Safety first

May 8, 2008
By: Tim Heston

Two co-workers and I are heading off for some welding training next week, which will allow us to beef up our welding knowledge and generally embarrass ourselves in front of skilled professionals. So as I was having an e-mail conversation earlier this week with Gerald Davis, the author of The FABRICATOR"s Precision Matters column, I let him know of the plans for next week. In his reply, he shared a tale involving his early foray into GMAW.

Based on his skills as a young oxyacetylene torch bearer, Gerald thought he would have no problem making the transition as a MIG welder. On day he flipped on the welding power source switch, opened up the shielding gas, put on a hood, and proceeded to short, then arc, then melt a significant glob of aluminum welding rod, he said.
Stopping to admire his work, Gerald tipped the weldment toward him, and the molten aluminum, puddled on top of the target weldment, rolled off the part, across the bench, and onto his thigh. Unfortunately, polyester shorts aren"t the best protection against molten metal.

Gerald said he bears a scar on his right thigh that matches the scar on his psyche. Luckily, some lessons are never forgotten.

More than 5,000 workers a year in the U.S. aren"t lucky enough to walk away with just a burn from their workplace mishap. They end up dying. In fact, 5,840 fatal work injuries occurred in the U.S. in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those numbers are dramatically lower than they once were. Approximately 14,000 people died on the job the year before Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in December 1970.

But is the U.S. public getting the straight dope on workplace injuries? Dr. David Michaels, a professor of occupational health at George Washington University, has
testified in front of a Senate subcommittee
that he believes two-thirds of injuries and illnesses are being
missed under current reporting methods. That"s easy to believe with the number of illegal immigrants in the work force and the stories I"ve heard about companies trying to cover up workplace injuries to keep the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) out of their businesses.

Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., want to see stricter enforcement from OSHA and larger fines for those workplaces that violate safety standards. Kennedy has pointed out that if you illegally import an exotic bird into the U.S., you can go to jail for two years, but if you willfully violate a safety standard that leads to a worker"s death, you can go to jail only for a maximum of six months.

That dichotomy is strange, but the light jail sentence related to a workplace death is probably a reflection of society"s belief that government should stay out of private enterprise. The combination of company and personal responsibility should be enough to protect U.S. workers.

When that fails, OSHA does step in. For example, the agency recently proposed almost $60,000 in fines for a metal fabricator in Lyons, Ga., for four alleged safety violations. An OSHA area director said that the company continued to disregard requirements for machine guards, despite earlier citations for a similar violation delivered in 2006. Thankfully, that"s not the norm. A permanent injury or scar shouldn"t have to be a reminder that safety comes first. I"ll definitely have that in mind as I hit the welding table for 28 hours of hands-on training. Lord help

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314