Developing a Safety Mindset at Work

Pressure Washer’s Guidebook: Developing a Safety Mindset at Work

Published May 2024

Be Aware. Be Informed. Be Compliant. Safety must be an integral part of the work process, not an afterthought.

Potential fines, lost revenue, disrupted work, dissatisfied customers, and disgruntled employees, to name a few consequences.

As business owners and responsible citizens, we should all want to avoid safety citations and/or fines. More importantly, we need to keep ourselves, our customers, and our workers safe. And the only way to lower the risk is to incorporate safety as the most important part of the job.

Checklists For A Safe Working Environment

Both Dingler and Draper agree that safety at work begins with ensuring a safe working environment by creating a corporate culture where safety is always top of mind. Employees should be trained to review the job site for safety hazards before any work commences. Having a formal checklist helps. Create a checklist that specifically works for your team and the type of work that you do. Don’t just use another company’s checklist verbatim as many factors should be incorporated into your safety plan. Use your customized checklist at each worksite to determine what, if any, PPE is needed and any other steps that must be taken to ensure a safe workplace. Use the following suggestions to assess the workplace environment to create your checklist. And be open to employee suggestions to update or revise the checklist as needed. Remember, folks with their proverbial “boots on the ground” may notice things that you (as a manager/owner) may not be aware of. Accept their feedback graciously.

Once your checklist is completed, develop a method of responding to the potential hazards identified at any job site. The checklist can be a printed form on a clipboard or on a tablet/ smartphone.

“Before any job begins, employees should be instructed to set a focused time for a safety assessment using the checklist you have created together, and take the time to review the general site and the work to be performed,” stresses Draper. “But remember, no checklist can cover every potential danger or risk. Use common sense, and empower your team to question situations (in order to identify and correct hazards) and to think before starting the job.”

Safety Checklist Considerations

Employee Safety: Consider everyBODY! Here are some examples of the things that could affect a worker at a job site:

• Loud sounds—continual or sudden—can affect hearing.

• Objects (projectiles) or substances (vapors, fumes, and light) can damage eyes.

• Temperatures can be so high they burn or so low they freeze parts of the body.

• Sharp or heavy objects can puncture or strike feet, hands, or limbs.

• Objects that are in the hands of overhead workers or that become windborne can fall and injure someone.

• Contained spaces or low clearances constrict mobility and can lead to injuries to one’s head and body.

• Caustic or hazardous substances pose a direct contact threat.

• Working high up or around obstacles presents trip-and-fall hazards.

• PPE must be a match for the specific situation. For example, evaluate hazardous substances that an employee will be in contact with either through use (application) or removal (during washing).

“I also recommend doing a 360° walk around when arriving on any new job site,” adds Dingler. “The term ‘doing a 360’ is used in the fire department to locate hazards of a burning structure. The walk around is performed by the first firefighter to arrive at the scene. He or she looks for items like indoor swimming pools, solar panels, generators, barred doors or windows, etc. that could potentially kill a firefighter when the structure is compromised due to a fire. This same methodology is used by my lead technicians at Firehouse Power Washing. They must perform a 360° walk around with the client upon arrival to address any specific areas of the home and cleaning concerns. This also gives the lead technician an opportunity to locate and identify any safety hazards of the job and relay that information to the support technicians on the jobsite.”

HAZMAT Training: The origin of the word/term “HAZMAT” was formed by combining the first three letters of each of two words: “hazardous” and “material.” Everyone pressure washing for others should be HAZMAT trained for their own safety as well as for those around them.

“With proper HAZMAT training, a contractor working for larger companies, factories, or other types of large industries will know what to do in the event of a chemical spill/interaction and will know to pull and review the safety data sheets (SDS) on all exposed products in the work area,” explains Draper. “The SDS for any product used must be kept on site as well as readily and easily accessible.”

“Compile a three-ring binder filled with the SDS of any chemical that you use and keep it on your rig [and another copy at your shop] at all times,” advises Dingler. “If your rig is involved in a collision, you are required to possess an SDS for each chemical you are transporting. Sodium hypochlorite and muriatic acid, for example, are safe in their own containers. If you have an accident, and the two are combined in a spill, that quickly becomes a HAZMAT scene because if any vapors produced are inhaled, it could be fatal.”

To find HAZMAT training near you, simply type “HAZMAT training” in your internet search bar.

Environment: Care for the environment should also factor into your safety plan. Each person washing must know what they are cleaning, what they are washing off, and how to manage wastewater.

Equipment safety: The equipment a contractor uses must also be scrutinized for safety. Be sure that equipment is in good condition, has not been altered, and is being used exactly as it was intended to be. Also, keep up to date with requirements that OSHA places on the configuration of equipment.

For example: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) class #3 requirements (for any pressure washer greater than 3200 psi) state that all pressure washers must have a 24-inch hose guard on the hose by the operator as well as a 48-inch lance. OSHA also dictates that belt-driven machines have a belt guard in place as a safety precaution to avoid injury or amputation of a technician’s hand or fingers. Know the specific equipment safety requirements for your region as it may vary from state to state.

Hazardous energy sources are a real danger in the workplace. People who work at a site all of the time are familiar with what is present. Power washers often work at a site for a single job. A contractor who is not familiar with the potential sources of hazardous energy at a site should work with the appropriate operations person there to identify the sources.

Look for electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic hazards. Also, look for other sources of hazardous energy, such as sources of radiation (e.g., in and around hospitals, imaging laboratories). Then, develop a plan for locking out those sources of energy (e.g., covering electrical outlets and shutting off the main power to a facility).

Each employee must be trained in proper lockout—tagout—tryout procedures that protect workers by preventing others from turning on equipment or from a release of energy while working on or servicing equipment and machinery in confined spaces. The tandem process ensures all sources of energy hazards are found, locked out, and marked. (Training may be available in your area through OSHA.)

Confined spaces: Working in confined spaces (tanks, hoppers, etc.) adds complexity. The atmosphere must be tested, and respirators (and other PPE) may need to be worn. A special permit may be needed, team members may require special training, and no one should ever work in a confined space alone.

Working in confined spaces can be very dangerous. Understand the requirements, and do not violate them. Confined space accidents are almost always fatal, so don’t take chances.

How OSHA Can Help Your Business

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency created to oversee all aspects of job safety. Canada’s federal version of OSHA is the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

OSHA (and CCOHS) requirements for safety, record keeping, incident reporting, and more apply to any company that has a role in commerce and has any employee who is subject to their regulations. There is essentially no commercial activity that does not fall under the purview of OSHA.

Being a contractor that follows safe practices and uses equipment in accordance with its design is not enough. Documentation of policies and training for employees is needed as well.

Any contractor, even a one-person business, should visit the OSHA website (OSHA.gov) and review expectations. Also, sign up for alerts from OSHA and identify the regional or state OSHA office that covers the area in which work is being done. Finally, take advantage of OSHA workshops, online and on site, when they are offered.

OSHA training and compliance: Consider OSHA your business friend, not a foe. Hazard communications, control of hazardous energy, confined space entry, personal protective equipment, falls and ladders, and bloodborne pathogens are among the topics on which a contractor can get assistance and training through OSHA’s consultation/support team or from OSHA-certified trainers. OSHA also has an enforcement branch that writes citations and levies fines.

By being engaged with the OSHA consultation arm, a contractor can


Even with a focus on safety, accidents do happen, as evidenced by Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “2023 Top 10 Safety Violations.” Of the thousands of safety violations in 2023, some of those in the Top Ten included:

• children being allowed to operate forklifts at a warehouse;

• fatal falls due to employer failure to properly train workers and provide PPE;

• carbon monoxide poisoning leading to death;

• a business owner who was struck and killed by the bulldozer he was attempting to fix; avoid problems that lead to citations. Primarily for smaller businesses, these no-cost, confidential consultations help employers identify and address hazards and establish or improve safety and health programs.

• and more.

As with previous years, fall protection ranked first among violations. (Learn more at www.SafetyComplianceAlert.com.)

Services are provided by consultants from state agencies or universities and are separate from OSHA enforcement. The consultants from OSHA will come out and do an opening conference or walk-through survey of the workplace, a safety and health program assessment, employee exposure monitoring as necessary, and a closing conference. The consultant will advise a business owner of hazards. The owner then has 30 days to correct any hazards. By taking advantage of the consultation, a company can earn a tax credit. (Visit www.osha.gov/consultation for more information.)

OSHA provides extensive help to businesses of all sizes and incentives for being proactive. For any contractor or business owner who has trepidation about receiving assistance from OSHA, know that there are a great number of private companies that assist businesses with OSHA compliance. Put “OSHA compliance” in an online search engine to get local leads for training and support.

Other excellent sources of assistance are professional organizations related to the pressure washing industry that offer a variety of safety training sessions and provide their members with alerts to changes in OSHA regulations. This includes the following:

• Cleaning Equipment Trade Association (CETA)

• Power Washers of North America (PWNA)

• United Association of Contract Cleaners (UAMCC)

• WaterJet Technology Association (WJTA), and

• International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association (IKECA).

It is important to understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Be aware, be informed, get in compliance, and work safely. “Remember, ‘surprises’ are what hurt and kill people,” concludes Dingler. “A few moments invested at the start of the job not only ensures a safer work environment but could also save time and money … or someone’s life.”


Michael Draper has worked in the window cleaning and pressure washing industries in Bloomington, IL, since 1989. His safety-related credentials are impressive and include serving on the board of directors of the IWCA and certification as a rope descent specialist; working for a safety distributor helping companies train employees on the proper use of safety equipment; being an authorized anchor inspector and trainer for several fall protection manufacturers; and serving as the director of education and compliance for the PWNA. expertsafetyservices.com

Mike Dingler currently holds a National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedic License. He is also certified as a HAZMAT technician and a SWAT tactical medic. He is the president of the Peachtree City Firefighter Foundation and also serves as the chair of marketing for the PWNA. His wife, Monica, (also a paramedic and a former firefighter) helps Mike operate Firehouse Pressure Washing. The company specializes in soft washing, pressure washing, and roof cleaning. It is owned and operated by off-duty firefighters and paramedics and has operated in Senoia and Peachtree City, GA, since 1998. firehousepowerwash.com.

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