Safety in Converting: Part III

The previous two columns in this series on safety discussed two of the three important safety issues in a converting operation: heat hazards and pinching nips. The final safety item remaining for discussion this month is housekeeping.

The term “housekeeping” sounds like something that should occur in the confines of a home. While housekeeping is a job necessary in all households, the need for it does not diminish when people leave home to go to their workplace.

Housekeeping is perhaps more important at work than at home because it affects more people there. Housekeeping at home often is simply a matter of being tidy and neat and presenting a pleasing appearance. Housekeeping at work can be a matter of life and death. Failure to maintain good housekeeping at work eventually could lead to injury or death.

Consider the explosion that ripped through a production facility in North Carolina in January 2003. Six people died in that accident.

A subsequent investigation by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board determined the cause of the blast was an accumulation of fine PE powder in a suspended ceiling above the production floor. The company reportedly had practiced good housekeeping by cleaning any PE dust from the floor of the production area. Unfortunately, no one in the plant realized PE dust was accumulating in the enclosed area above the work space. Nobody ever thought to check the area behind the suspended ceiling.

The accumulation of the dust finally reached the conditions necessary for it to explode when mixed with air. A simple examination of the area above the ceiling with subsequent cleaning could have prevented the deaths.

While the North Carolina case is an excellent example of a hidden housekeeping problem, many instances exist in which housekeeping problems are more overt. The same PE dust on the floor of the production area could cause workers to slip and fall with subsequent injuries. Allowing anything to be present on a floor in an area where people are working is a safety hazard. Rags used for cleaning and wiping left on a floor or a web removed from a production line and deposited on the floor are potential causes for people to fall.

Spilled liquids also are hazardous, because they can cause people to slip. Any liquid on a floor requires immediate mopping and drying to ensure a safe workplace.

Because they can act as ball bearings, pellets of plastic resins are another danger. Trying to walk on them is similar to walking on many tiny balls that turn and do not allow feet to obtain a firm gripping. Such pellets require immediate removal from a work area when they are on the floor. The rule is very simple. Nothing ever should be on the floor.

Purposely placing any item such as a piece of equipment or a pail of adhesive, coating, or ink on the floor of a work area is a very bad practice. People walking in the area may not see it and subsequently may trip and fall.

Allowing fumes to accumulate in an area where people work is yet another potential safety hazard. This problem is similar to the one above with the PE dust. Such fumes can be explosive or flammable, and they can detonate or burn if they accumulate and encounter a source of ignition.

Fumes also may be hazardous to personnel when inhaled, especially for long periods. Adequate ventilation systems must be in place to prevent the accumulation of any fumes in a converting operation.

All the topics discussed in this and the previous two columns in this series are nothing more than common sense. Any individual that takes the time to think about safety for even a minute or two will realize the problems associated with each topic.

Unfortunately, the problem is that workers often do not take that minute or two. They become so engrossed in their work, they forget about these “common sense” practices that can protect them and others from danger.

Safety and using safe practices should be constantly on the minds of everyone involved in a converting operation.


David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at dbentley@unm.edu

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