Exposed Valve Stems: Sneaky, Costly Hazards
We all have activities we look forward to when fall rolls around. For some, it’s hay rides and pumpkin patches. For others, it’s family cookouts. For me, nothing beats curling up with some good research on workplace dental trauma. For example, in a study published in Occupational Medicine, researchers discovered 1.71 out of every 1000 workplace accidents involves dental trauma, most requiring surgery and sick leave lasting several days or weeks. OSHA considers dental trauma a serious, recordable injury. I was thinking about it because of a sneaky hazard our safety experts are starting to hear more and more about: exposed valve stems.
A valve stem is the long threaded metal track extending outward when a gate valve has been turned all the way closed. Valve stems are ribboned with a sharp thread, extremely rigid, and difficult to see. What does this have to do with dental trauma? A worker walking at normal speed into an exposed valve stem can easily knock a tooth out, or worse.
Dental trauma isn’t the only injury associated with exposed valve stems; workers have broken their ribs falling into valve stems and even been impaled on them, to say nothing of the thousands of workers who are routinely scraped and bruised by colliding with them. Exposed valve stems are an OSHA-recognized hazard and businesses not addressing them are subject to fines.
Beyond the injury risk, exposed valve stems contribute to increased maintenance time and cost. Stems must be kept lubricated and exposure to the elements causes this lubrication to break down faster and require more frequent reapplication. Plus, dirt and debris from the workplace can become caught in the threading, gumming up the operation of the valve causing more maintenance hassle. To bring it back to the all-important issue of worker safety, the more frequently your workers have to service hard-to-reach gate valves, the more they’re exposed to all the other hazards not specific to valve stems, such as working at heights or in confined spaces.
If gate valves and exposed stems are present in your workplace, we recommend three important steps:
Conduct a hazard assessment walkthrough of your job site and make a note of how many valve stems extend into walkways, stairwells, and common work areas. Begin to build a rudimentary map and identify areas where your workers are most at-risk for accidental collision with an exposed valve stem, especially where stems exist at face height and even safety glasses might not fully mitigate contact.
Identify engineering controls that can help minimize the chance of accidental collision. For example, are valve stems present in a high traffic area with inadequate lighting? Adding brighter lighting can help the dark stems stand out against the rest of the environment. Or, is the area high traffic because a machine or work station requires a constant flow of foot traffic around the valve stems? Investigate whether that machine or station can be relocated to reduce traffic in the area.
Invest in valve stem covers or other equipment that provides protection against impacts and scrapes. Covering your valve stems with something that has cushioning and high visibility can be the final piece of the puzzle in minimizing injury from valve stems. Plus, a valve stem cover can preserve lubricant and prevent dust and debris from clogging up the threading.
Injuries happen in the workplace for a variety of reasons and it’s a fallacy to think it’s only noisy stamping machines or rickety ladders that harm workers. Companies certainly need to address those glaring hazards, but never at the expense of quiet, low-profile dangers that can be just as damaging.
If you need a second set of eyes on your facility to help you spot the hidden threats in your workplace, ORR Safety has over six decades of experience inside industrial jobs sites all over the United States. It would be our pleasure to partner with you and help you spot areas where you can make an immediate difference for your workers’ safety. If you are not sure whether valve stems are necessary at your facility, click the button below to take our Valve Stem Hazard assessment.
Oxford Journal of Occupational Medicine (2013) Frequency and characteristics of occupational dental trauma. Retrieved from http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/152.long
OSHA (2015) Standard Interpretation of Work Related Cases. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=30053
INEOS (2014) Example injury; scrape. Retrieved from: http://www.ineos.com/globalassets/ineos-group/businesses/ineos-abs/she/pag/2014/august-2014-ineos-pag-meeting-minutes.pdf
Workplace Safety Forum (2014) Example injury; rib. Retrieved from: http://rhodagalaxy.com/forum/topic/6804-workplace-safety/?page=2