January 2009- Everyone wants to feel safe at work--especially if your job entails proximity to molten metals. But the desire for safety and knowing how to achieve it are two different things.
According to Charles Johnson, director of environment, health and safety at The Aluminum Association, Arlington, Va., the process of working with molten metals has the potential to be hazardous, but it's definitely possible to operate a safe work environment where molten metals are present.
The key to this is education, says Johnson. Awareness of potential dangers provides the foundation to learn about control technology and other facets of ensuring a safe workplace.
"Proper safety training is the first place to start because you can't protect employees from a hazard that they don't understand," he says. "In other words, all the control technology in the world won't protect an employee who hasn't been properly trained. We believe that engineering controls are important and are, in fact, the first line of defense--safety training and engineering controls go hand in hand. But engineering controls have to be understood by an employee to be effective."
Additionally, Johnson says employees must know about work practices and the proper use of personal protective equipment. He says the molten aluminum industry has been especially proactive in regard to the latter and that this emphasis has increased over the last two decades.
"That has been a fundamental shift within the industry," says Johnson. "The regulatory requirements in North America are general, and personal protection is more an issue of industry best practices. In my opinion, the current best-practice requirements within the molten aluminum industry are more stringent than the regulatory requirements."
Sharing best practices industrywide goes beyond elevating standards for the proper use of personal protective equipment, however. Johnson says The Aluminum Association's member companies always seek to improve their safety and safety training programs by learning what others have done.
"There's always room for technological improvement," he says. "Technology evolves all the time, and whenever a solution is advanced by one company in the area of safety, our member companies take the view that sharing that practice is the best for the industry and the best for the individual companies, as well."
One way for molten metal environment employees to educate themselves on all safety matters is through training programs, including The Aluminum Association's Casthouse Safety Workshop. The next workshop is tentatively scheduled for early May in Nashville, Tenn.
The basis for the day-and-a-half workshop includes guidelines from the association, such as "The Guidelines for Handling Molten Aluminum," "The Guidelines for Aluminum Scrap Receding and Inspection," "The Guidelines for Aluminum Sow Casting and Charging" and "The Guidelines for Handling Aluminum Fires Generated During Various Aluminum Fabricating Operations." Additionally, the association uses data from a statistical program that collects information about molten metal incidents.
"Over the years, that program has resulted in significant procedural and technological changes within the industry to control those hazards," says Johnson. The Casthouse Safety Workshop starts out with the fundamental concepts and mechanisms of molten metal water explosions, guiding attendees through the production process and informing them of the potential hazards. Additionally, the workshop touches on ancillary topics such as mobile equipment safety, fall guarding and confined-space entry.
During the second day, the workshop focuses on explosion prevention, protecting employees and best-practice sharing. Throughout the entire session, The Aluminum Association conveys information in a way that aims to help attendees educate people at their companies--the association supports the concept of training the trainer.
"We like to make sure that any innovation among companies gets vetted among all companies," says Johnson. "We understand that we can't speak to everyone who's ever going to work with molten aluminum, so we try to educate our attendees at a high enough level and at a general enough level so that they can take this information back to their work environments and disseminate it among their workers or co-workers." MM