PLASTIC WELDING: Safety & Health Concerns of Plastic Processing
In all plastic processing, like in any other work processes, personal safety should have 'priority one'. What can a responsible business owner do to ensure a safe work place? The purpose of this article is to offer some ideas to make your working area a safe environment for you and your employees. Accidents can occur in the safest shops and facilities, especially when heat and fast running machines are involved and when workers are not adequately trained. The chances of an accident increases, if the work place is messy, the employees are tired or preoccupied, or because things are in a constant hurried state. So, provide specific training for your staff on all the machinery they work with and processing methods they perform. It doesn't matter if you are working on or with machines, working on a ladder or in certain areas with special regulation, care should be taken at all times. There is a lot of information and help available on safety plans. Local consultants, the Internet and the public library are excellent sources of information. There is even a regular safety column in this magazine.
A plastic welding machine, saws, a milling machine or any other working tool, all come with a manufacturer's manual. In this handbook, there should be a section for precautions and safety concerns included. The equipment has to be safeguarded, for the U.S., according to the OSHA standards, (Occupational Safety & Health Administration, www.osha.gov). Other countries have similar associations. Please, follow these instructions at all times and perform maintenance on your machines on a regular basis. While it might seem restrictive or time consuming to work in accordance with the safety descriptions, they could help save a finger, a hand, an arm or even a life.
If there is an accident in or near your facility, what are the proper procedures to follow? Each accident will trigger a different effect. If you are well prepared, the response will be organized and efficient. Dialing 911 is easy to remember, but if there is no urgent need, non-emergency numbers should also be on-hand. Post a sign with all the important emergency phone numbers next to an easy to reach telephone. A clear description with: 'who is calling', 'from which location', 'the exact address and best access to the building or location', 'where the accident happened', 'what kind of emergency has occurred' and 'how many victims are involved' as well as 'your own phone number' will help the rescue team speed up their assistance.
A Clean Shop
One major cause of 'work place accidents' is a messy shop. Working areas should be kept clean and tidy as much as possible. Grease and plastic scrap, objects such as welding rod pieces, should be removed as soon as possible to avoid slip and fall accidents. If possible, power cords and air hoses should be kept out of the way. Sometimes the use of tapered covers for the cords and hoses will prevent an accident. A steady stand for hot tools, like a plastic welder, is useful to keep the tool in place. This will help avoid burn injuries and a potential cause of fire.
The field of ergonomics has many challenges. Ergonomics, also called 'human factors engineering', is the designing of the working place to fit the workers needs. It's not the other way around. If the working area is properly designed, your employees will feel physically and psychologically secure. This will be reflected by their increased productivity and the quality of their work. Ergonomics considers the physical ability of the worker and the weight of the tools and materials that they have to move around. Other thoughts include illumination, noises, height of the working bench, the mechanics of the individual operations, as well as the physical and mental job requirements.
Try to maintain a temperature and humidity in your shop that is fairly constant. It is hard on the workers body when the temperature is too hot or too cold or changes often. An automatic heater on a gate that opens and closes often during the work day is a good option to keep the temperature consistent.
Protection of the environment is also very critical today. The right storage and working space of Epoxies, Phenolics etc. is significant because of the hazardous fumes and their flammability. A storage area with good ventilation, fire protection and the right climate is a must. Have a specific plan for spills that could occur for all the different materials you work with.
Plastic material, when heated-up during welding, creates fumes. These vapors are more or less hazardous, especially Fluoropolymers like PTFE; FEP; ETFE; PFA; TFA; PVDF etc. They may require a full mask as a personal protection and a working area that is well ventilated. Other plastic materials (e.g. PVC) if used too hot, will emit gases such as hydrogen chloride, which upon contact with water becomes hydrochloric acid.
Overall smoking, eating and drinking should be prohibited at and around the working space. The air is polluted with dust particles and fumes. Inhaling or swallowing these substances with your food may cause health problems.
A Material Safety Data Sheet (M.S.D.S.) is available for every plastic. These sheets will give you valuable information about the plastic itself and precautionary actions. For all material goods you have in use, you should have such an M.S.D.S. on hand. You can get these sheets from your material supplier. These M.S.D. Sheets need to have, at least, the following information listed: manufacturer's name and address, product identification, hazardous ingredients, physical data, fire and explosion hazard information, reactivity data, toxicological properties, preventative actions, first aid information, and information about who prepared the Material Safety Data Sheet. Keep these documents available to everyone who is working with the material, described in the M.S.D.S.
Personal Safety Gear
Personal safety gear such as eye and ear protection, tight and well-fitting clothes, working gloves, steel-toed boots and hardhat etc. should be worn when required. And that is usually every time you enter the shop or a construction site. It is also a good idea to have enough personal protection for your customers and visitors. Who would risk the loose of their eyesight simply because it might look odd or be uncomfortable to wear protective gear?
The purpose of this article is not to point a finger. It is meant to inspire you to take a closer look around your facility, at your machinery, and the kind of working processes that are in place, to create a safer working environment. Contact the standard's associations that are responsible for the machinery and processes specific to your kind of facility and require all the safety information you need. Please, never stop looking for better solutions for a safer work place. Also, never assume that you are finished with all your safety issues. New work will come in, new employees will start, new machines will be purchased, and new safety gear will be available. Don't take chances.
A safe place to work is a more comfortable place to work. And when your employees feel safe, the production and quality of their work will increase. In the end, your customers, your employees, and ultimately you will benefit.
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