Accident leads to a career in safety

Summerland, BC, by Susan McIver– A work-place welding accident set Sheldon McKee on the path to a career in safety helping other workers stay alive and healthy.

“I had a head injury which permanently affected by balance and I couldn’t weld anymore,” McKee said. “What do I do now?” he recalled asking a friend involved in safety work.

Today, McKee is a safety advisor specializing in confined spaces for the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC. The Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC is an industry-driven and funded association dedicated to setting health and safety standards for manufacturers and food processors. Recently, the Chilliwack-based association opened a satellite office in Summerland.

“We decided on Summerland because most of our Okanagan clients are in the south,” said McKee.

Wineries account for the majority of his clients followed by breweries and a few manufacturing firms. Agriculture is relatively safe with 29 out of a total of 1,508 work place related deaths for the period of 2005-2014, as reported by WorkSafeBC. However, many South Okanagan residents will recall at least two deaths from tractor rollovers and two from winery workers who had fallen from a ladder into a fermentation tank.

“Tractors are not all terrain vehicles. Be careful operating them and read the manufacturers specifications on proper maintenance and safety features,” McKee said. This includes garden tractors. More than one small tractor has regretted disabling the safety switch which turns off the engine while the operator is out of the seat.

“It’s a common mistake for people to think of safety as belonging only to the work place,” McKee said.

Protection equipment such as safety glasses, sturdy footwear and face shields should be used when operating all power equipment even home weed and brush trimmers.

“I still treat a chain saw with the utmost respect,” McKee said.

Regarding the winery deaths, McKee said, “The men most like lost consciousness when they inhaled carbon dioxide gas, a fermentation by-product, which was released when they opened the hatch.”

He recommends that wineries have gas monitors capable of detecting carbon dioxide. Confined space hazards include too little or too much oxygen, toxic gases, and entrapment or engulfment in bins and hoppers.

“Think outside the box about confined and partially confined spaces—engine spaces in large tractors and trunks, irrigation pump stations, and crawl spaces,” said McKee.

Consider ways to prevent or minimize entry and how to facilitate a rescue if necessary. Potential hazards can also be found underground. Buried electric and gas lines can be a danger in vineyards when excavating for the installation of water pipes or new gas lines. “You may have no idea of existing lines that were put in years ago,” McKee said.

Proper training in use of equipment is essential, for example, how to keep orchards girettes from tipping over.

Common problems in this area include dehydration from heat and wildlife. “Many of our foreign workers don’t understand that bears can be dangers,” McKee said.

Workers and home owners alike tell McKee, “I’ve been doing this for ages and never had a problem.”

“The sad truth is one day you may have a big problem” he said.

Safety saves employers money through the elimination of the need to pay wages for injured and replacement workers, lower WorkSafeBC rates and decreased damage to tools and equipment.

“I’m here to help identify potential problems and what can be done to eliminate or reduce them,” said McKee, who can be reached at (250) 808-4079.

Susan McIver is The Penticton Herald’s Summerland reporter and agricultural columnist.