SCM SAFETY QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
THE CASE OF THE MELTED DAISY CHAIN
A friend of SCM sent us this picture. He wondered why he could smell something strange in his home, and upon investigation found that a family member had tried to create a more conveniently located plug in for an appliance by daisy-chaining two under rated extension cords. Our friend felt thankful he found the melted cords before they started a fire!
Rather than ask you what’s wrong in the picture, we’ll point out the three things that we noticed from the story and picture:
1. Daisy chained extension cords.
2. Extension cords without ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI)
3. Permanent use of an extension – temporary use – cord
In a publication from the Office of Compliance of the U.S. Government entitled “Power Strips and Dangerous Daisy Chains” (linked here), it is estimated that 20 percent of the violations found in federal government offices are related to extension cords. It explains that as cords are connected to another cord, it creates an overload on the circuitry in the cord, increasing the heat produced by the electrical current, and increasing the potential for a fire. Looking at our friend’s picture, this is obvious. It would be much safer to plug an appliance into a closer receptacle directly, or if that is not possible, find and use a longer extension cord.
From the picture, the green extension cord did not appear to have a Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). The purpose of a GFCI is to ensure that should there be a break or fault in the grounding path of an electrical current, the path does not reach the user of the equipment. In other words, it protects us from harmful electrical shocks. Some receptacles have built in GFCIs. The way to work safely is to make use of receptacles and extension cords that have GFCI with cords that do have that protection.
Another mistake we often find in our safety assessments is when a temporary (extension) cord is used for permanent wiring. For some of the acceptable uses for temporary use of extension cords, see 29 CFR, Part 1910.305, linked here. Just the use of the term “temporary” should tell you that the cord is not to be used for permanent wiring. And (a)(2)(iii) very clearly states that once the project is done, you have to put away the temporary cord. If you need something plugged in permanently, plug it directly into an outlet with a GFCI.
As soon as our friend discovered the melted cords, he immediately ran to the store and got a good extension cord, the right length, with a GFCI. We recommend you not wait until you smell melting plastic or smoke. We recommend a walk around your workplace and your home, checking for electrical hazards that may be similar, and replace with approved and appropriately rated wiring and cords.
The session went very well with the room literally packed, with some having to be turned away. We were surprised at the interest in the topic, but very encouraged nonetheless. Even still during and after the presentation we got some of the typical (and understandable) responses from those who have not yet bought into the ideas we’re espousing, such as questions about personal responsibility.One question that came up a couple times (in a couple different ways) is how the ideas related to human performance relate to compliance. One attendee said that at some point we have to deal with the fact that there are laws that must be complied with, so no matter what we’d like to do in terms of empowering employees and removing unnecessary constraints, at which time we will hit the wall of compliance that we cannot cross. Another attendee questioned whether these ideas would not be best suited for those companies that have already achieved the stability of compliance but who then want to move to higher levels of safety performance.
These are both very good questions, and so, in addition to answering them during the session, we thought we’d address them here so we could explain our perspective to a wider audience. First, we do have to say that, at some level, the questions hint at a slight misunderstanding of the point we’re trying to make. It is true that at some level we do advocate the stance that behavioral controls, such as regulations, are overused in safety practice. However, on a different level what we’re saying is that if there are problems you face in your organization (regulatory compliance just being one of many) that you should not think of your employees as part of the problem, but rather as part of the solution.
Let’s use an example to illustrate what we’re talking about. A common problem in any warehouse where forklifts are operated is how you get your employees to wear their seatbelt. Wearing a seatbelt while driving a forklift is a good idea, but even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter because the regulations almost always require that if a seatbelt is present your employees need to wear that seatbelt. That’s a hard and fast rule and there’s no leeway.
But just because such a rule exists doesn’t mean that we need to put all the focus on the individual employee to comply with that rule. We can take a systems-approach and engage in a discussion with employees why they do not wear the seatbelts. We’ll often find answers such as the fact that they are too busy, they don’t see the point, the belts are uncomfortable, etc. If we then level with employees and tell them that we have to do it because it’s the law and ask them for ways to help them comply more we may be surprised with the solutions we find. Sometimes it involves finding a new piece of equipment that makes the belts more comfortable. Sometimes it involves changing of the work processes or accountability structures, to make following of the rules more consistent across the board. You might even find that the simple act of engaging with employees activates a team spirit within your employees, who then take ownership to simply hold each other accountable to comply with the rule.
And you can think of other examples where taking a systems-based, human performance approach can help achieve multiple competing goals, such as compliance, safety, and production. Additional examples of common compliance problems, with some potential systems-based questions you could ask are below:
- Employees not using ladders appropriately. Are the proper ladders readily available in a way that doesn’t require a lot of effort? Are there other tools available that make the use of ladder unnecessary? How do the employees perceive their job load (heavy versus light) and how does that affect their ability to pre-plan jobs and make adjustments during a job?
- Blocked equipment (fire extinguishers, electrical panels, etc.). Is there adequate, convenient storage in the area? Is the equipment stationed in a bad place? Is the equipment adequately marked for the purposes of identification?
- Chemicals stored without labeling. Is there an easy way for employees to create compliant temporary labels on containers? Do employees have adequate training in labeling requirements and how to identify hazards that need to go on a label (from their perspective, not yours)? Is there a way to have labels pre-printed on containers that are commonly used for certain types of chemicals?
The bottom line is by incorporating the idea that your organization is a complex system and that your people are a solution to harness, rather than a problem to control, you might find some innovative solutions to your compliance problems. These ideas are not just for those organizations that have already achieved 100% compliance are looking to go to the “next level” (we’re not sure that any such organization really exists). These ideas are for any organization that has people in it and has competing pressures, such as production, scarce resources, complicated regulations they must comply with (that sometimes contradict each other), and the need to work safely. Does that sound like your organization?
OSHA: The OSHA website offers a reminder that occupational-related serious injury or illness, or fatalities are to be reported to OSHA within 8 hours of the employer being notified. You can report by calling 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA), visiting an OSHA office, or online at this site. Please remember, though, that if you are located in a state that is a State Plan State, having your own OSHA, you must report serious or fatal injuries and illness to that OSHA in accordance with the requirements of that OSHA, which may differ. To find your local OSHA office in a State Plan State, use this online directory.
OSHA has delayed enforcement of the final rule on Silica until September 23, 2017. That’s only three months away. What do you know and not know about Silica? To find out more, follow this link. If you need a Silica Exposure Control Plan, let us know. We have experience preparing these plans!
CDC: Are you traveling out of the country on business or taking a vacation to an exotic location? The CDC has a page devoted to the latest in traveling updates. To learn more, follow this link.
ASSE: We have seen several active shooter incidents in the news lately, particularly a workplace incident near the SCM headquarters in San Francisco, CA. While our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, there is more that we must learn and prepare our worksites by initiating effective preparation. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) offers this Active Shooter Response
ASSE Safety 2017: Are you attending the ASSE Safety 2017 in Denver this week? Please plan to attend Ron Gantt’s presentation on June 20th at 4:30, session number 590, Safety Differently, A New View of Safety Excellence. You won’t be disappointed! https://safety.asse.orgEHSPC: Little Rock, Arkansas: Ron Gantt will be speaking at the Environmental, Health and Safety Panel Communications Symposium September 19 – 21. To learn more, follow this link.
NSC National Congress 2017: The National Safety Council’s annual Congress and Exhibition is planned for September 23 – 27 in Indianapolis. Paul and Ron Gantt will be presenting “Safety Excellence Through Continuous Learning” on Monday, September 25 at 1:30PM. Please mark your calendars! http://congress.nsc.org/nsc2017/Public/Enter.aspx
Please Welcome Mark Rea! Mark Rea has returned to SCM after serving our country in the U.S. Coast Guard and working in the Emergency Operations Center for the Gulf oil spill disaster. Mark is a highly professional and experienced safety trainer, and is now the SCM Training Coordinator. His areas of expertise include just about every topic that you might imagine. If you have been with SCM for some time, you might remember Mark from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. When not providing excellent training, Mark can be found sailing, reading, enjoying time with his wife and playing with his dogs.
Need training? We have the courses you need, offered in the San Francisco Bay Area, complete with coffee, tea and bagels! You can register by following the provided links, or call us at 925-362-2265.CPR/AED/First Aid $95:
August 4th 8 AM to 3 PM, Register here.
August 18, Register here.
October 6, Register here.HAZWOPER Occasional Site Worker 24 hour $449:
September 11 – 13, Register here.
HAZWOPER General Site Worker 40 hour $559:
September 11 – 15, Register here.
HAZWOPER Crossover Module 16 hour $250:
September 14 – 15, Register here.
OSHA Outreach 10 hour $195:
October 12 (8 hours) – 13 (2 hours), Register here.
All courses are 8 AM to 5 PM unless otherwise stated. All prices are per person. Discounts are given for multiple attendees from any organization.