New Safety Captain looking for help/advice

Hi, I’m Pratik, a member of 6897 Astraea Robotics. I was recently given the position of Safety Captain and am looking for more resources to read up on or just advice from current Safety Captains of other teams. We have a competition coming up on June 22nd and I would like to become more educated in the culture of safety over here at FIRST.

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  1. Keep track of everything you need to take to competition. The safety inspectors will often ask about things like baking soda and your safety manual, so make sure you don’t forget them.
  2. Work with your local emergency services to see if they can provide safety training to your team. Our fire department even set up small fires for us to put out, so it can be a fun experience as well as an educational one.
  3. Keep track of your safety journal. If you don’t have one made yourself, use the one FIRST puts out every year.
  4. Make sure all safety items (baking soda, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, etc) are easily accessible in your pit.
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Tell your team to put on safety glasses while not making people mad at you
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Make signs that go near tools if people are not using the tools properly
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Inventory first aid equipment and other safety stuff

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Don’t leave the pit
at the three events that my team attended I spoke to the safety judges zero times because at the first event the safety judges did not go around to pits and our second event and, at Detroit champs I was Not in the pit so some freshman answered the questions

Probably the most important advice I can give you is: Learn the difference between Safety and Safety Theater.

Having a first aid kit, stocked and ready to go, can be an example of both. If you have a fully-stocked unit with at least one of every kind of bandage known to mankind and a bunch of other stuff, but you don’t know how to use anything other than a Band-Aid, you’ve just committed Safety Theater. If, on the other hand, you have a more manageable size of kit and you and your teammates know how to use everything in it, you’re being Safe (especially if you don’t have to use the kit).

Focus on the Safety part of things, ignore the Theater.

Oh, and @jared-bernon: When I tell the team to put on safety glasses, I don’t care if they get mad at me. Admittedly I’m a mentor, but if you’re called out for not wearing safety glasses when you should be and you get mad, that’s on you. We only have a bazillion pairs…

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So along those lines of talking to the judges, what exactly should I being doing there? I don’t think I should run through our whole journal, so how do I decide what things to emphasize and talk more about?

Biggest Advice? Actually care about safety. Look at your pits and see what you could do better. Visit other teams and learn about their safety practices. Don’t spend all your time in the pits, but have a “back up” for when you are gone.

I could go on, but I think a story might convey my point better. When I was a student in 2016, I was the talker of the pits. Whether it was about robots, safety, business, code, how we tied our shoes, I could answer it. Thus, I also took the role of talking about our safety.
I remember a quantity of safety captains coming along and asking about our safety plan. I would answer questions as they asked. However, there was one student from 3357 that truly stood out to me.
I believe his name was Andrew, and he asked one specific question, “Where do you guys keep your battery acid spill kit?” My response was, “oh, we don’t have one at the moment.” Andrew then went back to his pit, search for a moment, and found some baking soda, and said, “It’s not a lot, but here’s something”. I was blow away. I had seen teams hand out kits before, but the ton of his voice showed this student truly was concerned about my safety. He really cared about making sure people were ok. It touched me a lot. Be like Andrew.

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Yes. Many teams seem to focus on safety (theatre) at the events because they may win an award. However, watching them work on their robot tells me that they are in the habit of using unsafe practices back at their shop where the team members spend the majority of their time.

Spend some time studying how your team uses hazardous materials, tools and equipment in your shop and think about how the processes can be changed to mitigate those hazards. If possible, quantify the results of your process improvements. Write it up and keep a copy in your pit to show the Judges.

In some previous thread, someone posted that handing out little first aid kits with a few Bandaids in it isn’t really promoting safety. They pointed out the risk in using first aid supplies of unknown provenance.

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The most important aspects of being an effective safety captain are:

  1. Knowing the relevant safety rules and procedures.
  2. Having the confidence and authority to teach and enforce them.
  3. Reflecting and analyzing your team’s safety culture, failures, and successes, so you can recognize areas to improve.

Advice for each of these:

  1. If your team has a safety manual, read it. If your safety manual’s not very good, improving it could be a good project. If you don’t have one, read some from other teams (I’m pretty proud of this one: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B68rVel_Obl0X2t3LThoc0ZsVzg/view?usp=sharin), and use them as a basis to write your own (giving them credit as appropriate). Strive to make your safety manual match reality; if everyone ignores a particular rule because it doesn’t make sense to them, you should figure out whether the right course of action is to start enforcing it more strictly, or to throw out the rule. If your safety policy has rules that even you ignore, that undermines how seriously your team will take any of it.

  2. Half the job is just being able to gently, but firmly remind people to wear safety glasses (less gently if it’s the third time in the last hour), and being able to lay down the law on more immediately dangerous violations, even when they’re committed by someone who “outranks” you. If you’re afraid to do that, it’s going to be hard to do a good job. If you feel like you’re doing it to the best of your ability and people are blowing you off, talk to a mentor you trust - they can give you advice on how to do this better, and potentially talk to the team about taking safety more seriously.

  3. I think it’s helpful to start by sitting down and reflecting on your team, and what aspects of safety it struggles with or could do better, and then coming up with a few tangible goals and actions you can take. Do people forget (or “forget”) to wear safety glasses when they drill? Are only a couple people trained on how to safely use a bandsaw? Does your mechanical team go home with scraped-up hands every night because your team doesn’t fillet or file down sharp edges on robot parts? Does your machine room have poor ventilation, so that everyone’s breathing dust/coolant mist while they work? Does your software team insist there’s no way to test the robot without touching it while it’s enabled? There are endless common problems like these, your team probably has some of them. Pick two or three that feel the most urgent, and brainstorm solutions (ideally something more creative and effective than “yell at people about it more”). At appropriate times (after you’ve taken action and given it a little time to work), reflect on whether it’s working and whether you should try another approach.

I completely agree with other posters about the difference between safety and safety theater. Your teammates’ safety is too important to be sacrificed in order to pander to judges; focus your energy on things that will actually help protect your team, and then tell the judges about what you did. If they think what you did was impressive, that’s a nice bonus, but caring too much about what the safety judges want to hear will distract you from making genuine improvements.

Source: I mentored safety captains for the SuperNURDs for 3 years, and we made a lot of tangible improvements

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Once you’ve cleared the differences between safety theatre and safety as @EricH described…

It’s probably in the standard list of things to have, but make sure you have signed safety contracts from all of your student members (and technical mentors) on hand.
At full-team meetings, make it a point to regularly ask people if they have noticed any unsafe or questionable practices of the team, and make it clear that reporting these is expected and encouraged. If unsafe practices are identified which are not covered by the current safety contract, UPDATE the contract! Remember that sometimes “safety equipment” makes the job less safe - an example is that using gloves around drills, lathes, and other rotating equipment is actually more likely to CONTRIBUTE to injury (by drawing the hand into hazards) than prevent it. Don’t do this once a year - do it at least once a month while the team is building, bi-weekly during build season, and more often than that if your team can stand it. Proper response to “close calls” saves digits and limbs and lives.

Another thing: conduct regular inspections of equipment, both safety equipment and operational equipment to ensure that you don’t have unsafe conditions like (not necessarily a complete list, just what I thought of in a few minutes):

  • Safety glasses so scratched up that they inhibit vision
  • Gloves with holes or near-holes
  • Broken safety equipment
  • Missing clamps on saws and other cutting tools
  • Nicked or frayed electrical cords or damaged plugs
  • Dull or damaged blades/bits
  • Clogged filters or overfull dust collection bags
  • Broken/malfunctioning tools, both power tools and hand tools

And of course, tag out the equipment until repairs/cleaning/correction/replacement is complete! Remember that those inspections should include batteries and battery charging systems for tools and robots, and all of your power tools and robots.

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If you’re looking for help, many of our students actually interned at different companies as “safety engineers” and have won multiple safety stars at worlds. PM me if you are interested in connecting with them.