A Word about Safety in the Shop
by Damien Andrews
An accident is always unintended. This means that nobody in an accident did anything on purpose to cause the accident. Bearing in mind that this brief treatise is only interested with accidents in the home shop, such as those of the average do-it-yourselfer, there is usually only one person involved in any given accident. The range of these single person accidents runs the gamut. Accidents can be as simple as a slipping screwdriver blade that cuts a knuckle, or they can be as destructive as a table saw blade grabbing a hand and removing some fingers. Most do-it-yourselfer shop accidents are relatively minor, but when power equipment, heavy hammers and sharp tools are constantly involved, some accidents are going to be serious.
We've already established that accidents around the shop are a) always unintended and b) usually involve only one person. We also clarified that accidents are not caused by an act committed on purpose. Shop safety begins with coming at it all from the other side of that perspective: do something(s) on purpose to prevent accidents in the shop! Let's take a look at what some of these intentional things might be.
There are three pieces of shop safety equipment that should be in every shop – and they should be used religiously:
Just having (and using) these three simple pieces of equipment around the shop could save countless minor injuries caused by accidents, and no doubt also prevent an appreciable number of more serious injuries. Wearing a good pair of work gloves while using a shop utility knife can save a trip to the hospital – and a long term recovery. And whenever a power saw is involved, goggles that fully protect the eye areas – not safety glasses – are a must wear!
Dust masks don't get used nearly enough. They're cheap and easy to use, but they most often seem like too much hassle for the perceived value. If you're cutting plywood or paneling with a fine tooth blade in your circular saw, then you can clearly see why you should wear a dust mask. But most instances when a dust mask should be used are not so clear. You can tell you need a dust mask if you actually just use one. It's simple. Wear it whenever you are sweeping, cutting, spraying paint, etc. You can use the same mask several times. Now, after you've worn the dust mask 3-4 times, check it out. See all that stuff caught on the edges and covering the front – that's NOT in your lungs because you wore a dust mask!
Safety glasses are okay for some applications, but goggles are the best choice to prevent eye problems as the result of a shop accident. Frequently around the shop, a relatively normal event can become an accidental injury – unless steps are taken to prevent this from happening. If you wear safety glasses instead of safety goggles, small chips of wood can (and will) bounce off of your face and glasses and find their way into your eyes. Safety goggles afford full protection for your eyes, and fit nicely over prescription glasses. Properly protecting your eyes while running power tools can also prevent a secondary accident and injury. If you suddenly can't see while running a circular saw, you might hurt yourself or someone else.
Gloves should be worn around the shop at all times. It's just that simple. So many injuries from shop happenings and accidents could be prevented if the do-it-yourselfer would simply protect his or her hands. Small cuts, gouges and abrasions are going to either happen to the worker's hands, or the worker's gloves. Shop safety equipment lists should start with work gloves. (See the middle of the article Tools That Get The Job Done) for more on safety work gloves that are available.) Keep several pair of work gloves around the shop – and wear them as appropriate.
And now for the most important element of shop safety – the best way to prevent injury and accidents. BE AWARE! Think safety – really pay attention to it. Think about it whenever you pickup a power saw or pneumatic nail gun. Remind yourself about safety. Printout some small signs to put around the shop to remind you. You won't have an accident if you consciously take steps to avoid one. And if you use the three shop safety equipment basics: gloves, goggles, and masks – you will avoid almost all small injuries.
Paying attention to safety is especially important for the do-it-yourselfer. Monday through Friday, the do-it-yourselfer might not even walk into the shop. Do-it-yourselfers work in offices and restaurants, and all manner of places doing all manner of things. Then, on Saturday morning they are cranking up a 15-amp circular saw or table saw. Remember shop safety: these tools ARE dangerous.
Shop safety starts with awareness, which is the guideline for an individual's shop safety equipment list. We know the first three things on the list, but your shop efforts may require additional shop safety equipment. If you are using toxic spray paints, get a proper mask for filtering. Construction hard hats are inexpensive additions to the shop safety equipment closet, and can be real life savers – literally.
No missive on shop safety and accidents would be complete without the mention of a fire extinguisher. If you have a shop, you need a fire extinguisher in that shop. If you have lots of flammable liquids, or you do some welding in your shop, you should have more than one fire extinguisher.
I hope this gives you a good start on your shop safety equipment list, and helps you to avoid some injuries and accidents. Be aware. Be prepared.