Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Personal Protective Clothing: The Safety Pros' Approach

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Personal Protective Clothing: The Safety Pros' Approach

Article excerpt


One might think all we're handling is electricity, but, in fact, we're a gas, steam and electric utility, and therefore, we have many kinds of duties, including trenching and shop work," says Merlin Race, director of safety services for Consolidated Edison of New York, Inc.

Race says most of the 22,000 workers at Con Edison are required to wear dielectrically safe hard caps, which offer protection to about 20,000 volts. Other types of protective equipment in extensive use range from eye protection and full-face visors to rubber gloves and sleeves, from disposable clothing, including booties and caps, to fire-retardant coveralls and safety boots.

"We have an internal approval system for all of this equipment so that we can attempt to assure its quality," Race says. "I have a person in my department who exercises approval on all safety equipment that's purchased. In part, that's done through personal knowledge and committee recommendations from users of the equipment and from [company safety] store's personnel.

"Most of our people wear their own clothing, but for particular jobs, we furnish clothing," Race says. "For example, welders are supplied with fire-retardant coveralls." Mechanics doing unusually dirty jobs in the power plants are required to wear company-supplied coveralls to keep their own clothes clean. Workers using chemicals to treat water in order to control rust in piping systems wear appropriate protection, such as goggles, hoods, gloves, and sleeves.

Con Edison requires the use of disposable clothing by workers who clean up PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) materials, work in areas where PCB's are in use, or who perform asbestos removal or cleanup. Respirators aren't required for PCB cleanup, but are required during the cleanup of friable asbestos, Race says.

"We're always experimenting to find a piece of safety equipment that is better than what we have in use. Our safety personnel search for better protection," Race says. In this search for quality, the company gets feedback from safety administrators assigned to major operations, as well as from members of a joint company/union safety committee, and the union members themselves.

"Our highest concern," Race says, "is that our people work safely on our distribution and transmission systems because of the inherent danger in those systems. That's why every job that has to be done one one of our electrical, gas, or steam systems is a 'designed' job. That means it has been designed as safely as possible. Then, we determine what safety equipment is necessary, and train the employee in how to work on the system and how to use the appropriate safety gear."

The success of the use of equipment depends on enforcement and education, Race points out. "You have to have your people understand that they must use it, and supervisors must enforce the use of the equipment," he says.

On to Mobil Chemical

At Mobil Chemical co., headquartered in Stamford, Conn., all aspects of the safety program, including personal protective clothing and equipment, have been enhanced since the company's involvement in OSHA's voluntary "Star" program a few years ago. That's the word from Bob Brant, manager of safety, health, and environmental affairs, who explains that because of the Star program's high standards, and because employees realize that those standards are now Mobil's standards, the employees know they have to be committed to safety.

To participate in the Star program, a company must have a comprehensive, successful safety and health program, and have 3-year average injury incidence and lost workday case rates at or below the national average for its industry. Participants are evaluated every 3 years, although incident rates are reviewed annually.

"As a result of the recognition $(employees$) get for being 'Stars,' they don't balk about wearing protection or taking the time to do the job safely. …

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