Unsafe Conditions and Actions

How many times have you burnt yourself on a kitchen stove or nicked your finger with a knife because you had grown complacent, or were not paying attention? Or perhaps you burned yourself because you were in a hurry, tired, or thought you would get away with it because you had “been cooking for years without incident.” These accidents can be prevented by identifying unsafe conditions and then choosing safe actions.

First, let’s address: what are unsafe conditions? Conditions are the existing state of the environment around you, and the circumstances affecting the way you live or work. An unsafe condition is a condition where something exists that varies from a normal accepted safe condition. If not acknowledged, unsafe conditions can result in injury, death, or property damage.

Our kitchens have sources of heat and sharpened objects. The existence of these conditions put us at risk of an accident. Most of the time, we recognize the hazardous conditions and can adjust our actions to complete our tasks safely.

An unsafe act is the performance of a task that is conducted in a manner that may threaten the safety of yourself or those around you.

Some unsafe acts are a result of flagrant disregard of established rules, and should be reported and handled with appropriate disciplinary action. However, the majority of the unsafe acts are unintentional, and directly related to our behavior. The causes generally fall into one of the following categories:  rushing to complete a task (the most common), complacency, fatigue, and frustration.

In the workplace, unsafe acts are often attributed to perceptions of pressure for production. Have you ever heard someone say they “ignore safety rules to get the job done?” What about “bending the rules that involve little or no risk?”

We all know that there must be a cause for an incident to happen. Causes of incidents are tied to both unsafe conditions and acts. Returning to the example in our kitchen, how many of us have stood on a narrow stool or chair to reach the top shelf in our cabinets, rather than take the time to get a step ladder? The unsafe act of standing on an unsteady chair would not exist if the condition (the height of the top shelf, or the lack of go-go-gadget human arms) did not exist.

Learning to properly identify unsafe conditions and adjusting our actions appropriately helps us safely navigate our homes and workplaces.

As always, talking about the safety of the conditions surrounding us reduces the chances for incidents. Work with your coworkers to identify unsafe conditions. And if you see an unsafe act performed, or about to be executed, please speak up!

Hazards of Acetylene

Acetylene is the most commonly used gas for fueling cutting and welding torches.  The very molecular structure of acetylene is what makes the gas both ideally useful and hazardous. Each molecule consists of two carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms that are held together by a triple carbon bond. This unstable bond stores a lot of energy. When acetylene is mixed with oxygen and the bond is broken, the result is the high temperatures needed to melt metal alloys. The temperature of the flame from the mixture can reach over 5700°F!

Generally, the men and women who use acetylene torches are familiar with the fire hazards associated hot flames and the production of hot slag. However, there are many unique characteristics of acetylene itself that create special hazards compared to other fuel gases. This gas has the widest explosive range of any commonly used gas. When mixed with air, the explosive range is from 2.5% to 82%. Acetylene leaks, no matter how small, can have serious consequences.

Some tips for safely using and storing acetylene:

  • Always use acetylene in a well vented area, and never in a confined space.
  • When using around electrical equipment, research the National Electric Code’s special designation for using electrical equipment around acetylene.
  • Acetylene should never be allowed to come into contact with certain metals such as unalloyed copper.
  • Do not store or use acetylene at pressures greater than 15 psi. Cylinder pressures are rated for 250 psi but this is acceptable because the gas is dissolved in acetone.)
  • Bleed the gas from the regulator by closing the cylinder valve before shutting off the regulator, to permit gas to bleed from the regulator.
  • Always cap and secure stored cylinders upright to prevent them from falling over and damaging the valve or cylinder.
  • Acetylene cylinders are not hollow. They are packed with porous rock that is saturated with acetone. Acetylene is dissolved in the acetone. As a result, cylinders should only be used or stored in an upright position. This prevents possibility of the acetone leaking from the cylinder. If this is not possible, rest the cylinder upright for one-half hour before using. This prevents liquid acetone from running through your regulator during use.
  • Do not store cylinders near open flames or electrical equipment. Never store acetylene, or any other fuel gas, within 25 feet of oxygen cylinders. If this separation is not possible, erect a noncombustible (1/2-hour fire rated) partition, at least five feet high, between the two gases in storage.

Remember, improperly handling compressed gases can lead to serious fires, explosions, or releases due to pressure buildup in cylinders or reactions with other materials. Always use correct procedures for handling and using acetylene gas. Talking about the hazards and proper handling and storing procedures with your coworkers reduces the risk of an incident.

Line Break Safety Plan and Permitting

Installing a new pipe system typically comes with certain unexpected risks. These challenges and problems must be addressed in order to ensure safety and mitigate those risks while modifying a functioning pipe system.

Because of the complexity and the hazards associated with modifying or changing a pipe system, establishing a formalized a process that will help protect each other from injury from either chemical contamination or an unexpected release of pressure.  Here are a few tips on what to cover when creating a Line Break Permitting Process:

  • Define the Scope of Work including identification of the material in the Pipe System and understand if the system is pressurized. Get the MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET (MSDS) and understand the pressure in all sections of pipe. Discuss the scope with all parties, this may include customers, engineering or maintenance departments, Project Managers… Seek out the people who understand the specifics of the pipe system you are modifying.
  • Create a Work Plan that includes a Safety Plan. In the Safety plan, discuss the PPE and boundary requirements necessary to protect your employees and the others working nearby, property, whether yours or your customers. Consider the safety items that need to be communicated with the people performing the work. For example: locate and verify working condition of nearest eye wash shower stations, plan to control or collect any residual liquid and know how to correctly dispose of it.

Before beginning work, review and communicate to everyone involved the Safety Plan, a Job Safety Analysis, and Line Break Permit followed with creation of the boundary and verification of all PPE. A few other things to consider:

  • Verify all pumps and valves are locked out. If applicable, ask the customer or “owning department” to make the first line break at a low point on each pressurized loop and release all pressure.
  • After all pressure is released, drain and flush each pipe, as required. (Flushing is not always required to make the system safe.) Verify with the MSDS sheet.
  • As work begins on the pipe system treat each pipe as if it still pressurized and contains a hazardous material. It is critical to wear all appropriate PPE based on the MSDS and potential system pressures.

Piping Systems are a part of our daily lives. They help us live and work more efficiently. People typically do not pay attention to the various piping systems around them, nor do they realize the potential hazards when disturbing them. Paying attention and creating a plan for breaking into functioning piping systems helps protect the lives of ourselves, our employees, and our coworkers.