Safety in the shop

It’s not a mystery that when more equipment is around, the inherent risks of operating (or even existing in the space) becomes more hazardous. But seriously, how bad could it be?

Considering I’ve seen plenty of people who hardly ever wear a respirator (or even a simple dust mask), we’ve got a few things to go over… Wearing a mask is one of the simplest forms of protection that is so often overlooked due to carelessness. [That and safety glasses, because we’re all too cool for saving our eyeballs].

In most industrial environments there are minimum safety requirements by law for employees. These requirements are enforced by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), formed in 1970-1971 to ensure that employers provide safe working conditions for their employees

There are several things you can do to ensure you have a safe environment to work in. It’s a good idea to set up your workshop or business in a way that promotes the healthiest environment that you can achieve.

You’ll want to have well ventilated areas or a ventilation system to remove harmful particles from the air (such as saw dust or metal grinding dust). You’ll also want to know the composition of the material you’re working with and the health hazards it poses.

Being a welder, you’ll want a ventilation system especially for metals like aluminum, titanium, and galvanize. (Mild steel and iron can also produce fumes that irritate the respiratory system). While these fumes may also have long term effects that do not present themselves until later in life.

Sanding is another topic, it’s important to know the hazards of the material you’re working with. Do your research before you jump in and start to sand things like aluminum, because the particles (or dust) released into the air present at least a few major hazards…

  • For starters, sanding aluminum can release oxide dust into the air [which is combustible if overheated]. These clouds cannot be put out with water. They’ll require a Class D extinguishing agent.
  • Aluminum is toxic, and the effects from sanding could be serious if the proper precautions are not taken. It can cause:
    • Headaches
    • Mental Confusion
    • Memory Problems
    • Loss of Coordination
    • Learning Difficulty
    • Exposure could contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease according to scientists

When it comes to wood, a lot of people unknowingly damage themselves by working without a mask. Especially when sanding or running a saw with hard woods.

Small, fibrous particles of wood dust are released into the air when cutting or sanding. Though our respiratory system can filter out the large particles, the small ones can make it deep into our lungs. Each time we are exposed to this, we add to the irreversible damage it causes.

Some woods are treated with chemicals, glues, resins and even formaldehyde.

Breathing in these dust particles can cause symptoms of occupational asthma and even lung cancer later in life (I’m not a scientist, but real scientists have theories that are published throughout the web).

To cut down on the dust, investing in ventilation systems and “on-tool extraction” systems is the best way to go. Whether you’re sawing, routing, or sanding, the addition of an extraction system is (in a nutshell) a vacuum hose hooked to your machinery pointed at your work piece to suck up the dust.

Not expensive when compared to possible doctor and hospital bills for future illness.

Invest in good, quality respirators for you and your employees (if you have any), and be sure to get the correct filters for those respirators.

I urge you not to cheap out and buy the little paper masks because a lot of times those will still let dust in. If you’ve ever painted with aerosol and used one of those little paper masks, you know what I’m talking about. You can taste the paint that permeated your mask for hours after.

In addition to worker-worn safety equipment, such as approved safety glasses, gloves, protective clothing (including safety toed shoes/boots, jackets and long pants), respirator and even personal ventilation systems; the shop should also have a few safety measures of it’s own.

Safety precautions are common sense to some people, but not so obvious to others; which is okay if it’s made a priority to learn.

Be sure to layout your machinery appropriately, with the emergency shutoff button accessible (if the machine has one).

Be sure to learn safe operating practices, and pass those practices along to any employees you may hire and have them sign an agreement that they were trained in those safe practices. Insurance claims and workers compensation are to be taken seriously and avoided if at all possible with proper training.

It can be expensive if you’re found legally responsible for an employee injury due to negligence (if they were not trained).

When unsure of how to properly operate your machinery, refer to the manufacturers manual (there is usually a section which explains the dangers of operation, along with instructions intended to explain proper operation and how to avoid injury).

You’ll want to be sure to follow some simple rules:

  • Do not stick your hands in moving machines (such as table saws, band saws (really any kind of saw), grinders, routers, punch presses, press brakes, etc)
  • Don’t breath in saw dust, steel dust, or smoke/fumes
  • Don’t weld or grind next to anything flammable
  • Watch for slippery, uneven or hazardous surfaces to prevent falls
  • Learn proper lifting methods to prevent back damage
  • Keep your eyes and ears open when traveling through a facility (nobody wants to get run over by a 4,000 lb forklift)
  • If you see something dangerous, report it to your direct manager or fix it yourself if you’re the boss

Anything in life can be dangerous; know your industry or line of work and always remember the super cheesy phrase:

Safety is no accident

Photo by Pixabay on

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