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Workshop & Garage safety tips & advice


Garages and workshops are dangerous places, with the danger of fire, injury, and electrocution never far away from the unwary.

You are surrounded by all manner of substances and elements which are not designed to be mixed together. Water and electricity for example are uncomfortable bedfellows - likewise, mix flammable liquids (such as petrol/gasoline) with an exposed flame, and watch your overalls, eyebrows, hair, and surrounding environment go up in smoke. Worst you could be risking the life and limb of not just yourself, but those also around you.

Below I have listed some of key things to remember when working on the crumbling vintage automobile in your garage. This list is by no means complete, but it's a good starting point, and feel free to contact me with others you feel should be added to this list. Better a job takes longer to be done, but is done safely, than try rushing things or cutting corners.

Do:

  Do make sure, when working on a car, that it is supported on suitably strong axle stands and/or ramps - ie NOT JUST THE JACK
  Do always assume that the worst will happen some day - are you prepared for it?
  Do wear face masks when sanding paintwork - old paint can contain lots of unpleasant things like lead, and the dust will do you no good at all
  Do always think before using power tools of any sort. Are there animals, children, rare car parts (glass particularly) etc that could be harmed from the sparks issued by your angle grinder or welder?
  Do always protect your eyes when drilling, grinding, welding, sawing or any other activity that creates dirt, grit or sparks
  Do always protect your ears too - blobs of hot weld down down your ear is mighty uncomfortable I'm told, and repeated racket can lead to tinitus and other hearing complaints
  Do remember your skin!! Gloves etc are always recommended when operating powertools
  Do remember that engines are heavy! sturdy toe-capped footwear is always a good idea when handling heavy lumps of machinery
  Do make some provision for fire in the garage - one stray spark could soon set things going nicely
  Do ensure that when moving heavy/awkward loads, take care that you aren't straining your back unnecessarily
  Do use a main power breaker when operating power tools. It could save you from getting a shock if by chance you jigsaw through its power cable
  Do make sure you dispose of old oil responsibly. Pouring it down the drain will cause pollution in local waterways and earn you little respect from environmentalists
  Do try and have a mobile phone to hand when working in the workshop, it may come in handy in an emergency!

Don't:

  Don't ever use tools beyond their working range, whether its hammers, trolley jacks, screwdrivers or whatever
  Don't cut corners 'just this once' - many people have suffered through cars coming down on top of them, following failure of a trolleyjack or bottle jack
  Don't use an electric welder faceshield when mig welding - the safety lenses are rated differently
  Don't get covered in old engine oil - its horrible stuff anyway, and there are reports linking it to skin cancer
  Don't smoke near petrol tins. Sounds obvious, but it happens
  Don't store flammable liquids like petrol in open containers. Not only will it evaporate, the vapours are mega-combustible and you don't want to knock a tin of fuel over the floor with power tools in the area
  Don't jack up cars on a slope or soft ground. Sods law says the jack and/or stands will tip over when you least expect them to
  Don't make a racket late into the night. Neighbours will not approve, and you may need their assistance with lifting off your Heralds bodyshell from its chassis one day
  Don't use grinding disks for cutting, and vice versa, they're liable to shatter and embed themselves into the nearest squishy object (you)
  Don't use cheap tools. Crappy screwdrivers and spanners have a nasty habit of snapping under load - avoid where possible
  Don't use a blowlamp until you've checked for combustible items in the vicinity, eg rubber bushes, bits of car trim, dogs etc
  Don't forget when welding, strip out any interior trim (including hidden sound deadening & waxoyl type rust preventers) from the area being welded. You don't need an inferno to distract you from getting a good seam.
  Don't leave rubbish lying around the workshop. It can be a fire risk and you may trip on it. Same goes for power leads - stash them away when not in use

So, the above list can only be a guide, but common sense is the budding mechanics greatest friend when faced with a classic car restoration. Short cuts are often taken through circumstances, but these must be avoided. If the axle stands you own struggled when asked to hold up a rusty old Morris Minor, they aren't going to last long propping up that Bedford OB coach (Duple bodied naturally) that you've always promised yourself. Invest in tools that comfortably exceed the maximum requirement you're ever likely to have.

I've now added a page on the subject of asbestos, and its presence within some old-car components - click here for the Asbestos article.

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