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Preventing Accidents in Non-Routine Tasks

- January 31, 2017 by Glen O'Rourke, ALCM (View all posts by Glen)

Nearly all organizations must occasionally have non-routine tasks performed. In this case, a “non-routine task” is a task that is performed no more than once per year. These tasks can include specialized maintenance of equipment or storage vessels (tanks, silos, etc.) and repair of equipment and/or building services that have stopped functioning due to damage and/or breakdown.

Adverse events have the potential to occur during the performance of non-routine tasks including sudden and accidental release of substances and/or injury or illness to personnel performing the tasks and to others in the general area. The very fact that the activities are non-routine makes the potential for an adverse incident more likely.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • Personnel performing the task may not be trained on the particular task or the operation/use of any specialized equipment/tools required for performing the task.
  • Employees designated to carry out the task may not have experience performing the task. Those employees that have completed the function in the past may no longer be with the organization.  Even employees that have previously completed the task might not remember the details.
  • Performance of the task may require specific personal protective equipment (PPE) to be worn. The employees may not be properly fitted to this PPE and familiar with its use.
  • Chemicals necessary for the task may no longer be available (i.e. taken off of the market since the task was previously performed) and thus new chemicals with different hazards may be chosen.  Chemicals that have been stored since the time that the task was previously performed may have degraded (i.e. their “shelf life” may have expired and they may have become unstable and more hazardous).
  • A hazardous chemical may be required for the task that is not normally used in the area.  The result may be that employees become exposed to the chemical hazards without proper training, controls, or protective equipment.
  • Performing the task may expose personnel to potentially hazardous situations not encountered during their normal work activities. Such conditions could include work at heights, work in confined spaces, release of hazardous energy and/or engulfment.  Each of these situations could present unfamiliar issues requiring training and specialized equipment.

Before performing a non-routine task, you should conduct the following steps:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment, such as a job safety analysis, in order to identify the potential hazards present in the task.
  • Review the Safety Data Sheets for any chemicals involved to determine any hazards the use of the chemicals may create.
  • Chose the exact control measures for each of the dangers encountered.
  • Develop a written procedure for the task, with the hazard control measures clearly specified.
  • Train personnel performing the task on the procedure, including the proper hazard control measures and use of any specialized tools/equipment (included personal protective equipment).
  • Consider contracting out the non-routine task to another organization that performs the task on a regular basis.

Non-routine tasks present many challenges, including the potential for an adverse event.  Proper planning and preparation, including the identification and control of the anticipated hazards, can help reduce risk.

What techniques have you used? We’d love to hear how you prevent accidents in non-routine tasks. Just drop us a note below.