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OSHA and safety on the jobsite

OSHAsafety signs OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Public Health Administration (OSHA) requires that facilities mount warning signs outside of hazardous areas.

When it comes to dangers in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Public Health Administration (OSHA) offers detailed guidelines and regulations regarding signage. These requirements call attention to the presence of dangerous chemicals, confined spaces, electrical substations, or buildings under construction. Businesses and organizations have a legal duty to post OSHA’s mandated signage, even when it seems as though the public should recognize perilous situations and be responsible for its own conduct. Failure to comply can have serious legal and health-related consequences. In the fiscal year 2011, failing to meet hazard communication standards appeared on the list of the ten most frequently violated OSHA standards.

Confined spaces, for example, pose a high risk to employees who are untrained and uninformed about their dangers. These hazards aren’t simply related to claustrophobia or asphyxiation; workers in these areas can be exposed to unguarded machinery, live wires, or heat stress. A version of confined spaces can be found in almost any industry, including manholes, underground vaults, pipelines, silos, pits, and process vessels. Garrett Brown, a senior safety engineer for Cal/OSHA, explains that "(confined space) is a hazard found in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wineries, oil refineries—almost every area. It also affects big and small companies."

Atmospheric, engulfment, entrapment, mechanical and electrical hazards can all cause errors in judgment, and pose the added danger of hindering rescue efforts as well. In fact, rescue personnel represent more than half of all deaths in confined spaces. In an incident in Fullerton, California, an employee died of chemical asphyxiation after inhaling toxic paint remover fumes while he was cleaning a large storage tank. Another employee who went into the tank to try to help his coworker had to be hospitalized.

Overall, the key to safety is information. Accidents and security breaches can be avoided when more people understand when they are in danger and how to avoid it. As both OSHA and independent safety experts assert, the best way to prevent a serious injury or fatality is with a combination of training and the clear, explicit communication of hazards known to exist in the workplace. Defining a confined space, carefully explaining any special tools or equipment that might be necessary in a hazardous environment, and specifying the rescue procedures that should be followed in the event of an emergency are all crucial to the prevention of fatalities.

When it comes to posting security signage, location matters. For confined spaces as well as permit required signs, OSHA guidelines require that signs are mounted outside of dangerous locations to sufficiently warn employees of potential risks and to remind them to take the necessary precautions. Generally speaking, black or red safety colors on a white or yellow background are required. Besides posting danger signs, employers must also create a written permit space program and provide the same to workers or their representatives. In cases where employees are not required to work in permit-required confined spaces, employers must take necessary measures to prevent them from entering these spaces.