By Mason Riddle
The proverbial adage—“better safe than sorry”—applies to marine fabrication shops as much as anywhere. The mix of canvas, metal, tools and equipment can cause problems anywhere. Add chemicals, electrical and water to the mix, and a calamity could be waiting to happen. Much seems obvious, but the obvious is often elusive when shops are busy. A surefire way to thwart potentially dangerous situations is to schedule a shop inspection with the local fire marshal and to request a free onsite consultation with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspectors.
“It is a free and confidential service that provides safety and health assistance to small, high-hazard employers,” say Minnesota OSHA representatives Dave Ferkul and Ryan Nosan. It’s a simple process: An OSHA consultant visits the worksite to identify potential hazards. In return, the employer works to correct the items within an agreed upon timeframe.
Want to do a little research first? OSHA’s go-to bible for the do’s and don’ts of safety are found in its 29 CFR 1910 General Industry Regulations. “An employer engaged in this type of work would follow OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910 General Industry Regulations and any other state-specific OSHA rules for safety and health,” Ferkul and Nosan say. “These OSHA standards are a set of minimum requirements that businesses must implement to protect employees from the hazards associated with this type of work.”
In addition to the standard first-aid kit containing Band-Aids, Neosporin and ibuprofen, Faith Roberts of Banner Classics in Ham Lake, Minn., recommends several easily incorporated precautions that ensure shop safety. In addition to an annual shop inspection by the fire marshal, her five-person operation is equipped with four certified fire extinguishers, 3M ventilator masks worn when spraying glue or paint, and protective gloves for handling fiberglass, wood and rough products. Earplugs are on hand for noise abatement, and safety glasses and dust masks are always readily available. Pathways between worktables conform to the 32-inches-wide regulation, and electrical cords are no longer than 6-feet and rolled up to avoid tripping. Chemicals are stored in a stainless steel cabinet, the location of which is known to the fire marshal. She also keeps Material Safety Data Sheets on all chemicals.
Roberts also is a stickler for good high-performing equipment including ladders and drills. “I prefer Snap-On tools, and every year I go through all of the drill bits and throw out what is not in good shape.”
Mike Erickson of Canvas Designers Inc. in Riviera Beach, Fla., runs a 63-person operation that includes metal fabrication and two custom marine fabric shops. In addition to installing a fire sprinkler system, he recently designated an employee safety officer to oversee his three shops. Quarterly, staff-wide safety meetings are held and OSHA educational videos are available.
Like Robert’s shop, Erickson’s is fully equipped with the requisite safety kits, safety glasses and fire extinguishers, and the local fire marshal visits annually so corrections can be made and the shop is certified. No open-toed shoes or flip-flops are allowed. Clients are not allowed into the fabrication areas.
According to Ferkul and Nosan, a best practice is to lead by example. “If employees are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), the owner or operator should follow the same rules. This PPE practice should be extended to all clients and guests to ensure safety while in your place of business.”
Ultimately, Ferkul and Nosan recommend that an employer acquire the OSHA 29 CFR 1910 guidelines that cover their industry and understand the applicable rules and regulations. “The federal OSHA website features safety and health standards, hazard alerts and other guidance,” they note. “Operations run more efficiently when hazards are identified and corrected. Lost work-time due to injuries and illnesses may decrease, saving money and human resources. Workers’ compensation premiums may decrease due to fewer claims and lower experience modification rates.”
“Why not do this stuff?” Erickson asks. “In the end, insurance is cheaper if your shop is safe.”