Select equipment specific to jobsite hazards and teach proper use.
By Samuel Sanguedolce
Jobsites for water wells can be dangerous. Knowing that, it is the employer’s job to make certain all recognized safety hazards are identified, eliminated, or controlled as much as possible to protect the employees.
Ideally, site hazards are eliminated or controlled through safety engineering or safe work practices. However, when this can’t happen, employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and see it is properly used.
Employers are required to first identify the job-specific hazards that will determine the required PPE. Then employees must be trained how to properly use each piece of equipment. Training should take place before the employee starts work and should include an identification of hazards on the jobsite, an explanation of the required PPE and how it provides protection, and an explanation of how to wear, care for, and store PPE.
Employers should not assume workers understand how to wear PPE properly—not even the most common items.
It’s not unusual to see workers wearing hard hats with the brim partially blocking their vision or worn backwards because it’s more comfortable. The intent of wearing a hard hat is to absorb the impact of an object hitting the head. When worn properly, it will provide a clearance of 1 inch between the hat’s outer shell and the employee’s head. If not worn properly, it won’t adequately protect the worker.
When training employees, be sure they understand not all PPE is the same.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has divided protective helmets into two types and three classes, based upon the type of protection required. Type 1 provides protection from an impact resulting from a blow only to the top of the head. Type 2 protects from a sideways impact resulting from a blow received off center, from the side to the top of the head.
ANSI further classifies hard hats for employees who work with electricity. Class E (Electric) is worn for work up to 20,000 volts. Class G (General) provides limited protection tested to 2200 volts. Class C (Conductive) is not intended to provide electrical protection.
Besides hard hats, other types of PPE may be required.
Safety glasses, the most common eye protection, must be ANSI-approved. A side shield protects workers who are exposed to flying particles associated with grinding, sanding, sawing, chipping, or any other activity generating fragments that could hit the eye.
Face shields provide protection against a chemical splashing and should be worn with safety glasses or goggles for complete protection.
Goggles completely shield the eyes by creating a seal around the face to prevent liquid splashing, harmful vapors, and airborne dust entering the eyes. Goggles with air ventilation on the top and sides (direct ventilation) protect from flying particles—but not fine dust or chemicals. Goggles with indirect ventilation must be worn when handling chemicals or any liquid that can splash into the eyes. Welding goggles have a filtered lens protecting the eyes against ultraviolet and infrared light.
Safety goggles can be worn over prescription eyeglasses, and safety glasses can be made with corrective lenses using the same prescription the worker uses for their regular eyeglasses.
Earplugs effectively reduce the decibel level of noisy machines and tools when properly inserted. There are three steps: roll the earplug, pull the ear open, and insert.
Earmuffs provide a cushioned plastic cap over each ear. Sometimes safety glasses interfere with the seal of earmuffs.
Also, some high noise level situations require workers to wear both earplugs and earmuffs.
Leather gloves are common on many well drilling sites, but employers should select gloves based upon the nature of the work to be performed on the site.
Rubber or neoprene gloves may be required for workers who are required to handle chemicals. Wool, leather, or specialty gloves can protect against heat or electricity.
All gloves should completely cover the hand, not show any rips or tears in either glove, and fit comfortably.
If the worker is handling rotating equipment, like drill bits, be aware of the possibility for bulky gloves to get caught in the equipment. When workers handle chemicals, training should include how to safely remove the gloves without allowing chemical residue on the glove to touch the skin.
Typically, work shoes should possess a sturdy leather upper and non-skid soles, but the proper shoe or boot required will be determined by the work performed.
Boots that include toe and foot guards, also known as metatarsal protection, are required for employees working in situations where heavy material or a load can land on the foot, or if they handle heavy hand carts.
Boots made of impermeable rubber or rubberized material are required when the employee works with corrosives or handles chemicals.
Employees exposed to electrical hazards must wear boots without nails or metal parts and with non-conductive soles.
Although employers must pay for boots with special requirements such as foot guards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not require employers to pay for “non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear, including steel-toe shoes or boots, if the employer permits them to be worn off the jobsite.”
For a listing of employer payment obligations and exceptions, go to www.osha.gov/dte/outreach/intro_osha/7_employee_ppe.pdf.
Respirators may be required for employees working in confined spaces, and activities generating a lot of dust—jackhammering on concrete, handling chemicals with strong vapors, or welding.
The requirements for respirators in construction are identical to the requirements for general industry, so contractors should follow 29 CFR 1910.134.
In addition to thoroughly familiarizing employees to jobsite hazards and required PPE before they begin working on the site, I recommend another best practice—a toolbox safety talk.
The type of respiratory protection required is determined by the concentration of vapor or airborne contamination. Typically, some type of workplace evaluation in the form of air testing will help in identifying the level of protection needed.
Toolbox safety talks
Although employers are required to post signs identifying site-specific hazards and the PPE required in that area, the challenge on a well drilling site is it can change every day. In addition to thoroughly familiarizing employees to jobsite hazards and required PPE before they begin working on the site, I recommend another best practice—a toolbox safety talk at the start of each shift.
Changes in the jobsite, such as a new excavation that could pose a fall hazard or the movement of equipment into a new area requiring hearing protection, are all topics easily covered in a short safety talk beforehand. Supervisors should encourage workers to actively take part in the meetings and voice any safety hazards or concerns they may have or notice.
Others at the jobsite
Don’t forget about visitors.
Customers, inspectors, or suppliers who will be visiting the site must be required to wear the appropriate PPE in each area they walk through. This may include hearing protection in high noise areas, hard hats, or safety glasses.
Another best practice is a brief, 10-minute safety orientation for visitors that covers the hazards specific to that site, procedures in case of an emergency, dangers associated with equipment moving on the site, and the importance of staying with the group while touring the site.
Well drilling site safety and the correct use of PPE is a team effort. Supervisors and senior managers must send the message the employer is serious about safety by making sure workers always wear PPE properly when required.
Finally, be sure employees understand the importance of and the underlying reason for PPE: We want everyone to go home safely at the end of their shift.
Samuel Sanguedolce, CIH, CSP, CHMM, is a certified industrial hygienist and certified safety professional and is the Director of Environmental Health and Safety for Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York. He is also a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.