Addressing Common HVAC Safety Missteps
Contractors discuss OSHA’s top 10 safety violations
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as of Jan. 5, 2016, the top 10 most frequently cited job site violations are fall protection, hazard communication, scaffolding, respiratory protection, lockout/tagout, powered industrial trucks, ladders, electrical wiring methods, and electrical general requirements, respectively. While most companies strive to adhere to OSHA regulations, some may choose to cut corners to meet deadlines or accomplish jobs.
Discussing safety issues with The NEWS, many HVAC contractors acknowledged common safety issues most often occur when techs fail to wear protective safety gear, take chances, and elect not to double check their work before leaving a job site.
As OSHA regulations continue to get stricter and stricter, contractors must wear the proper safety gear when on a job if they hope to avoid committing violations. For those who have decided not to comply, or have forgotten to put on proper safety gear, accidents have readily occurred.
For Paul Sammataro, owner of Samm’s Heating and Air Conditioning in Plano, Texas, a split second decision not to put on proper eyewear left him suffering severe consequences.
“I had an acid burn to my eyes just due to the fact that I didn’t take a moment to put on my safety glasses,” said Sammataro.
Not wearing safety gear can lead to cuts, strains, burns, slips, and more. Even something as simple as wearing a proper uniform can prevent one from an incident, he said.
Rob Minnick, CEO and president of Minnick’s Inc. in Laurel, Maryland, stressed the importance of wearing pants on a job.
“I see so many contractors going into a job site in shorts, which should never be worn due to the lack of protection they offer.”
While it may be an adjustment for some veteran techs, personal protection equipment (PPE) helps keep all parties safe from the varying risk factors involved in HVAC work.
“When I was younger, I didn’t stop and think to put on a dust mask when I went into an attic – I just did it,” said Aaron Florio, warranty manager, Service Champions Heating & Air Conditioning, Brea, California. “Now, we’re paying attention to things like wearing protective gloves and respirators.”
Time and time again, the consensus from contractors was clear: Too many technicians are putting themselves at risk to save a little time. It can take a few minutes to properly analyze something or wear or change into the appropriate PPE, but it can take a long recovery time or worse if you don’t.
“People have a tendency to take chances,” said Jon Aliano, owner of Aksarben American Residential Services (ARS) in Omaha, Nebraska, and winner of ARS’ Overall Safety Branch of the Year Award. “Somehow, in their heads, they figure it’s worth taking a chance and, in reality, it’s just not worth it.
“That is why, as owners, we can talk about safety a lot, but we have to make sure it sinks in with our employees and that they are listening and seeing how important it is to be safe,” Aliano continued. “I’ve seen guys say they were trained on something safety-wise, and they knew they shouldn’t have done whatever [mistake] they did. They took a chance, and it didn’t work out for them.”
THE ONCE OVER
Technicians are busy. Some work 12 hours a day, six days a week. With busy schedules, there is more room for error. But it’s the little things, like not double-checking the work before leaving a job site, which may lead to some of the biggest errors. While employers most likely appreciate the long hours employees put in, they loathe the mistakes that could end up being catastrophic for homeowners or the company’s reputation.
“I think the biggest safety mistake HVAC technicians make occurs when they fail to check systems or confirm the power is off or on. It’s always the same [little] things, as far as HVAC mistakes go,” said Minnick.
One example Aliano provided was the failure of a technician to double check if a drain line was on or off before leaving a job site. This small check, which takes seconds to complete, could prevent significant damage.
“With safety, the little things add up. You can leave a drain line of a furnace on and it can flood the basement. You don’t think much of it, but when it’s flowing in the basement, it creates so much damage,” said Aliano.
Publication date: 12/19/2016