By: Jeff Stoll

There are various levels of understanding OSHA regulations, but one thing most of us understand is that no one has 500+ pages of regulations memorized. There are three relatively straightforward rules of thumb that help generalize these regulations and can go a long way to staying safe at work.  

1.) Use the tool the way the manufacturer of that tool recommends.

An example: use extension ladders at the proper angle (4:1), extend them over the landing by 3’, utilize the cleats properly depending on the surface, and do not remove any stickers that give load ratings or other manufacturer-supplied information.  This also works for mobile equipment used on the construction site such as all-terrain forklifts, scissor lifts and/or boom lifts.  Manufacturers undergo immense scrutiny for safety rules and recommendations regarding their products prior to hitting the consumer market.  This is done by such organizations as ANSI (American National Standards Institute), or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Additionally, manufacturers have internal quality control departments that help assure these products are “tried and true” prior to hitting the markets.  Manufacturers are careful to avoid litigation and recalls as that is extremely negative to the overall impact of a company’s bottom line.  Training workers on the manufacturer’s suggested product usage will help prevent incident or injury from occurring.

2.) Use the right tool for the job.

This “rule” seems simple, but it’s actually quite common. Just because a particular tool or process will work, doesn’t mean it is safe. Examples:  1.) Using a scissor lift while working on uneven ground on a new construction site.  Scissor lifts are meant to be used on very firm, even, and flat surfaces, and designed to go vertically upward perpendicular to the surface in which it operates. 2.) Using a boom lift as a crane.  Boom lifts are designed by the manufacturer to lift workers and their tools and materials to an elevated location, not to lift I-Beams, large doors, drywall, or other items into place. 

Common reasons various employees state they either can not or will not utilize proper tools may include:  “the equipment rental company didn’t have what we really needed, so we are using something similar”.  How about companies that purchase undersized equipment that will be dangerously maxed out, or even overloaded during common operation on job sites, perhaps because the budget does not allow the correct sizes. Possibly the most reoccurring reason is “it was the only one we had available on the job site”.  A specific example of this may be the worker who needs a 10’ ladder, but only has access to the 8’ ladder. This employee searches and decides no one will see him access that top step, and ends up falling as a result.  Falls from ladders account for 43% of fatalities from falls in the last decade, according to OSHA.  Personal fall arrest items such as anchor points, harnesses, and lanyards also apply in this category.  If workers only have access to a harness with just a dorsal ring, as opposed to one with side rings also, their ability to apply an efficient, safe fall restraint system may be inadequate.  If workers have only 8’ self-retracting lifelines (SRL’s) when they need the 20 feet available, they may try to utilize another unsafe option.  Fall protection is an OSHA “Focus Four” item, meaning, that many fatalities, injuries, and incidents occur because of lack of proper management as it relates to these safety regulations.  Management must always ensure proper options are available in work trucks, tool boxes, and job sites overall, so workers are not defaulting to the wrong tool, enhancing the chance for an incident to occur.  If a regulated tool is not available, workers should receive total support from management to put off the task until the right tool can be obtained.

3.) Use the tool only with the proper training.

A good example of using tools either prior to, or without proper training is when a single axle dump truck breaks down on the way to a job site. The driver exits the truck, raises the bed to access the hydraulic lines, positions his body under the suspended load (the raised bed of material), and the bed falls- crushing the driver.

In addition to an overall lack of training, modifications of tools by unqualified workers can potentially negate the stringent safety standards set forth by the tool or equipment manufacturer.  Working on tools or equipment must be done by thoroughly trained, qualified individuals who know the proper utilization methods. Employers, and their associated safety professionals should continually reiterate that modifying tools or operating equipment without the proper training, is both unsafe, and strictly prohibited.

When it comes to safety, education is imperative and knowledge is power. Minimizing risks at work starts at the top, and support for these efforts sends messages to employees that not only will the company support safe work practices, but that they care.