The automotive repair industry can be difficult, pleasurable, rewarding and a pain in the… all at the same time. One certainty in this industry is that safety is crucial. It doesn’t matter whether you work in a shop, own a shop or plan to own one someday, you must remember to take the proper safety precautions all day, every day.
Many states have guidelines for repair businesses and there’s always OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration – a.k.a. the Feds) with national safety standards developed specifically for workplace safety to prevent accidental injuries to employees, customers, you and the cars you service.
Automotive service work involves working with heavy objects, flammable materials, and dangerous chemicals daily. You should keep in mind the following safety tips every shop should use:
Safety Gear for a Shop
- Gloves to avoid burns. Engines and other auto parts get extremely hot, or if you’re servicing the HVAC, things can also get very cold, so dress accordingly.
- Safety goggles to prevent eye injury while working with chemicals, welding, or grinding. Make sure they fit well, too! I once had a cast-iron shard get past my ill-fitting glasses and had to see the optometrist to cut it out. Not fun.
- Work overalls or a protective uniform to protect your whole body from extreme temperatures and dangerous chemicals. Make sure they aren’t short sleeves, too. Sharp-looking uniforms convey professionalism to the customers and it’s a business expense, too.
- Steel toe work boots with non-slip soles to protect your feet and reduce the risk of slipping or falling. Oil-resistant boots are a must. Good boots are a good investment.
- Ear protection when using loud equipment. Common power tools used in auto repair shops, such as disc sanders, impact wrenches, shop vacs and electric drills can create enough noise to cause hearing damage over time. A lot of folks wear ear buds to listen to their personal playlist while working. Just know that common ear buds are not designed for hearing protection, but you can buy ones that are. Do your homework and stay safe.
- A back brace when lifting heavy items: Use proper lifting techniques and ask a coworker for help or use a hoist, if necessary. Also, when working on tall vehicles, a top-side creeper is worth it’s weight in gold. It will save your back and you’ll get more done because you’re comfortable (as possible anyway).
- Never smoke in or near repair bays or garages. Vehicles contain flammable and combustible fluids that can easily catch fire. Besides, customers don’t want you or their car to smell like an ashtray.
- Never wear loose, ripped or torn clothing. I mentioned long sleeves earlier. Some shops get cold in winter and sleeves may be a necessity. Just be careful. Again, it is recommended that custom uniforms and work clothes be obtained from a qualified uniform service company. Look good, feel good!
- Make sure fire extinguishers are readily accessible and appropriate for all types of potential fires. Make sure exits are all clearly marked and always illuminated properly. Also use a dirty rag bin that is fire rated. Some solvents can react and self-ignite.
- Organize your shop so your equipment and tools are safe and accessible. Keep electrical panels clear for three feet – don’t store anything in from of them.
- I’m a fan of epoxy-coated flooring with grit sprinkled in for traction. I also like a full-length floor drain for a daily washdown. Whatever your preference, keep it clean.
- Spilled oil, transmission fluid or other liquids can put you at risk for falls. Make sure you clean up spills immediately and make your coworkers aware.
- Floors should be swept and cleaned daily to avoid inhaling residue from dust particles or chemical waste.
- Never eat or drink on the shop floor to avoid contamination from hazardous chemicals. Do as I say and not as I do (that second to the bottom drawer in the right that’s full of snacks).
- Follow proper state guidelines for disposing of chemical waste, especially flammables such as gasoline or oil, and just like the dirty rag bucket, make sure all flammables are in a proper cabinet.
- Vent your shop adequately to reduce the risk of inhaling harmful fumes. Air-conditioned shops take note: it may be safer to use a single pass A/C system to make sure you’re not breathing in chemicals. It might seem wasteful, but the life you’re saving might be your own.
- Be sure that the vehicle is stopped, and the brakes are engaged before you start working on it. Never work underneath a car unless it is adequately supported and stable. This means jack stands even if it’s on a lift. If it’s a four-post lift, make sure the safety pins are engaged correctly before going under it.
- Step one: disconnect the negative battery cable. Every procedure in every repair manual everywhere starts with this step for a reason. Arc-weld a few wrenches and you’ll know the reason.
- Remove keys from the ignition switch and properly cut the power supply to all electrical parts before working on them to avoid damage. Electrical spikes may damage electronic components and wiring. Even when the vehicle is off, there is still the potential for current to pass through electrical wiring. Also, avoid unplugging fuses and wiring harnesses while the key is in the “on” position.
- Never place hands, tools, or other objects near the engine while it is running. The moving parts could cause injury to you or damage to the vehicle. I’m as guilty as the next guy here, but be safe and don’t lose an appendage to save a few seconds.
- Keep an eye on the vehicle’s temperature prior to any work. Also, the coolant is still pressurized. Burns take only a second to happen, but a while to heal.
- Be professional – I love to have fun and joke around but leave the practical jokes and pranks at home. A shop is a professional environment and needs to be treated that way.
- Golden rule – Treat others as you want to be treated. This goes for shop owners especially. If you are respectful toward your employees, they will return the favor. Don’t talk down to employees or customers or you’ll soon find yourself short of both.
- No politics – let’s be honest here: no amount of talk, arguing, complaining or moaning is going to change anyone’s mind, so save your breath; no one wants to hear it. Trust me.
- Be nice – this goes for customers, too. It’s difficult to set emotions aside, but you never know what someone might be going through, so before you retort to an irate person, take a breath and be nice. Besides, if you try to argue with an idiot, they’ll just bring you down to their level and win with experience.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes and find these tips helpful. When in doubt, use common sense and think of the big picture.