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Introducing foreign particles into a cleanroom and other controlled environments can damage equipment, skew data, and even risk worker safety. Fortunately, there are tools and techniques that can help minimize risks of contamination, improve safety, and save costs. Here are four things managers can do to reinforce safety in any cleanroom:

1. Evaluate worker behavior and training

Every person in a cleanroom must work together to maintain a safe environment. Humans are the most difficult contamination source to control in cleanrooms. According to the National Environmental Balancing Bureau, cleanroom operators and technicians make up 70 to 80 percent of contamination problems. Inconsistent or improper work practices can eventually cause injury and damage to the equipment and workplace.

Periodically update and review your processes to ensure accuracy. Ensure workers know why they need to follow specific procedures — they can only be accountable for what they understand. Keep them informed of the risks that can affect all personnel. Deficient safety awareness training causes employees to misunderstand protocol, make mistakes, and cause potential problems.

To prevent costly mistakes, monitor employee morale and conduct open, comprehensive discussions of laws and procedures to stay safe and within compliance. Discuss scenarios with employees including corrective action when mistakes happen. Also, periodically assess gowning processes and consider implementing different training tools that resonate with workers who have different learning styles. Supply visual guides near work areas, color-code important machine instructions, and post easy-to-read graphics and checklists reminding personnel at the entrances to cleanrooms of best practices. Encourage employees to share suggestions for improvements.

Maintain compliance and ensure employee understanding by determining a consistent method of evaluation and testing. Offer refresher training when necessary and instill the importance of maintaining a safe cleanroom at all times.

2. Implement a 5S system

Improve efficiency through facility organization by implementing the lean manufacturing tool 5S. The 5S system is a powerful tool to help identify and correct inefficiencies. Ensure operations run smoothly by keeping all items within the cleanroom clean, functional, and where they belong. A tidy workspace minimizes obstacles, reduces human error, and increases productivity. 5S is made up of five steps to follow. Here are suggestions for how to apply them in cleanrooms and other controlled environments:

Step 1: Sort

Get rid of any unnecessary items or misplaced objects from the cleanroom. This will help eliminate clutter in the workspace, which can quickly build up to generate hazards and hinder productivity.

Step 2: Set in order

Make things easy to find by designating a space for everything. Assign equipment to set locations so employees know where to find it and where to return it each time.

Step 3: Shine

Shine represents basic maintenance duties. Consistently inspect, clean, and disinfect all surfaces and instruments in the cleanroom to protect against contamination.

Step 4: Standardize

Persistently enforce the rules. Keep everyone on the same page with the goals and steps of the 5S system in order to experience the true benefits.

Step 5: Sustain

Repeat all the steps of 5S daily to engrain the practices into operations to ensure the workplace remains clean, safe, and efficient.

3. Install effective floor marking

Improve safety from the ground up with floor marking. Floor marking tape is a worthy safety investment that will enhance visibility, improve safety awareness, and organization. Make it easier for personnel to navigate efficiently throughout the cleanroom and install tape to designate workstations, cordon off sensitive work areas, outline safe pathways, aisles, doorways, storage, and inventory areas. Before installation, ensure the tape has approval for use in cleanrooms and complies with the necessary ISO classification for the environment.

Floor tape is perfect for implementing a 5S system. Create a standardized color-coding scheme with various colors of tape to associate with specific hazards and safety groupings. Clearly mark locations surrounding hazardous work areas that contain moving equipment and machinery. Alert personnel of important locations such as entry to cleanrooms, isolation areas, and cart storage.

Floor tape can outline and highlight areas to prevent damage to expensive equipment, such as ceiling-mounted HEPA filters. Floor tape can help alert personnel who are conducting maintenance activities to keep clear to avoid punctures and other damage. Mark the facility floor and many other areas and surfaces such as walls, carts, shelving, doors, storage cabinets, and more to communicate awareness.

4. Evaluate current safety communication

Safety signs are an essential part of any workplace safety program. They help prevent unsafe behavior and draw attention to important information and hazards. It’s important to conduct regular maintenance of safety signs and labels to check that they’re in good condition. Reduce chances of contamination and confusion by making sure safety labels and signs are consistent by conducting a walk-through of the facility. Evaluate all existing signage and replace any worn, outdated, inaccurate, and damaged labels and signs.

Tailor labels to the specific workplace to alert workers to important site-specific procedures, operation instructions, and more using safety labeling supplies engineered to hold up in cleanroom-controlled environments. Ensure supplies have a synthetic liner or similar material to limit the release of particulates into the air and ensure materials comply with necessary ISO cleanroom classifications. Create and print reliable messages including labels for vials, circuit boards, machinery, tools, and more. Create and print labels whenever the facility needs it by using a thermal transfer printer. By implementing each of these tools, managers can promote a safer, more efficient cleanroom operation.

Kelsey Rzepecki writes for Graphic Products, makers of the DuraLabel line of industrial label and sign printers. www.graphicproducts.com

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