Water safety in the workplace
Water hazards are present in many workplaces, not just public swimming pools or shipyards. Workplace drowning is a risk to all sorts of workers — whether for landscape engineers maintaining a pond berm or construction workers repairing a water pipe in a ditch.
Drowning is not the only water-related risk. White-collar employees can slip on wet floors in an office building. Power tools that come into contact with water can electrocute construction workers. Bridge workers can suffer hypothermia from falling into cold water.
Your first line of defense against such water-related hazards is simple awareness. The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, for example, encourages employers to imagine the worst case scenario and then take appropriate protective countermeasures.
Guard against drowning
If you work close to water deep enough for drowning, you should have basic rescue gear on hand, as required by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA recommends that any worksite near deep water provide, at regular intervals, ring buoys attached to at least 90 feet of line. Another example of simple rescue gear is a shepherd’s hook or pole to pull a drowning victim to safety.
Ensure employees working around deep water know how to swim. And someone on the job should have basic CPR training. Give everyone a chance to earn their CPR certification at least every other year and encourage people to participate.
Reduce electrocution risks
Water and electricity are not a good mix, but it’s inevitable that the two will meet at many worksites. Indoor swimming pools require electric lights, for example, plus electric tools for maintenance and repair. All electrical cords should be properly insulated to meet outdoor weather standards. Electrical outlets and circuit boxes should have ground fault circuit interrupters. These handy devices will cut the current if they sense a water-induced diversion of electricity.
If you’ve ever worked outdoors in cold, wet weather you probably know the virtues of layered clothing. Layers not only make it easier to remove or add garments as the temperature changes, they also trap warm air close to the body. That insulation can save your life, particularly in wet conditions. When exposed to rain, snow or even the spray from hoses, a worker can experience hypothermia even when the ambient temperature is well above freezing. The risk is even greater when someone falls into cold water.
Everyone on the worksite should know the warning signs of hypothermia: uncontrolled shivering, clumsiness, confusion and slurred speech. Workers should be encouraged to take regular breaks, inside a heated building, from cold, wet conditions.
Prevent water-induced falls
Walking on wet floors can easily lead to a serious accident. In most worksites, floors will eventually need washing. Wet processes are a daily reality in many manufacturing operations. Employers can reduce the risk of falls by setting up signs warning of wet, slippery conditions; installing false floors and drainage systems; and providing workers with non-slip, waterproof footwear.
Awareness and common sense can go a long way to ensuring a safe workplace, even one with water hazards. Knowledge is the most important tool at your disposal to ensure safety in the workplace. If you educate yourself on potential water-related hazards, you’ll be better able to recognize them where they crop up.