I’m wrapping up my coverage of the EHS Today Safety Leadership Conference held last week in Greenville, SC. I covered the Technology Track sponsored by Rockwell Automation.
Steve Ludwig, safety program manager at Rockwell Automation, presented on the impact of the evolving workforce on safety.
“We are facing a shortage of skilled workforce, and it is a global issue,” began Ludwig. “The average age of skilled worker is 56, and this demographic is prone not to delay retirement. Add to this the fact that birth rates have declined for the last 35 years, so we do not have the usual situation of increasing population to fuel economic growth.
There are now more inexperienced workers who are more at risk. This is not just a situation for your plant, but also for the plants of all your suppliers. Businesses face supply chain interruption, reputational / brand risk. Businesses face not only an aging workforce that may be prone to injury, but also a younger, less experience workforce that tend to have more frequent acute injuries.
When Ludwig asked attendees, “How do we improve with a changing workforce?” most responded that they were proactively going out to schools to recruit and evangelize manufacturing. They were also assuming much responsibility for helping train young people.
Connected enterprise for safety
Jeff Winter of system integrator Grantek discussed connecting the enterprise for safety. He noted a problem that continues to exist is that dashboards rely on manual data collection and input.
There are three “Eras” of safety technology–initially just preventing access; then detecting access (something that increased both safety and productivity); today controlling access (integrated safety into machine, about as productive as you can get).
“EHS must get a chair at the table when data collection and analysis are being discussed in the plant or company,” he concluded. Winter continued with this advice, “Ask for data on actions such as emergency stops, intrusions, shut downs.”
Beyond lockout, tagout
Turning to electrical safety specifically, Jimi Michalscheck business development manager for safety looked at going beyond Lockout Tagout (LOTO). His point was how to balance safety with production. He posited a system of engineered safety control, which he called a new way of addressing LOTO.
“If you haven’t designed an alternative, then you must use LOTO (OSHA). To prevent unexpected restart of the equipment during service from causing harm to employees.”
Engineering safe alternatives. Think of your machine as simple components. For example, a case packer. Notorious for frequent need for getting into it, so also for citations. Using Alternative Protective Measure (APM), design the machine in components. Task specific, area specific, documented (know that the service area is protected for the reach of the worker). APM developed must provide the same or greater level of protection as LOTO in order to comply with CFR1910.147.
I don’t do a lot of products yet at this site, but I’m old enough to remember the times before lockout/tagout. And old enough to remember many injuries and almost deaths at places where I worked. I really like all the cool ideas that have evolved over the past 20 years.
Here is one from Eaton, a company well known for power management. Employees at the company’s Shenandoah, Iowa, commercial vehicle transmission plant have invented a new electrical lockout device that minimizes electrical safety risks during machine maintenance and significantly improves efficiency of the lockout procedure.
Eaton’s Vehicle Group is in the process of installing the newly developed Bus Plug Lockout at more than 40 manufacturing facilities worldwide. Maintenance technicians and tool designers at the Shenandoah facility collaborated to invent the device on which a patent application is pending in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The new device allows workers to safely disable power to plant equipment at an electrical bus bar – typically located 13 feet off the ground – without having to use an aerial lift. In addition to eliminating exposure to arc flashes and working at heights, using the Bus Plug Lockout device reduces the former 11-step process to just three steps, saving more than an hour of time.
“The new safety device embraces Eaton’s Zero Incident culture and shows the ingenuity of our employees in Shenandoah,” said Jorge Zedillo, Shenandoah plant manager.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires workers to lock out power to manufacturing equipment prior to servicing or maintenance. Such lockouts typically are done directly at the machine on the ground.
Locking out at the bus bar completely disables power to the corresponding plant equipment, which eliminates potential exposure to electrical arc flashes when a technician opens the machine for maintenance. In the past, workers needed an aerial lift to access the bus bar. To use the lift they had to be properly trained and were required to follow strict time-consuming procedures.
Eaton developed the Bus Plug Lockout tool by modifying an existing hot stick – an insulated pole used to protect workers from electrical shock when testing voltage or performing maintenance. The non-conductive frame and fiberglass linkage for the Bus Plug Lockout can be easily attached and removed to a hot stick as needed, allowing workers to reach up and turn power off at the bus bar.
The new lockout device can handle up to 100 amps, which is the limit for 90 percent of the more than 850 bus bars at Eaton’s Shenandoah plant. The facility currently has three Bus Plug Lockout units, including one with a short handle for easier use on lower bus bars. Shenandoah workers have quickly adopted the use of the devices, saving the facility both time and money.
“But the real benefit is eliminating the need to work at heights during the lockout procedure,” said Jason Hawpe, environmental, health and safety manager for the Shenandoah plant. “You can’t fall out of an aerial lift or off a ladder if your feet are firmly planted on the ground.”
The Bus Plug Lockout design can be adapted for any 100-amp unit and could potentially be used by any manufacturing company to safely and efficiently lock out bus bars.