Spring maintenances are on the way again, with thousands of ladders ready to be climbed. To prepare for the season, our RESSAC teams have been working on their standard safety retraining. Regular safety reinstruction is key to keep our crews safe in the field. HVAC/R technicians work on both potentially dangerous equipment and in unsecure locations. Through thorough training and by following a multitude of well-regulated safety guidelines, we work to minimize the chances of injury on every job. Our primary focus this winter has been on key categories affecting our team’s day-to-day work: ladder, lockout/tagout, and fall safety.
All of our technicians use ladders. Even our techs primarily focused on refrigeration equipment will often need to reach the roof, where condensers for larger equipment like walk-in freezers are kept. Each RESSAC vehicle is equipped with portable ladders for when site provided roof access isn’t available. And every RESSAC technician has been fully briefed, and regularly re-briefed, in OSHA ladder safety protocols.
OSHA provides a comprehensive list of safe usage rules, such as:
- Height: portable ladders must reach roughly 3 feet above the roofline. Under or oversized ladders can make it unsafe for the user to access the ladder once they’ve reached the roof.
- Tie-off: portable ladders must be secured at the top to a rigid support that won’t slip.
- Level ground: portable ladders should set on solid, even ground with no debris or slopes.
Working safely on the job isn’t just about following the guidelines. Making sure our technicians are trained to recognize potentially dangerous situations is also critical. Stationary ladders, those permanently affixed either to the side of a building or inside under a roof hatch, lack several of the safety pitfalls of portable equipment. However, outdoor access should always be carefully inspected for signs of severe rusting or damage to rungs and bolts. While using indoor access, the roof hatch itself should open and close easily. Hatches with damaged closures can slip and fall closed unexpectedly. These hatch doors are heavy by design, and can cause serious injury or even cause a technician to fall. Our technicians keep track of any dangerous access points while out on the jobs and report back to us at the home office.
Lockout/tagout is a “energy control program” focused on employee and worker safety. Every piece of A/C or refrigeration equipment is wired and, when not being put through a test run, should be shut down during repairs. It’s a simple process, but it can easily turn dangerous by a breakdown in communication. Technicians can secure the disconnect switch, the manual off/on switch attached to the equipment, with a company provided lockout tag. While especially useful when more than one technician is on a job, it also prevents anyone else from turning the unit back on without a fair warning. Beyond just safety, a lockout tag can alert other contractors of an issue with a damaged unit. A technician can use these tags to lock a system with a damaged coil, for example, that has no refrigerant. This would prevent the system being turned back on and potentially damaging the compressor.
Lastly, solid fall safety training is an absolute necessity in our industry. Commercial or residential, any HVACR technician will expect to spend time on rooftops or in attic spaces. Proper ladder usage and training, as mentioned earlier, is fundamental. A clear workspace prevents tripping, as well as ensuring the area around ladder access is clear. Sometimes indoor access may need to be cleared of store product to ensure a safe ladder dismount. For larger projects, especially at big locations, we also ensure every technician has the proper harness training. When and how to correctly use a harness is covered, as well as how to inspect the equipment for any faults such as:
- Cracks, frays or excessive stretching in the harness webbing.
- Damaged or pulled stitches in webbing and harness.
- Rust or corrosion in the harness hardware.
- Rough or sharp edges in the hardware that might rub against harness or cable.
- Missing or incomplete tags, that show how old the equipment is and whether it should still be in use.
Creating a safe work environment through vigilance, attentiveness and good training is one our highest priorities here at RESSAC. HVACR is a highly rewarding career choice but does not come without some level of risk. It is the responsibility of all of us on the team to ensure those risks are minimized by working smarter and communicating well.