Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2001   by Jim Anderton

Accident? No way

Last month's issue of SSGM contained an article called "Safer Workers, Safer Workplaces", in which this editor suggested that technicians need to assess their workplaces and procedures to make sure th...

Last month’s issue of SSGM contained an article called “Safer Workers, Safer Workplaces”, in which this editor suggested that technicians need to assess their workplaces and procedures to make sure that they comply with both the law and common sense. Shortly after I complete this column, my family doctor will remove ten stitches from my scalp, the result of a totally unnecessary undercar accident. It happened during a conventional fuel pump replacement on a small vehicle from a manufacturer who shall remain nameless. The procedure calls for a straightforward fuel system depressurization, followed by the usual disconnects and tank drop. With the vehicle already in the air, I elected to save time by depressurizing through the chassis-mounted filter’s banjo bolt, catching the escaping fuel with a shop towel. Less that an eighth of a turn of the flare nut wrench caused the copper washer underneath to fracture, spraying a small jet of fuel at my left eye. I reflexively pulled my head out of the way, striking the back of it on a chisel-like welded rocker panel flange. I went down like the proverbial sack of coal, promptly got up again and picked up my wrench. Progress stopped quickly, however, due to the blood. There was plenty of it everywhere, as the cut was three inches long and down to my apparently thick skull. The trip to the hospital was uneventful, and after some painful cleaning of the wound, the previously mentioned ten stitches, and a tetanus shot, I was ready to leave. The mother of all headaches followed quickly, a headache that would ultimately go away after five days.

I’m not suggesting that a mild concussion and a cut head is a big deal; like many of you I’ve had worse on my backyard hockey rink, but the point is this: My time saving shortcut made a 2.5 hour job a two-day mess. If I were doing the job in a working shop environment, the chaos would have been even worse. I was wearing safety glasses, but not a hard hat, which would have saved a considerable amount of pain and lost time. Whether you’re a shop owner or a technician, you can’t earn money in the Emergency Room with a towel wrapped around your head. That “accident” happened because I didn’t take the time to make a quick mental plan around the repair. Why? Probably because it was a routine “no-brainer” job, required no special tools or equipment, and was a task I’d performed too many times to remember. Add a little fatigue and time pressure, and the result was plenty of time to rest, and think about my actions. Unfortunately, the vehicle was still in the air, and I was flat on my back. Apprentices are traditionally the workers we expect to make this kind of mistake, but if there’s one thing this incident taught me, it’s that experience doesn’t automatically translate into good decisions when time pressures bump up against safety common sense. Whether the bump on my head will knock sense into me remains to be seen. Just ask my wife. Canadian technicians, however, beware: your experience can sometimes lead you astray.

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