Is Your Shop a Safe Place?

By Dave Monyhan

Is your shop a safe place to work? Good questions, isn’t it? What do I mean when I say is your shop safe? Let’s put everything into perspective.

One injury could potentially cost you everything. Lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, consider this …  while working on an important job your top machinist gets a piece of metal in the eye. You take him to the hospital, probably spending several hours to get him fixed up. The doctor tells you that he has to take the rest of the day off – at least.  What have you lost so far? Your most productive machinist’s time, your time and now you’re behind on an important job jeopardizing your income and your relationship with your customer. Plus, your health insurance rates may go up, not to mention your worker’s comp rates.

The next day, if he’s able, he’ll come back to work, but not at 100%. Will the damage to his eye cause him to misread a micrometer or maybe a torque spec? Any numbers of things are now compromised due to this unfortunate situation. Heck, you may even be the one who ends up filling in during this time, so who’s doing your job?

This scenario is a pretty simple one, but what if the injury is more debilitating or perhaps fatal? As a business owner, you could lose everything. What are you going to do? The best thing is to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. Secondly, you must have procedures in place to respond quickly and appropriately to any such emergency.

I know it sounds corny but, corny or not, safety in the shop should be a top priority! But where do you start? Let’s take it from the top – eye and face protection.

I used the eye injury as an example because it’s one of the most common injuries in any shop. Wear safety glasses or goggles at all times! Even if you’re just going into the shop for a couple of minutes to ask a quick question, put your safety glasses on. Make it mandatory! Safety glasses are available from any number of places and they’re relatively inexpensive. You, as the shop owner must set the example for your employees. Remember though, it doesn’t matter how many pairs of safety glasses you have if you don’t wear them. You are simply waiting for an accident to happen. It’s not “if” at this point but “when.”

Wear your safety glasses. No exceptions PERIOD.

Another common work related injury is hearing loss. OSHA estimates that 10 million people in the US have noise induced hearing loss and nearly all of those cases are a result of exposure to noise on the job. You cannot “toughen up” your ears so that you’re not bothered by loud noises. If you’re not as sensitive to loud noises as you once were, you’ve already lost some of your hearing.

Just as with eye and face injuries, hearing loss is easily preventable. Each and every employee in your shop should have hearing protection based on the job they are performing. This could be anything from simple foam earplugs to custom-made headsets. The best hearing protection device is the one that you wear and wear correctly.

Now that your eyes and ears are properly protected, let’s look at the shop.

The cleaning department is one of the most dangerous departments in any shop. All the mess is there, it’s generally hot, and things are flying apart faster than an out-of-balance helicopter rotor. Plus you’re working with very hot chemicals, wire brushes, gasket scrapers, etc. Liquids are dripping all over the place, making the floor slippery, so make sure to have floor-sweep or oil-dry to quickly clean up spills as they occur.

Keep the air-line pressure down. A face full of air at 175 PSI will do damage in a heartbeat. Yes, it’s quick to blow off parts, but be sure you know who and what is next to you when this is done. A better solution may be to use an industrial strength shop vacuum whenever possible. In fact, you will probably want to have a couple of vacuums, one by the surfacing mill and another by the boring bar. Vacuum up the chips after each job and not only do you reduce the debris that can cause injuries, but end-of-day clean up will go much faster.

In a perfect world, every shop would have a painted walkway that is kept clean at all times. Not only does it look good, but it also provides a space where nothing can be set, stacked, stored, laid, or leaned. I know it sounds difficult, but it’s relatively easy to do. Outline your workstations and determine how much space to allow for each machine, and mark it off. Once you have the machines marked off you can then create a line of travel that, if done right, will improve the traffic flow in the shop. This will provide some personal workspace for which each operator can be responsible. Everyone shares the burden of keeping the shop organized, clean and ready to go every day.

This design is great when you bring your best customers through on a tour. They will see how organized your shop layout is and know that you care enough about the quality of your work and the safety of your workers. Make sure you make them wear safety glasses when they tour your shop. Keep extra pairs up on the front counter so there is never an excuse to not wearing them.

Every shop should appoint a safety coordinator. Pay for him or her to take the basic first aid class at the local hospital, high school or Red Cross. The classes generally don’t cost much and you get to motivate an employee in the process. Rotate the title (and the responsibility) every year. This way everyone in the organization gets the same training and the opportunity to be safety coordinator.

Contact your insurance company and invite your rep over for a tour. Why? So you can let them know you are taking workplace safety seriously. Some insurance companies even offer discounts based on your ability to prevent accidents. Put up a sign next to your shop’s master calendar that you have gone X number of days without injury. Let your customers know that you run a safe shop. It shows you have quality on your mind.

Have a centrally located eyewash station and first aid kit in the shop

Here is a short list of items every shop should incorporate into their safety program.

  • A First Aid Kit that’s easily accessible to everyone. Look for one that includes items such as: activated charcoal (use only if instructed by Poison Control Center), adhesive tape, antiseptic ointment, adhesive bandages (assorted sizes), a blanket, cold pack(s), disposable gloves, gauze pads and roller gauze (assorted sizes), disinfectant hand cleaner, plastic bags, scissors and tweezers, a small flashlight and extra batteries, Syrup of Ipecac (use only if instructed by Poison Control Center) and triangular bandages.
  • An Eye Washbasin.
  • Mandatory safety glasses on all employees.
  • Proper steel-toed boots or shoes.
  • A sign that’s says, “keep out” unless you are an employee.
  • Easily accessible fire extinguishers rated for the type of fire that may occur. Be sure that each of your employees knows how to use the extinguishers and properly put out a fire.
  • Facial dust mask and/or respirator depending on the type of work being done.
  • Face shields. These are especially important in areas where sparks or debris may fly.
  • Gloves, but not cotton. For best protection, use machinist gloves made of leather or an equally strong man-made fiber.
  • Steel toed boots or shoes for every employee.
  • Hearing protection for each employee based on his or her job.
  • Full-length work apron of a durable material such as denim, rubber or heavy vinyl for the cleaning department.
  • Arm protection such as shoulder length vinyl gloves or Kevlar sleeves depending on the tasks.
  • Insulated gloves for hot tank work.
  • Heavy-duty heat-resistant gloves for the thermo-cleaning oven.
  • Regular safety training for all employees.

When it comes to shop safety, remember that even if you’re not the one who gets hurt, you’ll still feel the pain.

Don’t forget, if you have more questions, contact the Goodson Tech Department at 1-800-533-8010.

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