That Personal Touch

ID cards that identify the employee can draw attention to safety locks when lives are on the line.

EMPLOYEES of MEGTEC, a leading manufacturer of air flotation dryers and oxidation pollution control equipment, often have to work in dangerous situations. Some of these require lockout/tagout controls, with employees placing locks on electrical, gas, or air supplies to make sure nothing happens while they're working. They may also put a lock on a drain to prevent incoming liquid from reaching them.

"People performing maintenance on a machine often are in danger of being electrocuted, crushed, or sprayed with toxic chemicals if someone accidentally tries to operate the machine," said Christopher Campbell, Environmental Health Safety/Security manager. To draw extra attention to the locks, MEGTEC attaches an ID card with the company logo, a photo of the employee, and his or her name, along with a sign that says "Locked out. Do not remove. My life is on the line."

"All companies have to have something like this," said Campbell. "Some have a standard tag; some write the information out each time. We made ours very personal. Individuals who see a person's face and name are less likely to mess around with a lockout. The cost is only $2 per card, which is very reasonable, and it takes only a few seconds to print one out."

Campbell said using lockout tags in the company's manufacturing facility helps to save time. "My supervisors and crew leaders used to have to read the lockout tag to identify who had locked out a piece of equipment, whether one of our products or a machine we use in-house to make them," he said. "Also, some people's handwriting is just not that legible. Now, with a picture, there's no guessing, and we can tell at a glance who is working where."

Campbell recently visited one of MEGTEC Systems' major customers to evaluate safe working conditions for its field service representatives. The personalized lockout tags were visible right alongside those of the customer's maintenance staff and other outside vendors' locks. The maintenance supervisor remarked how easy it was to tell who was working on what system at any given time, just by looking at the locks.

While many of the MEGTEC Systems field service representatives work simultaneously with customer employees and other subcontractors, and it is common to see lockout tags with photographs, the company uses a system that makes the personalized tags quickly and inexpensively. There is almost no lead time. Campbell prints the tags while the employees wait, and batch size is never a problem. In addition, MEGTEC uses no-technology cards for confined space entry. When field service or shop employees travel to customer sites, they often are required to work in confined spaces. This can be any space, room, or chamber that is large enough for an employee to enter and work in but is not intended for continuous human occupancy because of limited access and exit. "In other words, it can be dangerous," said Campbell. "There might be limited air exchange. People die in confined spaces on an all too frequent basis. That's why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires training on how to assess and control hazards in confined spaces and take care of hazards once inside."

In the case of MEGTEC's products, oxidizers may need to be inspected on the inside once they are up and running. For the sake of safety, customers want proof the employee has had proper training and recertification, which is needed every two years. Not only are the ID cards durable enough to last longer than two years, said Campbell. "We don't have to worry about someone's signature smearing," and the card also lists the expiration date with a scanned signature. It meets OSHA requirements, has an employee's photo, and is durable and easy to produce.

"Initially, I provided each employee with a commercially available card certifying their training," he said. "I would have to write each person's name on the card, date it, and sign it. This was more time-consuming than it sounds because the card material is plastic--durable, but difficult to write on. Then, I went away from cards. Since all of our field service employees carry a notebook computer, I e-mailed them certification of their confined space entry training. This satisfied some customers, but not all. Evidently, most customers were more comfortable with a wallet card than a printed certificate. Now, the employee just shows the wallet card to the customer's safety manager, who can photocopy it for his or her records, and my employee is ready to go to work. . . . I just enter the date of training on the employee's record, select the card format, and the card is ready in less than a minute. As with the lockout tag, the photo on the confined space entry card is positive identification."

Maintaining Security
MEGTEC first began using ID badges when an employee from one of its competitors got into MEGTEC's building and began "nosing around," said Campbell. It wasn't long before a fence went up and access control points went in. That was 14 years ago. Today, the company's security has become more sophisticated, with 12 access control points and eight access levels. It also has special ID cards for forklift operators, in addition to the workers handling lockout situations.

"It is vital that we limit the number of people who come in. Our equipment designs are proprietary," Campbell said. MEGTEC began its business in the printing and papermaking industries, which still represent the company's primary customers. But now MEGTEC provides equipment to any industry that requires its products to be dried on a cushion of air. In addition to these air flotation dryers, MEGTEC builds oxidizers that burn complex air-polluting hydrocarbons into less-polluting materials. Today, MEGTEC provides ID cards for eight access levels:

  • The master level enables employees to go anywhere on the property. It is used for maintenance workers, first aid providers, and key managers.
  • An R&D level permits employees to be inside the research and development areas.
  • Employees can receive office access that gives them access to areas except R&D.
  • The shop crew leaders have access that permits them into areas to talk to others about plans and documents.
  • Shop employees have access to the manufacturing area through an employee entrance.
  • There are three vendor access levels: one for suppliers, one for those who restock manufacturing shelves, and one to allow visitors into the outside gate only.

Flexible Access
MEGTEC's cards are smart cards with access levels encoded onto an induction coil by the company's software; the cards themselves don't reveal an employee's access level. The software used by MEGTEC enables Campbell to program new information into the card whenever necessary. "This flexibility allows us to change access levels as needed," he said. "For example, some employees may need R&D access only for a while, others may join the first aid team. This technology enables us to change access without having to change the whole card."

Borders around the photos on each badge are color-coded, however, for easy visual identification. Red is for employees, green is for vendors, blue is for security staff, and white is used for children on "Take Your Kids to Work" day. "We thought it would be nice to give the children a badge just like their mom's or dad's," said Campbell. "They feel more important that way."

Each ID card is actually two cards in one. Each contains a bar code with an employee's time clock number for use with MEGTEC's optical bar code scanner. "The bar code predates me," Campbell explained. "Someone decided that bar coding was the way to go with 180 hourly shop employees. Today, all office employees have their cards bar coded, as well, in case we ever decide to use the technology for inventory control or other accounting purposes. Someone was thinking ahead. If we want, we can jump right in and use the bar code for additional purposes."

In addition to general security, MEGTEC uses ID cards without technology to identify employees who have been certified forklift operators. This certification is needed every three years, including operator training and evaluation.

"As far as access goes, I think I'm there," said Campbell, admitting he didn't have a wish list for future upgrades. "I'm just trying to make things interesting, memorable, and effective. It's vital that we limit the number of people who come in here, and the . . . printer has enabled us to do that."

This article appeared in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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