Semiconductor Safety Has No Easy Button

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Envision a semiconductor cleanroom. No dirt, no grime, not even a speck of dust. Now imagine the orange glow of molten metal splashing up from a metal foundry’s unfinished concrete floors or a warehouse full of moving forklifts. The stark contrast of these scenes may suggest that ensuring safety is relatively easier in semiconductor and high-tech industry settings.

Things are not always as they seem

As an EHS professional, I have supported the design, construction, and commercialization of semiconductor wafer fabrication facilities and I can tell you that safety only looks easier because of the enormous upfront effort in mitigating the risks involved. That’s the paradox: operational safety may happen with relative ease but only if initial planning and implementation processes were well-resourced priorities from the beginning.

A company that invests less at the outset often pays more later by struggling against a facility environment that’s inherently less conducive to safe operations. Energetic, unforgiving chemistries found in the semiconductor and high-tech industries make these sorts of deferred investments an unacceptable risky proposition.

Prevention through design

An early focus on safety controls is a goal of Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) standards. The approach espoused by SEMI is known as “prevention through design.” This approach is masterfully employed by semiconductor and high-tech industries. This leads to safe, healthy, and more productive environmentally-friendly operations.1

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Cure complacency with a dose of reality

Well-controlled processes can make safety look easy. Dangerous complacency is possible when workers view safety as a foregone conclusion. People need to understand and respect the risk of that tiger inside the cage (or that cylinder inside of the gas cabinet). That’s one of the reasons why experts from the Semiconductor Environmental Health and Safety Association (SESHA) host “boot camps” where semiconductor operations and safety controls are considered at a nuanced level for EHS professionals who are new to the industry2.

Consultants, vendors, temporary workers, and other third parties benefit from orientation training

Think back to a time when you visited an unfamiliar production environment for a glimpse into the third party perspective. Perhaps you’ve followed your mechanic into a service bay to hear about automotive service needs. The sound of engines revving and impact wrenches turning may have alerted you to possible dangers of that work environment. You were hypersensitive: the exact opposite of complacent. However, wide-eyed and alert isn’t the same and isn’t as “safe” as fully cognizant and aware.

Unique, constantly evolving processes make semiconductor and high technology industries a particularly challenging environment for consultants, vendors, temporary workers, and other third party support personnel.

We must provide these workers with the specific information about the industry’s hazards, risks, and precautions. We cannot rely on these workers to ask for the information (they may not even know the right questions to ask). This is why leading employers often require orientation training prior to work at these unique, ever changing facilities.

Make it look easy

Prevention of environment, health and safety incidents is best accomplished during the design-build phase of a project. Several standards exist to direct these up-front efforts. Well-controlled processes can make safety look easy, yet safety is far from a foregone conclusion. Complacency and a lack of knowledge about hazards, risk, and precautions are problems that can be overcome through training, education and appropriate reinforcement.

Footnote

1 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that semiconductor and related device manufacturing industries had a nonfatal recordable injury and illness rate of 1.1 cases per 100 full time workers in 2014 (this is 73% better than private sector manufacturing as a whole).

2 SESHA recently partnered with Underwriters Laboratories to produce a first of its kind series of online training courses that are similar to SESHA’s instructor-led “boot camp” sessions. SEMI S19 – Safety Guideline for Training of Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipment Installation, Maintenance and Service Personnel and several other standards are accounted for in the new training. SESHA hopes to reach large numbers of equipment vendors, fab workers, maintenance technicians and other professionals with this new information about industry hazards, risks, and precautions.

Data Sources

http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/ostb4356.pdf

http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/osch0054.pdf

http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/ostb4351.pdf