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Safe Work Practices

Safe work practices (SWP) are written instructions for doing a task with the least amount of risk to people, equipment, materials, the environment, and processes. These are rules such as dos and don’ts, but they may not always be appropriate when a new hazard is discovered. Employees should be aware of, understand, and adhere to the SWPs that apply to their specific employment.

Although there are some general hazards at all work sites, there are also specific hazards associated with work that involves welding, trenching and excavating, proximity work, working around pressurized or high-temperature systems, and working in confined spaces.

Care should always be taken around a welding operation. To prevent accidents from happening around welding, some basic safety guidelines and safe work practices should be followed. For example, the work area should always be kept clean and free from dangerous material.

Compressed gas cylinders should always be handled with caution. The acetylene used in gas welding can be dangerous, and the cylinders containing it must be handled with extreme care.

No one should ever stare at a welding arc with the naked eye. Light from an arc is so concentrated that sometimes even the reflection of an arc can burn the eyes. This burn damage is commonly referred to as a flash burn. Even a brief unprotected exposure to a welding arc can do serious damage to a person’s eyes. It is important to note that the symptoms of damage may not show up immediately after the exposure has occurred.

Symptoms of flash burn include headache, red or weeping eyes, trouble opening the eyes, impaired vision, and a swelling of the eyes. Anyone who thinks that he or she may have experienced a flash burn to the eyes should get medical attention immediately.

Workers who perform welding must always use the proper protective equipment. This includes wearing lens shields, a long-sleeved welding jacket, leather welder’s gloves, high-top shoes approved for welding, and cuff less trousers that cover the ankles and shoe tops.

A work permit may be required before welding can be performed.

During welding operations, someone should be present to monitor the work and alert the welder to potential problems. This person is often referred to as a fire watcher. After welding is completed, the fire watcher remains to make sure that there are no fires smoldering.

Wherever trenching and excavating operations are performed, cave-ins, and objects and tools falling into an excavation are constant threats. So, good job safety around trenches and excavations includes keeping tools, materials, and loose dirt and rocks away from the edges. Excessive weight near the edge of a trench or an excavation could also cause a cave-in. In general, material should be stored at least two feet away from the edge of a trench or excavation. A ladder should always be used to get into or out of a trench.

To protect everyone at the site, barricades should be placed around all trenches and excavations.

All OSHA regulations and company procedures should be followed for shoring and securing a trench or excavation from a cave-in. Work should never be done beyond the shoring, and the excavation should be checked daily for signs of trouble, especially after a rain, since the water could loosen the dirt.

Working near a hazard, but not in direct contact with it, is commonly called proximity work. Proximity work requires following procedures, exercising caution, and being aware of what is going on.

Hot piping, energized electrical equipment, and running machinery can all be hazardous. In any case, workers must perform their work so that they do not come into contact with the hazard. For example, it may be necessary to erect barricades to prevent accidental contact.

Energized electrical equipment is particularly hazardous. Regulations and procedures specify the minimum safe working distance from energized electrical conductors. The distance that must be maintained varies with the voltage involved.

Many jobs require work to be performed in close proximity to tanks, piping systems, pumps, and other components that contain pressurized and/or high-temperature fluids. Any work that is performed around pressurized or high-temperature systems should be considered proximity work and dealt with accordingly.

Many jobs are performed in confined spaces such as in tanks and trenches. The term “confined space” refers to a space that is large enough and configured so that a worker can enter and work, that has limited or restricted means for entry, and that is not designed for continuous occupancy.

If a space meets the definition of a confined space and also contains hazards that are immediately dangerous to life and health, it can be classified as a permit-required confined space. Before these spaces are entered, a permit must be obtained. Permit-required confined spaces are defined as confined spaces that meet any of the following criteria:

  • Contain or have a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
  • Contain a material that could engulf or surround a worker
  • Contain any other recognized serious safety or health hazard
  • Are configured so that a worker could be trapped or suffocated

Personnel who work in a confined space must always follow their company’s procedures. Following these procedures may include receiving clearance from a safety representative before starting work. As a minimum, working in a confined space requires that workers stay in voice or visual contact with someone outside the confined space, such as an attendant or a fire monitor.

Before work begins, the atmosphere inside the space should be tested for oxygen content, explosive gases, and other hazards. All workers must know and follow company guidelines and safe work practices for the selection and use of respiratory equipment. Only approved electrical appliances, lights, extension cords, and tools should be used in confined spaces.

Personnel should never attempt to perform a rescue or enter a confined space unless they are trained and authorized to do so. If an emergency exists, the proper personnel should be notified.

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