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.
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).
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: