‘Tis the season for holiday safety! #HazardSpotting

| November 19, 2014

#HazardSpotting is a community safety initiative that helps raise awareness about dangerous workplace safety violations. Our audience submits pictures, and we write an article with insight from featured safety professionals. In our sixteenth edition, we’re examining holiday safety in a dangerous holiday lighting set-up scene with guest insight from our friend, Frank Fox.

We’re entering the festive time of year, starting with oven roasted turkeys (which deserves plenty of its own safety attention — check out this post about Thanksgiving cooking safety over on the SmartSign blog), pumpkin pie and everything else pumpkin, and impatient shopping crowds at six in the morning.

Right around the corner from our offices in Brooklyn, NY, we encountered what appeared to be a hazardous site: three workers, two using ladders (one aluminum portable ladder and one fiberglass stepladder), and the other on an aerial lift. Frank Fox has returned as our featured safety expert, and pointed out a number of hazards. Let’s dissect the problematic components in this holiday set up.

Work zone hazards

Wide-view shot of the holiday light work zone.

Holiday lights create a festive atmosphere along commercial boulevards, but we were concerned by the casual approach by these workers when it comes to ladders, lifts, and PPE as they decorate the street for the holidays.

Frank stated that although an orange cone is on the deck of the aerial lift, there isn’t any barrier tape or barricades visible. This is a concern when you consider the proximity of the workers and their equipment to passerby. As this site is located on public property, it’s exposed to significant pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic. People are moving objects that could walk into harm’s way, especially if the worker in the basket is in motion.

Personal protective equipment

Two cornerstones of PPE are missing on the workers: hardhats and eye protection.

These holiday elves are missing some important PPE. Eye protection and hardhats would keep them safe from falling tree branches or falling from their perches.

Working underneath and in the midst of trees, loose objects such as small limbs can fall and harm workers. None of the workers are wearing eye or face protection; according to 29 CFR 1910.133, OSHA requires employers to “ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles” — in this case, safety glasses should be used. Additionally, the workers aren’t protecting their heads. 29 CFR 1910.135 mandates that “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects.” All that said, hardhats are missing in this scene as well.


Much of our attention went straight to the ladders to determine if there were discernable hazards. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.1053(b) contains two relevant points:

  1. Ladders placed in any location where they can be displaced by workplace activities or traffic, such as in passageways, doorways, or driveways, shall be secured to prevent accidental displacement, or a barricade shall be used to keep the activities or traffic away from the ladder.
  2. The area around the top and bottom of ladders shall be kept clear.

Since this scene was on public property, there’s plenty of foot, bike, and vehicle traffic. As noted above, no decent barricade is visible, which could allow for potential “accidental displacement.”

Frank mentioned to us that “The worker on the aluminum ladder is doing work outside of ladder handrails (changes ladder geometry)” and that his preference for ladders is wood or fiberglass, since aluminum can pose issues in regards to electrical hazard potential. In this scene, only one of the ladders is fiberglass.

Aerial lift

The worker on the aerial lift appears to be leaning over the boom basket.

Aerial lifts are sturdy but they’re not foolproof — this worker appears to be leaning over the boom basket and that could endanger him if the center of gravity changes, which OSHA warns against.

Thankfully electric power lines are run underground in our area, so that’s one less significant danger for the workers to deal with. However, there still appear to be hazards. The scene is congested, with the workers on ladders arguably too close for comfort to the boom basket — especially the work using the stepladder.

In OSHA’s aerial lift fact sheet, inspections of the work zone must be completed prior to beginning a job, including determining the presence of others in the vicinity. It’s difficult to confidently say that if the angle which the worker is leaning over the basket is hazardous, although OSHA also warns against leaning over guardrails or handrails. Frank says, “[The worker is] leaning on the working deck of the boom basket of the aerial lift; I don’t remember seeing one like that, and it appears it could change the center of gravity if extended over the side.”

As we get closer to December 1 and the Communities across the world are gearing up preparations for one of hallmarks of November and December festivities: holiday lights. This age-old tradition can be an extensively-detailed project, involving workers going out on a limb — literally — to hang intricate decorations on branches of trees and on roofs of buildings. Although the finished product can be breathtaking, holiday light installers must take heed to a plethora of safety precautions to stay injury-free and healthy.

More about #HazardSpotting

Frank Fox, returning #HazardSpotting guest safety expert: Fox worked at a large chemical plant on the Texas coast for 40.2 years, and has “just about seen it all.” He hired in operations, and did Six Sigma on reduction of defects on Safe Work Permits. Fox taught Safety Standards at the local community college to new employees in two-year associate degree programs. Since he wasn’t issued a door knob with his name on it, Fox worked his way into EH&S and was effective with operations because of his extensive experience. As Fox himself says, “I wasn’t just someone in a pair of Dockers being a pest. I rather liked safety, and it seemed funny I was paid for something I enjoyed.”

Think you’ve seen an unsafe work condition? Whether it’s construction, manufacturing, or food safety, we’ll investigate the hazard. Snap a picture and share your story with us by sending an email to the editor at Krissa (at) SmartSign (dot) com. We’ll write a post and consult a safety expert.

Category: #HazardSpotting

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