Safety Practices in Industrial Fastening

Each year, we are blessed with our customers’ commitment to employee safety.  To further recognize this safe work culture in industrial construction and fabrication, we’d like to highlight key safety practices found across the many working conditions and environments that our customers work in every day. 

Industrial fasteners and hardware components themselves are not typically dangerous or unsafe objects – safety concerns with fasteners most often come from the work processes of installing them, negligence in storing and cleaning up these fasteners, and the worksite environments within which they’re installed.  In this article, we’ll outline resources where customers can find safety standards and best practices for their specific working environment, and then list the most common safety hazards and means of protection in working conditions where fasteners are handled.    

Do you have an Industrial Fastening application but are unsure of which fastener meets your project’s requirements?  E&T Fasteners offers expert support and product selection between the above options and more!  Contact us to discuss your application, or to see our entire fastener catalog, visit our product selection here

OSHA Resources

Fastener installation performed on active new construction job sites introduces an additional layer of safety considerations.  Job sites will have indoor and outdoor work areas, bringing weather into the equation.  Further, multiple trades with many workers typically work at the same time next to each other, introducing potentially unfamiliar risk sources to installers that stem from the work of other trades.  Many different and perhaps unfamiliar tooling and equipment can be present, and conditions can be more varied especially in early construction before walls, ceilings, ventilation, and lighting elements are functional. 

Industrial safety is an extremely dynamic, ever-changing body of practices and regulations that touches virtually all parties in the supply chain, from manufacturers to trade crews, and everyone in between.  Here in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is our governmental regulatory body responsible for safety law development and enforcement.  At a minimum, employers and employees alike must be aware of the laws and regulations that apply to their industry, which can be found on the OSHA Standards web page.   

Most well-developed municipalities in the country will also have their own State and Local regulations.  These can be found by looking up your local jurisdiction’s state, city, or county Industrial Relationships or Labor Board’s safety requirements.  For example, in the areas of our regional offices, we fall under North Carolina’s Department of Labor and California’s Department of Industrial Relations

Another useful resource is to check federal OSHA’s ‘What’s New’ site to see recent news releases, articles, laws, standards, and case reports – this can give employers fair forewarning on topics that may impact their businesses, as well as an indication of upcoming enforcement interests that may translate into local inspections or audits.  It’s a good assumption that if a particular safety topic or major infraction report hits OSHA’s list, field safety inspectors across the counter will have been alerted to pay special attention to that same hazard condition within their jurisdictions.  In cases where major new regulations, standards, or violations come to light, often field inspectors are prompted to conduct surprise site inspections where the potential to find similar conditions is high.   

Common Fastening Environments

Below we’ll list out the general hazard types that users should be aware of given different working environments, and we’ll also provide a few suggestions towards minimum levels of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to use when performing fastener installation work in these environments.  Please note that these suggestions do not replace safety laws or manufacturer requirements.

Shop Environments

Fabrication and assemble shops tend to be clean, conditioned, well-controlled environments where safety concerns are largely limited to the specific work at hand.  All sorts of power tools, hand tools, production and tool process equipment (EG lathes, planers, CNC machines), and shop equipment (EG forklifts, overhead cranes) can be found in use all at the same time.  

Safety requirements should include having proper PPE such as gloves, safety toe boots, long pant legs and sleeves, eye protection, and hearing protection, as well as having good ventilation in work areas or the whole shop.  Tools used in fastener installation should be in good repair, with all guards and handholds in place, power cords free of frays, and the appropriate bits and attachments for the fasteners being used.  Cleanup is very important in shop environments (as well as for the rest of the below environments), where loose fasteners can lead to punctured tires, slip and fall hazards, and hand and foot injuries.    

New Construction Environments

All of the above Shop Environment requirements still apply, and additional safety gear such as hard hats, safety vests, and higher grades of protective clothing comes into play.  Workers need to place more care on protecting their tooling and work areas from impacts caused by the other crews and machinery operating nearby.   

Active Production Environments 

In many ways, walking into an actively operating manufacturing or production environment is riskier than either of the two above working environments.  In industrial construction trades that perform fastener installation work, typically active production environments are encountered when doing retrofit, shutdown, upgrade, expansion, or tenant improvement work in factories, distribution centers, commercial facilities, infrastructure plants, and the like.  For workers, the environment is unknown, the site’s existing workers and equipment are unknown, and therefore the risks are unknown.   

In such unfamiliar territory, procedural and specific safe work practices really come into play.  A Hazard Communication Plan and Hazard Assessment review of the site should be employed to walk the work area, evaluate for found hazards, and implement solutions.  Ample signage, active communication with production and maintenance staff, and constant re-checking for condition changes are needed as well.  Lock-Out / Tag-Out and other forms of energy dissipation, restraint, and management must be put to use for the entire duration of the work.  

Elevated Work Environments

Take all of the above risks and concerns, and now imagine those occurring many stories above the ground!  Elevated work environments introduce the risk of falls and falling objects into the mix, which workers must now take steps to protect themselves against.  Elevated work can occur in more controlled spaces such as installing fasteners into a 20′ ceiling using a scissor lift, or could occur in less controlled conditions such as fastening structural steel on a skyscraper hundreds of feet above the ground. 

Safety gear involved with working at elevation includes safety harnesses, fall restraint tie-offs, temporary fall protection guardrails and barricades, fall catch nets, tool and material tethers, and plenty of signage and alarms.  Traffic management should also be provided to restrict personnel and vehicle paths from crossing over or underneath elevated work locations.  Specific to fastener installation, tools that use index feeders and part holders provide heightened protection against dropping fasteners, as opposed to feeding individual loose fasteners by hand.   

High-Hazard Environments

In very critical or sensitive environments, special hazards can exist that fastener installation workers may not be aware of or equipped to detect.  Or at the least, that may take special knowledge or external detection to monitor while workers perform their tasks.  Work within confined spaces, in proximity to explosive or hazardous materials, near live electricity, near old construction materials containing asbestos or lead, and over open water bodies are just a few examples of high-hazard installation environments needing special care. 

In most of these cases, an Industrial Hygienist is used to evaluate specific hazards before work can occur, and to create a work plan to safely mitigates all potential risks.  In addition, a separate Safety Responsible Party joins the work crew to provide active management and monitoring of conditions, able to react to changes in conditions on behalf of the workers.  Workers dealing with fastener installation under such conditions must use specialty tools and hardware, wear very specific PPE and clothing and be fully trained on safety responses and procedures. 

E&T Fasteners is here to help you navigate fastener and accessory options.  Price quotes, availability, lead times, delivery confirmations, unique application suggestions – whatever your need, we’re here to take your call or email.  For support and advice from our fully trained staff, speak with an E&T sales representative today. 

About E&T Fasteners

With sales and support teams spanning the Continental US, E&T Fasteners is here to serve your hardware, fastening, and component needs both domestically and internationally.  We are a stocking distributor of metallic, plastic, and exotic alloy fasteners, backed by our technical staff directly experienced in your unique applications.  We can assist your specifying and selection efforts, providing engineered solutions, record-fast lead times, and stellar customer service from quote through delivery.  Please let us know how we can help!