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The Long View: Safety First

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Over the years, I’ve spoken with countless shop owners and production managers from a range of sign shops, grand-format print shops, wraps shops and fabrication shops-and among the things most likely to annoy them (after the sign permitting process), is a general irritation with and even a disdain for “burdensome” federal regulations.

Admittedly, the biggest irritation in that regard seems to be dealing with ever-changing tax laws and sign codes, but industry members commonly look at federal agencies such as OSHA with a skeptical, jaundiced eye.

It’s not that they oppose the concept of health and safety in the workplace. Rather it’s the myriad of regulations and the inconvenient hoops you have to jump through-and the penalties you have to pay for non-compliance. But when you think about it, OSHA is not merely a pain in the neck-it was created to help make sure no one gets hurt in your shop. And let’s face it, between the automated fabrication, cutting and finishing equipment, the lift buckets and the aerial cranes used for installations, there are countless ways to get hurt.

And don’t get me started about safety in electric sign shops. Electrocutions are not as uncommon as you might think-and there undoubtedly would be more if not for OSHA.

All electrical workplace conductors and equipment must be deemed “acceptable” by OSHA. To be deemed acceptable, equipment must be marked as tested by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).

When OSHA comes to inspect your shop, the representatives will look for these markings on the equipment to deem it safe. The equipment must be installed and used within its labeled capacity so as to not exceed the limitations of the equipment (e.g., putting the wrong switch for too much load, causing it to overheat).

Matching the equipment specifications to the load expectations of the installation will help prevent unsafe conditions. Always use a qualified electrician to perform all electrical work.

Always guard against exposed live wires, and make sure installations are properly grounded.

The responsibility of an electrical safety program should not be taken for granted. It should be assigned to someone with a complete knowledge of electricity, electrical work practices and the appropriate OSHA standards to administer the program. It is everyone’s responsibility to follow the program to make it effective.

Don’t despise OSHA. The rules are there to keep you and your staff safe on the job. And besides-it’s the law. OSHA and other governmental regulatory agencies mandate safety standards-and penalties for non-compliance can be devastating.

To learn more about how to work with OSHA, visit www.osha.gov. There’s tons of practical information there covering numerous kinds of work situations and the steps yours shop can take to become a safer place to work.

Okay, back to work.

Ken Mergentime

Ken Mergentime is the former executive editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and WRAPS magazines.

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