Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2009   by Nestor Gula

Keeping Technicians Healthy, Safe On The Job

Keeping customers happy and satisfied is the key to success in any business. The best way to ensure this is to keep the workers happy and healthy. A sick or injured employee will back up work, force s...

Keeping customers happy and satisfied is the key to success in any business. The best way to ensure this is to keep the workers happy and healthy. A sick or injured employee will back up work, force some jobs to be rushed and really disrupt the operations of any garage.

Although there is little an owner or shop foreman can do to prevent an employee from getting sick there is a lot they can do to prevent them from getting injured on the job.

There is another financial incentive to avoid injuries at work. Jorgen Mueller the owner/operator of Kipling Car and Truck Service, a medium-sized shop in west end Toronto, pays about $6,000 a year for coverage to the Workers’ Compensation Board. “Any claim that you make, your premium goes up,” he said. “Not only do you have someone away from work for two on more weeks, you end up paying more.”

Simple things can help you avoid any extra premiums. “Most small businesses do not keep a clean shop,” said Mueller. “This is real important. There should be nothing in the way to trip over. Don’t have engines and transmissions lying around; put them in the proper place so you do not trip over them. We hold regular meetings about keeping the benches clean, the floor clean and swept up.” Although you might never want to eat off the floor of a service station, keeping it clean is important. “Absolutely no oil or antifreeze spills on the floor. We clean them up right away,” he said. “We use this special stuff, Absorbal, we call kitty litter that absorbs the oil and any liquid. You are not allowed to wash the floor with water and soap so it goes down the sewer.”

He said treating any nicks and scratches right away is important to avoid infections and other complications. “We have three first aid kits — one in bathroom, one in office and one in the 4,400 square foot shop.” To augment safety, “We have a dress code that says no loose shirts, safety goggles and gloves.”

But not all dangers in a garage lie from a catastrophic accident or small embarrassing scratches.

Until the hearing goes, we take our ears for granted and frequently expose them to noises that can lead to permanent hearing loss. The father of occupational medicine, Bernardini Ramazzini in his book De Morbis Artificum (Diseases of Workers), published in 1713, noted that the most coppersmiths toiling away in the shops of Venice quickly started losing their hearing and eventually became deaf.

More and more research has been compiled about the unsafe aspect of working in a noisy environment. By its very nature, there is little a shop owner or a worker can do to reduce the noise levels in a service station. The machines and the work tend to be very noisy. Simple adjustments like placing the air compressor outside or even in a sound isolated room can cut down greatly on the ambient noise level in a the work area.

Workers should be encouraged to wear ear protection at all times while working in the garage bays. There are many kinds of ear protection available on the market these days, from simple disposable earplugs to high-quality earmuffs. There is no medical “fix” for hearing loss — once it is gone it is not coming back so everyone should be aware of that and work towards minimizing potential hearing loss.

Wearing eye protection at all times in the shop is a given. The old saying, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye,” does not just apply to kids running in the hallways with scissors. There are all sorts of particles flying about and one does not want them in the eyes.

“When you are grinding something, that stuff flies out at 100 kilometers an hour,” said Mueller. “You have to have eye protection at all times.”

But there is another hazard with grinding -vibration. Although some top of the line grinders try to eliminate this vibration, it is still up to the user to have a proper set of gloves to protect their hands. In the most extreme cases, after prolonged exposure, one can get vibratory white finger (VWF) where serious nerve damage results in loss of senses of touch and persistent numbness and tingling in the fingers.

One set of gloves should not be used for all applications though. When working with chemicals and solvents care should be exhibited when selecting glove material. It is always handy to read the Hazardous Material Certificate that comes with most materials and chemicals these days for the proper safety procedures to use.

As the most service bays generate dust, proper respiratory protection is necessary. Although this may cause a bit of concern amongst the customers, safety should not be taken for granted. Whenever a technician is grinding, welding or dealing with potentially hazardous substances, they should be wearing some sort of respiratory protection. Using simple dust mask bought cheaply at a hardware store might give you the visual sense of safety but it might not provide any protective service. There are many reasonably priced high quality respirators, from disposable masks to ones with replaceable charcoal filters that would be perfect for any service garage.

Although welding is not done constantly in most service garages, it can be one of the most hazardous activities that a technician can perform. Looking away from the flame might mitigate some damage to the eye, but welding also releases UV rays which will burn the skin, like a sun burn, a potential lead to cancer. When welding, a full-face helmet, the new auto-darkening helmets are excellent and much more convenient than the old helmets, proper welding gloves and jacket are a must. Heavy metal fumes such as lead, cadmium, manganese, chromium, beryllium, nickel, and others are released from molten metal when welding. All manufacturers recommend you wear a respirator behind the welding mask and not to have the welder’s head positioned right over the weld and in the path of the fumes.

Another word of note about welding is “when you do arc or acetylene welding, stay away from gas lines, brake lines — they have to be covered up,” said Mueller. “You can’t have someone working on a gas tank in one end of the shop and somebody else welding in the other. When you are working on tank you tell people.”

Staying safe and healthy in a work environment is mostly common sense and forces you to be precise and thoughtful in your procedures. Slowing down just a little to make sure that the work environment is safe is a lot more efficient and cost effective in the long run.


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