15 Workplace Safety Terms Every Engineer Should Know

Workplace safety is a big (if not the biggest) concern when it comes to any work setting. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer in an industrial location or at a desk, it’s crucial that you fully understand these 15 safety terms and apply them correctly throughout your day.

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1. Hazards and Risk (and the difference between them)

In terms of definition:

Hazard: a potential source of harm, or anything present at the site that can cause harm.

Examples: chemicals, electricity, noisy equipment, sharp edges, moving objects, etc.

Risk: is the likelihood (possibility) that the harm might occur.

To elaborate, consider an excavated area (hole in the ground) where someone passing by might fall through. The hazard here is “someone falling through the excavated area”, and the risk of that happening is high if it is left unattended. If however, the area was barricaded, with warning signs placed around it, then the risk is reduced.

The process of managing a risk (risk management) is how you control any hazards present at the site and what you are doing to minimize it from causing harm. This is where risk assessments come in, as different measures will be taken according to the outcome of the assessment, depending on the severity and probability of the consequence of the hazard in place.

2, Near Miss (Near Loss) - NM

A near loss, or a near miss (NM) is an undesired unexpected situation which given a slightly different change in circumstances (time, distance, human action, even weather conditions… etc.) would have resulted in injury or damage to equipment or property.

Not to be confused with an actual incident happening, a very thin line separates between both scenarios. A common example of that is considering a heavy object falling from a height with passersby underneath; this incident in itself is a near miss (because it nearly caused an injury). But if it fell on someone, that would be treated as an incident. Both scenarios should be handled with the same approach and investigated thoroughly (because they both have the same root cause, which is the object fell from a height).

More on near loss investigations can be found here.

3, Loss Prevention Observation - LPO

A loss prevention observation (LPO) is a tool used to determine if a certain task or job is being carried out safely according to the site’s procedures or not. It is usually done on a regular or planned bases and involves an observer (who carries out the LPO), and an observee, who is observed while performing a certain job.

Most sites provide preset forms covering all the essential points for a specific task; this guides the observer on the most important things to look for while performing the LPO, like:

  • Have all procedures been followed?
  • Are the required protective equipment worn?
  • Is work area secure?
  • Are there any distractions?

A good LPO process involves a feedback session between the observer and the observee after the task ends, where the positive and negative observations are discussed and any undesirable behavior or potential hazards so that measures can be taken to prevent them in the future.

4, Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is crucial in identifying any potential hazards that may arise during any task or process at a site. It usually involves a hypothetical scenario where the potential risks are discussed and analyzed, with solutions and plans to prevent and mitigate them.

A common setting where a risk assessment is generally required is before any major change in a facility or when introducing new equipment or a process, but it can be performed for any task and at any time. The hazards associated with the outcome are then analyzed according to their severity and probability of it resulting in an incident.

5, Job Safety Analysis - JSA

A job safety analysis (JSA) is a documented procedure for a certain task or process. It consists of three main segments:

  • Identifying each step for performing each task
  • Identifying every potential risk or hazard associated with each step separately
  • Defining safety measures to mitigate and prevent every risk identified

A JSA is often considered the accepted procedure for every task, where the measures taken to prevent any hazard should be obligatory by anyone trying to perform the job.

For example, if a task involves operating a machine that cuts metals (first segment of the JSA: analyzing steps) which causes shards of metal to fly around the work area and may injure the operator’s eye (second segment of the JSA: identifying potential risks). To mitigate this risk, the operator must wear protective eye goggles to prevent the shards from injuring him (third segment of the JSA: defining measures to mitigate the risk). Once the JSA is developed, all workers operating performing this task must abide by the safety measures dictated in the third segment.

6, Emergency Response Plan - ERP

An emergency response plan (ERP) is a set of documented procedures set and approved by a site which details what to do in certain emergency scenarios like fire in the admin building, fire in a storage tank, fire in a neighboring facility, intruder response plan, etc.

The purpose of the ERP is to ensure the safety of everyone at the site if an emergency situation ever takes place. It should also declare who the emergency response team is, along with their roles and responsibilities.

A good facility must ensure that everyone present at the site is familiar with the ERP and is trained for all its scenarios by carrying out routine drills and training sessions. It should also be constantly updated in case any new procedures, scenarios, or conditions are proposed.

7, Lockout/Tag out – LOTO

The process of locking and tagging out an equipment means shutting it down and locking it’s switches (lock out) to isolate it in a way that ensures no one can turn it on except the person performing the maintenance activity, then placing a tagging card (tag out) to declare that it is currently out of service. This is usually done before any maintenance or inspection job is carried out where operating the equipment might cause harm to the person carrying out the maintenance activity.

Example of Lock out/Tag out (LOTO)

Example of Lock out/Tag out (LOTO) - (credit: safetyinc)

As an example, if a machine was rotating sharp edges requires maintenance, it is shut down, and it’s main switch locked by the person carrying out the maintenance activity. A tag is then placed on the machine declaring that it is currently undergoing maintenance.

A typical Tag Out marker should clearly declare:

  • When the machine was locked
  • Who locked it out, and who authorized it
  • How long it will remain out of service
  • The maintenance activity being performed

8, High Risk Operations

Every site should define the list of high-risk operations that may be performed on it. This is to develop special plans and procedures in carrying them out safely, along with the hazards associated with it and any special precautions that are required.

The personnel carrying out a high risk operation must be adequately trained and competent, and aware of the hazards involved.

Common examples of high risk operations include working at heights, confined space entry, hydrocarbon storage tank cleaning, etc.

9, Management of Change – MoC

The management of change process is a best practice that ensures any aspects related to a change in a facility are considered before doing it. This change could be a change in procedure, equipment, or process, some sites even develop an MoC when changing personnel.

An MoC involves performing a risk assessment to analyze any hazards associated with the change, for example, if a new equipment is being introduced:

  • Are the people who are to operate it trained?
  • Are there any new safety considerations that must be addressed?
  • Does it involve using a new material that has its own set of hazards and risks?

A good MoC will propose an action plan to address every outcome and prepare for the anticipated change before rolling it out.

10. Permit to Work System – PTW

A permit to work system is applied in most industrial worksites to control any work being performed. It is generally a set of documents that are signed by the designated person who authorizes any work and the person who will perform it.

Its purpose is to address and plan ahead any task along with its hazards and measures taken to mitigate or prevent them. A JSA can be attached along with the PTW documents after it is discussed by the performing and authorizing parties.

For some sites the PTW documents are like a form of contract or statement between the performing and authorizing parties in case an incident occurs, once a document is signed, all the terms dictated in terms of safety measures, sequence of steps, PPEs required must be abided and respected.

It is the authorizing party (often the site supervisor) to ensure that the performing party carries out ONLY the tasks declared in the PTW documents and exactly as they were planned and agreed upon.

11. Confined Spaces

Confined Space Entry

Any Confined Space Entry Requires Special Considerations

The definition of a confined space is “Any enclosed area (not necessarily entirely) which is not intended to be physically entered or to have work carried out inside.”

Check out: 5 Confined Space Entry Precautions That Can Save Lives

The most famous examples of confined spaces include:

  • Inside storage tanks
  • Ditches
  • Sewers
  • Pipes
  • Silos
  • Access shafts

Special procedures are put in place for work inside a confined space; some sites even develop a dedicated document among its PTW system that serves as a “Confined Space Entry Permit”.

Working within a confined space is considered a high risk operation that may result in serious injury or harm, among its hazards are:

  • Oxygen deficiency
  • Presence of tripping hazards
  • Lack of lighting
  • Presence of toxic gases or materials
  • Restricted access or egress

12. Working at Heights

Working at heights

Working at heights (credit: commons)

Working at heights is also considered a high risk operation, and also requires special planning and different levels of authorization. Some sites don’t allow working at heights without taking special safety measures like requiring the use of a safety harness or lifeline.

13, Personal Protective Equipment –PPE

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - (credit: Commons)

Choosing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) is key for any operation. Depending on the task being done, the PPE must be adequately selected to ensure the safety and efficiency of the person performing the job.

Dealing with flammable materials for example require different protective wear than working with electricity.

The term “Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)” refers to the special equipment used to ensure the worker’s respiration is safe. It has many types and requirements depending on the conditions of the task, whether it’s a half-face or full-face gas mask, a full breathing apparatus, or self-contained respiratory system the task must be analyzed and all the hazards should be addressed carefully and planned accordingly.

14. Housekeeping

The term housekeeping in an industrial setting refers to how well the worksite is organized and clutter-free. It has a great effect in basic forms of workplace safety like removing any tripping hazards and limit slips, trips, and falls. Good housekeeping also boosts morale and productivity.

Check out: 5 Pro Tips on Effective Workplace Housekeeping

15. Workplace Ergonomics

Workplace ergonomics is often overlooked despite being one of the leading causes of workplace injuries worldwide. It deals with the correct application of body movements throughout carrying any task including lifting, pulling, or maneuvering heavy weights. Even working from a desk requires a good understanding of body positions and office ergonomics.

Some sites hold mandatory training sessions on the correct forms of body movements which in turn lead to a decline in the rate of body injuries like back sprains and neck pains.

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