In some cases, your employees will not recognize the hazards in your shop or on the jobsite. Your responsibility is to educate your people about these hazards, such as those posed by contact with solvents or other hazardous materials. If your employees are exposed to hazardous fumes, vapors, dusts, etc. over OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (as stated on the MSDS), you must take the following steps:
- You are required by law to evaluate the dangers within your workplace and inform your employees of the dangers to which they are exposed. You must also instruct them on when and how to use respirators and other safety equipment. Communicate this information verbally and then put it in writing.
- As an employer you are required to provide each employee with an appropriate respirator necessary to protect the employee’s health. The type of respirator required is outlined in OSHA regulations in 29 CFR 1910.134.
- You are also required to “develop and implement a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures and elements for required respirator use. The program must be administered by a suitably trained program administrator.”
- You must instruct employees on how to care for and maintain any safety equipment that they would use.
- Employees, who are required to or voluntarily wish to wear respirators, must (confidentially) complete a medical questionnaire which can be found at 1910.134. This questionnaire must be forwarded to a healthcare professional who will determine the employee’s ability to wear a respirator. In some cases, the healthcare professional will require a medical examination and pulmonary function test to determine if wearing a respirator would be harmful to the employee. Regular physical exams should be encouraged for all employees of your company. For employees required to wear respirators, annual training and fit testing is a requirement. Training and fitting are not required for voluntary use.
As with most laws, regulations and statutes, the easiest ones to comply with are the ones that do not apply to you. That being the case, all employers are encouraged to eliminate or decrease hazardous fumes, vapors, and dusts below the threshold levels by utilizing exhaust systems or locating less or non-hazardous alternatives.
- Carefully read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that pertain to any chemical that you are using and assess the dangers to which you and your employees are exposed. These chemicals include all of the inks, paints and solvents. MSDS sheets must be filed and accessible to all personnel.
The MSDS bulletins contains the basic information about the hazardous chemicals used, including the manufacturer of the product; which chemical are contained in the product; what are the physical properties of these chemicals; what health problems could result from exposure to these chemicals; what precautions should be taken in handling the product (such as wearing goggles, chemical gloves); and the procedures for properly handling, storing and disposing of these chemicals.
As an employer you are required by law to maintain a file of each OSHA hazardous product used in your shop. Any of the solvents that you use should be clearly labeled, identifying the product with the same name used on the MSDS. Your employees have the right to know about the hazards associated with the materials that they use. They also have the right to request to see the MSDS and to make copies.
Along with maintaining a MSDS file, as a sign shop owner, you are responsible for providing training about the hazards of working with solvents and other chemicals in the shop and how to safely use these materials.
Invest in appropriate safety equipment, such as chemical gloves and aprons, air respirators and rubber boots. Safety equipment may not be stylish, but it beats brain damage, chemical burns, chronic illness, birth defects and other potential dangers.
Keep a record of any accidents and review the results at your safety meetings.
Give your safety program an annual checkup. In evaluating your program, you should do a walk-through of your shop to identify potential workplace hazards. To complement your hazard assessment, you should encourage your employees to notify you of any workplace hazards. And if you identify a dangerous condition, fix the problem immediately.
After identifying these hazards, you should determine what corrective action needs to be taken to eliminate potential accidents and what safety equipment needs to be required. If you establish safety rules in your shop, you should enforce these rules without exception. Expect the worst and plan for emergencies. For example, if you are using chemicals in your shop that pose an eye hazard, you should have an eyewash station in the work area. As part of your ongoing training program, include basic first aid in your safety education sessions. Training should also review the hazards within your shop and what equipment and procedures are mandatory. In your safety sessions, there is nothing wrong with reviewing safety messages that you may have covered in previous sessions. People’s memory is short and sometimes you will need to repeat yourself before the message sinks in. Safety training should also be included in an orientation session after you hire a new employee. In conducting any type of training, I am a believer of testing to ensure that the trainee understands the lessons covered. In addition to your annual safety checkup, you should also conduct periodic reviews of your safety program. Whenever you make need changes to your program, be sure to communicate these changes in your meetings. Reinforce your safety message by putting the changes to the program in writing. If you have a bulletin board in your shop, post a copy of the change to the program so no one can cop the excuse that nobody told them.
After you determine or identify the potential hazards are in your shop, develop an action plan for reducing or eliminating these hazards. Your plan should include the safety equipment that you will require your employees to wear and the training that you will conduct. Training program should include procedures that they need to follow in the event that there is an emergency. Emergency phone numbers should be posted on your bulletin board.
OSHA will not take you at your word that you run a safety-conscious business. You need to put everything in writing. Although written records are not always OSHA mandated, documentation provides you with a paper trail that proves that you are complying with the law. Your records should document the safety training that your employees receive, including what topics were covered in the training and when the training session occurred.
Eliminating workplace hazards is not a part-time job; it’s an everyday activity. To keep your employees focused on safety, you should conduct a weekly safety meeting. The purpose of having these meetings is to teach your employees how to recognize hazards and avoid them and to make safe practices habitual.
Benefits of initiating a safety program in your shop go beyond just eliminating the hazards that cause injuries. By having a safer and healthier workplace, you can significantly cut workman’s comp claims, reduce the number a days lost because of illnesses, and lower insurance premiums.