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November 01, 2001  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Preventing Accidents in the School Bus Garage

Basic measures such as attention to floor surfaces, pit safety and proper lifting technique can minimize worker injuries and costs.

by Chris Ledermuller


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A school bus garage is full of hazards. Maintenance workers’ daily duties involve lifting and moving heavy equipment, using harsh chemicals and solvents, and even working on top of the bus or below it in the pits. Opportunities for injuries and illnesses abound. For shop supervisors and transportation managers, this means higher insurance premiums, medical fees and legal expenses tugging on already constrained budgets. When employees are on leave due to a worksite injury, overtime for other workers increases while the number of buses that can be maintained decreases.

Identify risk

Common shop injuries include cuts and lacerations, strains and sprains and chemical injuries related to skin contact or inhalation, says Mike Smith, associate safety engineer of the California Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (Cal/OSHA) Central Valley consultation office. Smith recommends implementing Injury and Illness Prevention and Hazard Communication Programs with employees to prevent these common injuries. The following are four key areas to cover in those programs. 1. Slips and falls
Slips and falls in school bus garages are the most common injuries, but they are also the most easy to prevent. Slips can result from fluids, tools, extension cords and other materials lying on the floor. “Make sure floors are kept clean and oils are wiped up,” Smith says. Good housekeeping practices minimize accidents and are simple to do. Put away tools and extension cords when not in use. Spills should be mopped, swept or covered with an absorbent material immediately. Be sure to clean up trails left behind by a dripping mop so they don’t become a slipping hazard. To reduce the risk of falls, be sure all shop ladders are in good condition by performing regular maintenance checks. Also, instruct employees on how to choose the proper ladder for the job and how to use the ladder in accordance with safety regulations. Cal/OSHA regulations prohibit employees from using the topcap and the step below the topcap on step ladders. Extension ladders should extend three feet or more above the landing. When inspecting ladders, check to make sure rungs and non-skid bases are not damaged and that locks on mobile ladder stands are functioning properly. The risk of falls is even greater in a facility with maintenance pits. Jim Lopes, area manager for Cal/OSHA consultation’s Central Valley Office, says his agency requires garages with pits to be equipped with a means of preventing falls. “The most common method involves the use of a protective sliding pit cover that must be closed when not in use,” says Lopes. 2. Pit safety
Maintenance crews that work in pits should make sure they have protection for the eyes and face, a clear exit path in case of emergencies and good ventilation. “Objects falling into the eyes are common when working in pits and looking up into the underside of a bus,” says Smith. These falling objects may be tools, loose nuts and bolts or leaking fluids. Workers should wear safety glasses or face guards that do not obstruct vision and are sturdy enough to resist falling objects or chemical corrosion. With a bus overhead, pits can make it hard for workers to escape in an emergency. “We look at the egress to make sure they can get out safely,” says Smith. No objects should be on the stairs, and the opening must be kept clear when a crew is in the pit. Because a vehicle is overhead blocking the escape of hazardous gases and vapors, working in a pit can be dangerous. Proper ventilation can help remove dangerous fumes. 3. Lifting
Back injuries and chronic pain can result from lifting heavy objects improperly. Smith says that the safest, easiest way to prevent back injuries when lifting is to use the legs, not the back, to pick up and set down heavy objects. Workers should not twist while lifting or carrying a heavy load, nor should they lift objects that are extremely heavy or difficult to grip. Instead, they should ask co-workers to help with moving these items. 4. Chemicals
School bus maintenance involves the use of chemicals that are flammable, corrosive or harmful to the eyes, skin and respiratory system, and these materials must always be handled with care. Workers must make sure they are using the proper eye and face protection, clothing and gloves for the chemicals they are working with, and that the protective equipment is free of cracks, tears or other imperfections. Emergency eye wash stations should be checked and flushed at least once a month. Labeling on chemical containers can become illegible over time, due to corrosion. To keep labels in good condition, be sure to wipe off any chemical residue that spills on the container when it’s poured. Be sure to have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on file for all lubricants, solvents and chemicals used in the garage. Developed by manufacturers, the sheets contain vital information on chemical makeup and potential hazards from exposure. MSDSs will have the manufacturer’s contact information, active ingredients, physical properties, toxicological data, first aid treatment, fire fighting measures, and safe handling and disposal instructions. Sheets should be kept on every solvent, lubricant and degreaser used in the garage, even for products that are no longer used, but were in use at some point over the past 30 years. The sheets must also be updated anytime the chemicals have been changed by the manufacturer. MSDSs can be obtained from product manufacturers or via the Internet (see sidebar on pg. 66).

Establish a plan

A fundamental aspect of a safe bus garage is to have an accident prevention plan in place. Since 1991, California has required employers to have an injury and illness prevention program that includes the following elements:

  • Safety officer. A person responsible for worker safety. This person must be aware of all safety regulations and must keep up with safety issues at the workplace.
  • Compliance. “There must be a system of compliance that can include discipline, training and retraining, incentive programs and conducting evaluation of safety performance,” Smith says. All of these compliance elements help employees adhere to garage safety rules.
  • Communication system. Management and employees must have ways of disseminating information to all workers. The Cal/OSHA illness and injury prevention program model suggests regular safety meetings, safety literature and an orientation for new employees. The worksite must allow for reasonable safety discussions. “As safety issues arise, management has to be able to communicate with employees, and employees must be able to communicate without fear of reprisal,” Smith says.
  • Hazard assessment. Employers must assign competent observers to worksite areas and make sure they are well trained in recognizing hazards for those specific sites. They should check the areas regularly and be trained in first aid in case immediate treatment is needed. Observers must be knowledgeable about new equipment, procedures and substances and the potential hazards they might pose.
  • Accident and exposure investigations. You must have a system for inspecting accident sites, interviewing injured workers and eyewitnesses and implementing new rules to prevent similar accidents.
  • Hazard correction. When a hazard is identified, employers must implement a plan to make corrections as soon as possible. “When you observe a hazard, you want to set a course of action based on the severity of the hazard,” says Smith. Also, businesses may need to establish a written emergency evacuation plan for emergency situations.
  • Training and instruction. A training program must be in place for new workers, new equipment or processes, current employees taking on new job assignments and prevention of recently discovered hazards. Supervisors must be familiar with materials covered in training programs. As part of the injury and illness prevention program, Cal/OSHA requires employers in high-hazard areas to maintain records on hazard assessment inspections and documentation of health and safety training of all employees. According to the injury and illness prevention program model, the hazard assessment records must contain the names of the inspectors, identified hazards and corrective measures. The training sheets must have employees’ names, the training sessions they took, the dates they took them and the trainers who provided the instruction.

    Make corrections

    To help employers develop an injury and illness prevention program, Cal/OSHA (like OSHAs in many other states) provides a free, confidential consultation service. The consultation program is separate from the Cal/OSHA standards board, which adopts and amends state OSHA workplace rules. It is also independent from the enforcement branch, which investigates accidents and hands down fines for violations. The consultation department is designed to identify potential hazards and provide advice for safe practices at the worksite. “We’ll go out, do an opening conference, program review, a walk-through and a closing conference,” Smith says. “We try to do this within a day. We try to work within a 30-day time frame to get hazards corrected.” During consultation, a safety engineer or industrial hygienist will meet with management and employee representatives and evaluate hazards, including the condition of protective equipment and tools. The consultants do not levy fines, but work with employers to correct hazards found in consultation.

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