Safety First! But, Why?!

Safety First! But, Why?!

Guest writer Bill Pyles tackles OSHA regulations in his guest blog entitled “Safety First! But, Why?!”

Summer is here and this time of year I’d put some notes together for the next team meeting to give a safety update; specifically, how to recognize heat stroke. I cannot say enough about OSHA’s excellent heat index ap. Go to your app store and download OSHA/NIOSH Heat Safety Tool. Do it today, now!!! 

Heat stroke is a killer that does not need to darken your doorway.  As I write this the outside temp in central Florida is 89oF. The heat index is 102oF and into the “danger zone”. Another day in sunny Florida! 

Here are some symptoms of heat stroke.

  • Confused, blurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Red, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Very high body temperature
  • Seizures 


If you suspect a person has heat stroke, call 911. 

  • Stay with the person until medical help arrives
  • Move the person to a shady, cooler area
  • Remove the person’s outer clothing
  • Cool quickly with cold water or ice bath if possible; wet the skin, please cold, wet towels on the skin, or soak clothing in cool water
  • Fan air around the person
  • Place cold, wet towels or ice on the person’s head, neck, armpits, and groin.


Through my 48-year career, the one constant is safety. Let your guard down for a moment and you may get an unpleasant safety reminder. The other constant throughout the last 48 years is the barrage of safety memo’s, fact & figures, testimonies, yellow lines on floors and more. What was missing is the “why”. Too many times a safety inspection will reveal some infractions such as garbage in front of the electrical panel, spray paint left out on work benches, spray containers on tech’s toolboxes not marked or labeled, bench grinder “out of adjustment” or no lid on the shop trash cans. The shop manager will get the safety write up, make the necessary corrections and life (pun intended) goes on. But has the shop manager or the people working in the shop learned from the experience? My guess is no; other than forming opinions that the safety guy’s job is to make everyone else miserable, slow down production and nit-pick. He needs to get a “real” job and leave us alone! 

Let’s look at some common safety infractions and discuss the “why.” 

Please note that some of the items noted may have different or more safety regulations than noted below.

  1. Full oxygen bottles are required to be stored with the bottle caps on and the bottle secured in a standing position.
    1. Why? A full oxygen bottle is charged with approximately 2,200 psi of oxygen. If the bottle should fall over and break off the off-on valve, the bottle becomes a rocket which will be capable of going thru cinder block walls, smashing anything in its way. Google “Oxygen Tank Rocket” and it should make you a believer!
  2. Electrical panels require a clear zone 36 inches to either side and 36 inches to the front of the panel. No clutter or nothing leaning against the electrical panel.
    1. Why? I was working in a contractor’s shop, pulling the steering clutches out of a Cat 977L. The contractor had installed electric overhead hoists in his shop. I had the Cat setting on stands with the tracks and roller frames removed (also doing the undercarriage at the time) and the bucket was raised and supported by a safety bar on the lift cylinder. The stands were at the four corners of the machine. As I was trying to feather one of the clutches out of the case, I noticed it was hung up on the steering clutch flanges and the back of the machine came off the stands. I quickly let go of the hoist button, but the machine kept going up. The up button was stuck! I had no idea where the electrical panel was that supplied the power to the hoist.  One of the customer’s techs working with me quickly ran over to the electrical panel, opened the door, and switched off the breaker just before the Cat was about to fall off the stands. You can only imagine the alternate outcome if there had been something blocking access the electrical panel. Fortunately, the only casualty this time was some soiled underwear!
  3. All secondary containers must be properly labeled. 
    1. Why? We have all seen techs work benched or toolbox will have spray containers on their work bench or toolbox. These secondary (secondary means the spray bottle was filed from another container) spray containers could have glass cleaner for cleaning cabs, solvent for rusted hardware, or plain water and soap mixture for tight seals. If tech sprayed a flammable near a heat source, there could be an explosion and or fire. If a tech was accidentally sprayed in the face, not knowing what the liquid was in the container could delay the proper remediation. 
  4. All flammables must be stored in a flammable safety cabinet.
    1. Why? Most shops also do welding (get those welding shields up) and cutting which create a fair amount of sparks. Most paint cans, PB Blaster cans are very thin metal and most oil containers in one gallon or less containers are plastic. Welding and or grinding sparks can ignite one of the containers mentioned above. And if it’s a pressurized can, you’ll have another bottle rocket to deal with.
  5. Bench grinder is out of adjustment.
    1. Why? I’m not sure why, maybe because this is a tool everyone uses but no one is responsible for. The shop bench grinder is almost always out of adjustment, but everyone keeps on using it. The correct gap of the tool rest should be 1/8 inch from the tool rest to the grinding wheel. Any larger gap and you’ll run the risk of pulling a finger or a tool in between the tool rest and the grinding wheel. 
    2. At one OSHA inspection, I was asked for the proper steps to change a grinding wheel.  Piece of cake I thought then proceeded to go thru the simple process of changing a grinding wheel. I thought I nailed it, but the OSHA person just stood there and looked at me, informing me I’d missed one of the most important steps. The “Ring Test”. What??
    3. Before mounting a grinding wheel, inspect it visually for any cracks or chips. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates worker safety in commercial and educational facilities, recommends testing the integrity of a grinding wheel by performing a ring test prior to mounting. 
    4. Support the wheel in a horizontal position on your fingertips and tap the wheel using the plastic handle of a screwdriver about 1″ from the edge in each of the wheel’s four quadrants. The sound of an undamaged wheel will give a clear ringing tone. If cracked, there will be a dead sound, and the wheel should not be used. Make sure the wheel is dry and clean before applying this test. After you test one side, turn the wheel over and repeat on the other side.


On a side note, I’ve seen the results of a grinding wheel exploding. It can cause serious operator injury. Usually, the wheel explodes due to being cracked or becoming unbalanced. There is no warning. 

I’ve visited hundreds of shops during my career and usually the shop knew I was coming to visit. It did truly bother me that at times, the shop would shut down a day before my visit or a high-level OEM visit, to get the shop presentable. This was an indication to me that safety was more show then go. I’d spend more time with the shop manager to help him understand safety is what ensures we all go home at the end of the shift in just as good of shape as when we came to work. I’d take the shop manager and the techs around the shop for a quick look-see safety inspection. When I’d find a safety violation, I’d point it out, explain what the hazard could be and why a safety rule was in place to prevent the hazard. I wanted them to know the “why.” Equipment, shop tooling, facilities have no concern for your safety. You are responsible for your safety and the safety of those working round you. 

Your family is depending on you!

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