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Rocket Science – Made Simple

By Randy K. Logsdon

Sometimes, when stumped by a problem, it pays to take a few moments, step back and refocus on the basics. If that problem is determining an effective injury reduction strategy, the approach to a solution may be shrouded by the complexity of an array of contributing causes – so-called root causes and other analyses.

We may study the history of injury, property damage and near-miss incidents and try to identify trends that will lead us to identify the mystical elements responsible for our incident experience. With some confidence, we make adjustments in process, equipment, and even in personnel with the assumption that correcting those past errors will prevent future problems.

Safety is not the only discipline that suffers sometimes from over-analysis. We take a fairly simple concept and expand upon it. We then break it down into parts and categorize those parts by function and application. Finally, someone brings perspective back to the conversation and declares that this is not rocket science. So, what constitutes that simple prevention formula?

The key to preventing injury is to shield, block and prevent the undesirable effects of energy on the body. One way to do this is to create a metaphoric safety envelope in the work area. Within the confines of the safety envelope, a worker would be protected from injury.

The safety envelope is constructed of various safeguards that prevent undesirable interaction between people and energy. More specifically, those safeguards must prevent the effects of falls, impact, striking, getting caught, contact, exposure and exertion.

These are descriptors of how people get injured. To successfully control these seven injury sources does require some work. We can make injury prevention simple, but success still depends upon a directed effort. So, as we take a few moments to build (and maintain) this safety envelope, we will consider safeguards that will best prevent injury.

  • Personnel from slipping, tripping, and otherwise falling from ground level, and heights. This includes all types of ladders, elevated platforms, stairs and walking surfaces. Don’t forget chairs, stools, handrails and other fall prevention devices. Good shoes, visibility and an “eyes-on” practice are beneficial.
  • Impact on the body from falling, rolling, sliding, swinging and flying objects – line of fire. Consider personnel activity overhead, positioning when items are lifted; the potential of ejection of material from crushers, conveyors and screens; securely blocking rolling stock; the trajectory of a hammer; the likelihood of creating sparks, steel chips and any unexpected movement of tools, parts or equipment.
  • Personnel (including head, arms, legs, fingers and toes) from striking something hard. Beware of low clearance and that wrench slipping.
  • Being caught on or in equipment – pinch points, nip points and even snag points. Look for hinged moving parts, rollers, rough surfaces and projections.
  • Contacting energized electrical points, hot or cold materials (including liquids), caustics, etc.
  • Exposure to harmful environmental conditions – noise, dust, gasses, vapors, fumes, radiation and more. Protect personnel from welding operations and nuclear devices. Take steps to limit exposure to other harmful substances common to the process.
  • Overexertion – physical stress or strain resulting from working from awkward positions, fatigue, sudden movement or other ergonomic factors.

This simple seven-item checklist is actually quite inclusive. The effort becomes more complex as control measures are identified and implemented. Even then, there are well-established and proven methods readily available to exercise that control. It really is not rocket science.