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Safety Proves Not-So-Tall Order

Mon, 04/04/2011 - 8:22am
Pat McDevitt, Manager of Business Development, Snap-on Industrial

You work in one of the most sensitive production areas in a large chemical plant. The concern is that no contaminants be introduced into the work area, including stray tools and equipment. Or you’re standing on the walkway above a large newspaper-printing press—and time is money. You may even work above a bottle packaging line in a pharmaceutical plant. The task at hand is to replace a series of Victaulic valves—their rubber seals show signs of fatigue.

A Real-World Issue

In all of these instances, you use a ratchet to perform the maintenance. You’re aware of your elevated surroundings and move about cautiously. However, as you go to swap sockets off the ratchet, an 18 mm socket slips out of your hand and falls. Anyone walking below has a fast-approaching problem. A socket falling off the scaffold could fall several hundred feet, ricocheting off important and sensitive equipment on its way to the ground.

In many cases, where the tool lands is as important as what it strikes on the way down. Nothing stops the presses faster than a socket falling into a newspaper-printing press; finding and removing it in such a tight space is a story in and of itself. A socket falling into the bottle packaging line could also easily damage machinery, not to mention compromise the sanitation level of the batch being processed. And chemical plants are essentially very large machines that require constant maintenance and attention.

It’s scenarios like these that led Snap-on Industrial to develop its tools at height program. Whether maintenance is being performed at height, or on ground level with sensitive equipment below, technicians need to use tools with integrated safety components that are secured or tethered to prevent a falling hazard.

The primary goal of any tools at height program—first and foremost—is site safety. A socket falling several hundred feet off a platform and hitting someone is going to cause injury. A larger free-falling tool, such as a hammer, could cause death. The risk of injury due to a falling tool is great. And an injured employee is going to cost a company money in terms of lost productivity, workmen’s compensation claims, and medical bills, and depending on the circumstances, the possibility of a lawsuit. Morale is also affected. 

Adding insult to injury, a falling tool can damage equipment and machinery. Many chemical-industry applications require large fasteners: A 2-inch socket falling several hundred feet, ricocheting off objects on the way down, could severely damage a multi-million dollar pump or other specialized equipment. Whether it hits something as expensive as a pump or a bearing, the socket is going to win every time.

Two Concerns

Many industries, most notably nuclear power, are now taking steps to better conform to foreign material exclusion (FME) guidelines, a series of procedures designed to minimize the intrusion of foreign substances or equipment into an application before, during, or after inspection. Contamination not only poses a safety risk, but also an economic one.

Another consideration is foreign object damage (FOD). Prevention of FOD issues is built around limiting potential debris, which includes unattended tools and other equipment that can contaminate or injure a process or system. Not only is it important to tether and secure tools to prevent FOD instances, it’s important to maintain a good asset management program.

A standard tools at height kit comes ready to use with everything needed to address the job at hand—incorporating as many as 600 tools outfitted with lanyards and integrated safety devices designed to fully secure them. Many offerings, moreover, include a customized bag, case, or other container.

An unaccounted socket that was left in a shaft on a nuclear reactor several years ago in Louisiana ended up causing so much damage that the reactor was shut down for nearly six months as repairs were made. Because tools come in boxes with foam cutouts, using a tools at height kit also aids in tool accountability. When tools are returned at the end of a project, any open spaces alert the technician to a potential missing tool. Furthermore, many kits include tool identification numbers that are etched into the equipment and imprinted in spaces where that equipment is stored.

The consequences of a falling tool can be devastating to both machine and man. Fortunately, advances have been made in the area of tools at height to virtually eliminate this threat, which is a win-win scenario for everyone involved.

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For more information, please visit www.snapon.com.

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