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'The things folks most need to learn in life
ain't fun to learn.'
-- Barney Fife
'In life, pain makes a man think. Thought makes a man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.'
-- Sakini, "Teahouse of the August Moon"
We all know that working on our old trucks is dangerous! But sometimes, lack of knowledge or complacency can strike even the most competent and skilled restorer and teach us a lesson that's not only *not* fun to learn, but will leave us with some life-long wisdom.
Every year, people die while working on their vehicles and more are injured. Almost without exception such accidents are due to three commonly observed (and avoidable!) factors:
Sure, you know how to work on old trucks. Or maybe you're just starting in the hobby. Either way, safety is best learned through OPM (Other Peoples' Mistakes), not OJT! Either as newly discovered wisdom, or a refresher, please read this article and live safely with your old truck!
This refresher is just that -- we aren't trying to insult you or anything. We all know *most* of this information already!
But none of it will help you if you don't first decide to be safe. Safety isn't a check list. Safety is a mindset and a way of life. It is all a result of deciding to up your game, to become more self-disciplined and to decide on a lifestyle change (if necessary) and follow through with it. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time before something in your shop, in your habits or within you physically will kill or disable you. It's as simple as this -- if you resolve to be safe, you probably will be.
First things first!! Working on old trucks can be physically demanding work! Have you been to see your family doc lately? At all?? How's your blood pressure? Your weight?? The ole ticker?? What good is any of this if you pop a gasket or drop over dead?
The first place to start in this hobby is by making sure you are good to go -- If you haven't had a physical within the past year, go get checked out. The best safety practice you can do is to use your head and the common sense God gave each of us -- Safety begins within ourselves!
Do you smoke? For god's sake, why?? You have no good reason to smoke, so quit!!
Have a first aid kit readily accessible as well. These days, we have cell and cordless phones available -- use 'em! They can be your best safety tools and should be within reach to dial 911 if you must work alone. When working alone, be sure you can be seen from the street, if in the 'burbs. But ... keep that cell phone on you at all times!
A good 1st Aid Kit is essential!
Ready to start?
Antique vehicle restoration is a hobby, not a race -- A lot of us work on our old vehicles after a long day at work. Most of us don't have unlimited chunks of time available so it can be a real temptation to do too much each evening or Saturday morning -- Don't! Before you even head to the shop, take a moment to check yourself -- are you rested and mentally alert enough to do what you intend to do? A lot of what we do can hurt us if we are careless or inattentive so work slowly and methodically and don't rush your work! When you get tired or frustrated, put the tools away, clean up your work area and quit for the night because at that point, you are an accident about to happen. And besides, rushing results in sloppy work -- slow down and enjoy yourself! And don't work when you are tired or taking medication that could make you drowsy.
And of course, alcohol and grease don't mix -- save happy hour until after the work is done for the day.
Clothing & Jewelry
You should always dress appropriately for the work you are doing. If you wear long hair or loose clothing, tie it back and secure it so it doesn't get caught up in something. Remove rings, watches, chains, etc, that could get caught in rotating or closing equipment (and thus remove fingers, hands or heads!). Loose long sleeves, loose clothing or long hair (tie it back) should not be worn around rotating equipment (PTO shafts, drill presses, grinders, engines, etc.) It will pull you in a lot quicker than you can react.
Forget the "Mr. T" routine, chains are for the disco or hauling logs and binding loads -- They do not belong around your neck in the shop.
Eye and Hearing protection
Vision -- Wear safety glasses that comply with ANSI Z87-1 whenever you are grinding, sanding, sand blasting, using a tool for striking or engaged in any activity that can send something through your eyeball. Everyday eye glasses only have impact resistant lenses; they are not safety glasses. freakin54 shares this: "It is one I will never forget . A coworker came to me with a wire from the wire wheel sticking in the center of his eye, The eye was saved and no one in that shop has ever forgotten!"
Hearing -- Use hearing protection when working around noisy equipment or operations. Some hazards in the shop area which can cause harmful noise levels include chipping, shearing, mechanical cutting, hammering, grinding and sanding. Noise is the leading cause of hearing loss in the U.S. Military with up to 50 percent of all personnel developing significant hearing loss. When using equipment or conducting operations designated as noise hazardous, be sure to wear hearing protection.
Respiratory -- Be sure to use breathing protection, such as a respirator or dust mask, as appropriate. A filtration respirator must be used when painting and is probably the most important safety device if you're going to be painting or working around harmful chemicals/solvents. For a good fit, check the respirator for leaks each time you put it on. While spraying if you smell vapors, stop painting immediately and check your equipment. But remember -- you shouldn't rely on being about to detect odors as your only means of checking the fit. When you purchase a respirator, have the pros check the fit for you. And be sure to change the cartridge/filters often -- most of us will use one and put it on the shelf but as long as it is in the air, time is running out on the filter (See the note below).
The OSHA rule of thumb regarding respirator cartridges:
More info on respirators and other safety issues can be found at the OSHA web site
Your shop area ...
Great, so you are rested, alert and ready to head to the shop! Before you grab the tools, let's check the work area. Is it neat? Clean? Organized? Tools where they belong? Keeping your area neat and clean will prevent accidents. When you are done with a tool, put it away. Grease, oil, water and other liquids spilled on the floor cause serious slipping hazards. Clean up spills immediately. For grease and oil spills, use a non-combustible absorbent material. Put oily rags in a self-closing container marked "Oily Rags Only."
To avoid tripping hazards and cuts and bruises, keep your work area, aisles and walkways clear of parts, tools and equipment. Parts, wrenches and other tools laying around the work area are accidents waiting to happen. If it moves and can hurt you, make sure it's unplugged, shut off and locked out. Remove a battery cable before climbing in: electric fans can start without the engine running, kids playing around in the cab can hit the starter, etc...
You shouldn't smoke within 50 yards of flammable materials. Thus, you should not smoke in your shop or around your work area. Of course, you shouldn't smoke at all ...
Working with a buddy
Working in the shop is always more fun when you get to do it with a friend. Having someone else with you also improves safety when you are working around or under dangerous machinery (which just about everything in our shops qualifies as!) -- if something were to happen, your buddy can either help you or call for more help. Having an extra set of eyes and ears to watch or listen for unsafe situations can be exceptionally helpful. When working with a friend, though, be sure you clearly understand each other during your work. Sometimes, communication can impede safety rather than improve it. For instance, make sure you use easily understood words when working around machinery. Don't use words that sound similar but could have terrible results if misunderstood, like NO! and GO!
Visitors in the shop
All children and visitors should be kept a safe distance from the work area. A shop is an inherently dangerous place for children, thus they should not be allowed in your shop area. But if they are, keep them closely supervised!
Do not allow children to play in your vehicle while you are working on it! If there is a chance a child could gain entry to your shop, use padlocks, master switches and remove starter keys and battery cables to childproof your shop.
Insist upon safe work practices for anyone visiting or working in your shop. You can be as safe as you want, but it doesn't do any good if you have someone unsafe next to you. Their mistakes can still involve you. Make sure those around you are safe too.
A properly maintained fire extinguisher is a mandatory item for any shop. Fire extinguishers should be conspicuously located where they are readily accessible and immediately available in the event of a fire. They should also be located along normal paths of travel, including exits. The selection of extinguisher is independent of other fire protection equipment and is determined mostly by the type and size of fire most likely to occur, hazards in the area, and whether or not energized electrical equipment is in the area.
Fire extinguishers are rated for the type of fire they extinguish:
For most shops, combination A-B-C type fire extinguishers will be sufficient -- just be sure you know how to use it. If you use a Halon extinguisher, remember that in an enclosed area, Halon will kill you the same way it kills the fire -- by depriving you of oxygen very quickly. You should not use Halon in an enclosed space. When using Halon on a fire, leave the area immediately!
Make sure your fire extinguishers are up-to-date! An easy maintenance procedure for any fire extinguisher (especially dry chemical) is to remove it from it's holder, turn it upside down and give it a vigorous shake. Over time, the chemicals inside settle to the bottom and can become hard. Loosening them up through a regular shake makes sure they will flow smoothly when needed!
Be sure your work area is adequately lighted. When using a drop or shop light, be sure it is impact resistant and in good operating condition.
You're safe, the shop is ready ... let's get to work! But first, remember that most of the hand and power tools you'll be using can be dangerous if they are not operated in the right way or are used for a purpose different than intended. So let's just review a little safety concerning safe use of the tools in the shop.
Hand Tools in general
Nationally, hand tools cause approximately six percent of all disabling injuries -- loss of vision, puncture wounds from flying chips, severed fingers, broken bones and contusions. Some things to keep in mind:
Stationary Power Tools
Moving machine parts have the potential for causing severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns and blindness ... just to name a few. Safeguards (like guards and shields) are there for a reason!! They protect you from these needless and preventable injuries. Sure, they can be a PITA ... But take it from those who have been in the shop before you -- losing an eye, a finger or an arm is even more of a hassle.
Tool Power Cords
NEVER work with equipment, appliances, etc. when frayed, pinched, bare wires, loose connections, loose or missing strain reliefs, damaged or poorly wired plugs or any signs of defects are present. Regardless of age of electrical equipment, always inspect the appliance/tool for such observations. A tool's power cord can become frayed or damaged from heavy use and age. Frequently, mishandling (such as pulling a plug from a socket by jerking the cord rather than removing the plug carefully by hand) causes the most significant damage to a cord over time, tearing the external protective sheathing or detaching it from the plug head and exposing energized wires. Less obvious than damaged and frayed cords is the threat posed by missing ground prongs, the rounded third prong on electrical plugs. These ground prongs often break off from mishandling or are removed intentionally to fit a plug into two-prong outlets. Ungrounded plugs can pose a significant electrocution risk.
Grinders ... wire wheels ... buffers ... chances are there's one sitting on your bench right now. They're very handy tools that most of us just take for granted. But don't! Here's a few things to keep in mind to help keep this handy tool ... handy:
You should take certain precautions when operating a hydraulic lift:
Duh -- thousands of pounds of steel in the air,supported by only a little metal thing on wheels ... what could possibly go wrong there?? Hydraulic jacks are one of the most useful tools in the shop and you've probably already used one a zillion times. Still ...
Racecarl says: "Bumper jacks and Handyman jacks are widow-makers and should be regarded as such at all times. NEVER even THINK about crawling under a vehicle suspended by one of these."
If you are going to be jacking your truck up and supporting it on stands, make sure you are working on a firm, level surface capable of supporting several tons, and always use stands with a minimum 2-ton capacity. Even then, consider where you live. (i.e. California or anywhere along the San Andreas Fault Line.) It is always best to work with jackstands, NOT the jack. When using jackstands, and getting underneath the vehicle, if possible, place very large wooden blocks under the axles, when axles are attached. Not a good idea to work with just jackstands alone and no wheels and rims to catch the truck should it fall. When adding the wooden blocks, a max clearance of an inch tolerance should be sufficient. This added safety measure should be about all you can do, short of chaining the vehicle to the sky.
If you buy used jack stands, make certain that you check the welds for cracks, observe any differences in manufacture and give the the jack stands a thorough inspection -- It's your life those things are designed to protect.
Anytime a jack stand is used for the first time, be sure you read and follow the directions.
Really?? What could be simpler than the 'ole engine stand? Grandpa used it and lived to be 90, right? Indeed. Well... engine stands are handy, but they carry a LOT of weight and hang it out in space for gravity to grab. Here's a few things to keep in mind ...
You will be exposed to toxic chemicals/solvents during many phases of working on your old truck -- parts cleaning, degreasing and spray painting, just to name a few. A lot of the chemicals we use in the shop can be harmful -- especially all organic solvents which have some effect on the central nervous system and skin. Inhaling high concentrations of solvent vapors may cause a lack of coordination and drowsiness or even damage to the blood, lungs, liver, kidneys and digestive system. Skin contact may cause dermatitis, ranging from a simple irritation to actual skin damage. Solvents can also dissolve the natural skin barriers of fats and oils, leaving the skin unprotected.
So how do you know? Before opening them up and getting to work, you must take a few minutes to learn about each chemical you plan to use and to ensure you will be able to handle it safely. How can you do that -- just read the label on the chemical's container? Sure, that's a good place to start, but you also need more detailed information. A quick search on the Internet will bring up a Material Safety Data Sheet for whatever product you intent to use. The MSDS is prepared by the supplier or manufacturer of the material and explains the hazards of the product, how to use the product safely, what to expect if the recommendations are not followed, what to do if accidents occur, how to recognize symptoms of overexposure, and what to do if such incidents occur.
Stopping for a few minutes to read a boring safety sheet may not be fun, but spending the rest of your shortened life on dialysis, in chemotherapy, on life support or just plain dead is even less fun. So do yourself a favor -- get and read the MSDS.
Automotive body fillers activated by chemical hardeners can cause rashes and sores if these hardeners come in contact with your skin. If your skin comes in contact with any hardener, wash it off immediately with soap and water. To prevent this kind of exposure, wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt when working with epoxies.
1. OPNAVINST 5100.25A
2. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) B153.1©1990
3. ANSI Z9.3©1994
4. ANSI B11.9©1975 (R 1987)
5. ANSI/ISANTA SNT©101©1993
6. ANSI/UL 1624©1988
7. ANSI/ASME PALD©1©1993
8. ANSI/UL 45©1990
9. ANSI B186.1©1984
10. ANSI/ASME PALD©9©1993
11. ANSI/UL 987©1990
12. 29 CFR 1910.1001
13. National Fire Protection Association Std 3
15. Members of the Stovebolt Discussion Forums -- Thanks to Tony Pascarella, Jim Proffit, Kip, Racecarl, Chief, boyoconnor, TT, Barry Weeks, Joe H, Ken, Jeff Nelson, Phat, Stingray, 52CHEVY, Dakota and Steve Ilg (Baltimore Fire Protection Equipment) for contributing.
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