the visor.

Sometimes grinder operators remove or enlarge the tool rests. If a tool rest is removed or widened by more than an eighth of an inch, two safety hazards are created. First, the tool being ground can be wedged between the wheel and the tool rest, which can cause the wheel to break up at high speed and explode, grenade-like, in all directions. Second, the operator’s hand could be pulled into the grinding wheel. If you have an older bench grinder that was never equipped with a clear visor or tool rest, purchase a grinder with the proper safety features at a local hardware store. They cost only $50 to $75.

Cluttered clock stations:

The clock station is the only location in your facility that all the employees must visit twice, or sometimes thrice, a day. Therefore, the area should be kept clean of debris and clutter, which could present a trip-and-fall hazard. At one plant I inspected, I found an unchained gas cylinder right in front of the clock station. That was an injury just waiting to happen. As with electrical panels, I would suggest painting yellow perimeters around clock stations to deter the build-up of clutter around them. Yellow-paint perimeters also are advisable around such areas and objects as eyewash stations, fire extinguishers, fire hoses, exits and walkways.

Electrical wire safety:

I have found many industrial fans, drills, sanders, bench grinders and general machinery that were missing their ground plugs. A ground plug is vital to the safe operation of such equipment. Normally after much wear and tear, a ground plug breaks off or the cord becomes frayed, exposing wire. Interestingly enough, such unsafe equipment often is used by maintenance workers, who apparently are too busy to maintain their own tools. A new plug or cord can be attached to a piece of equipment at a very reasonable cost.

Documenting Safety Hazards

Recently, I bought an inexpensive digital camera, which I use on inspections to take pictures of safety hazards. Back at the office, I download the digital images into my word processor and then include a note specifying what needs to be corrected. My clients love this service, because they can hand the photos, with accompanying corrective action to be taken, directly to their maintenance departments. That takes the guesswork out of what needs to be fixed.

Reducing Work Comp Losses

To help reduce workers comp losses, I encourage random inspections of facilities for the hazards discussed in this article and any others particular to your industry. Develop a good safety checklist to use on these inspections.


Scott Curry is an insurance agent for ISU Curry Insurance Agency. His father, Michael Curry, established the agency in 1976. Scott sells workers compensation, property-casualty and health insurance. He assists his clients in safety compliance, fraud investigation and claims management. He can be reached at (626) 449-3870 or by e-mail.