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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:


  • Inattention or distraction
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Violation of safe practices

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!

Attitude (...

     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:


  • If the chemical's boiling point is > 70 °C and the concentration is less than 200 ppm, you can expect a service life of 8 hours at a normal work rate.
  • Service life is inversely proportional to work rate. Reducing concentration by a factor of 10 will increase service life by a factor of 5.
  • Humidity above 85% will reduce service life by 50%
  • These generalizations should only be used in concert with one of the other methods of predicting service life for specific contaminants.
  • rule of thumb, especially for hobbyists/occasional users -- new day/new cartridge.  Cartridges are relatively inexpensive.  Injury/disablement/death caused by toxic chemicals ... very expensive.


       More info on respirators and other safety issues can be found at the OSHA web site

environment ...

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.


Fire Extinguishers


       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:

  • Class A - ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics
  • Class B - flammable liquids, combustible liquids, petroleum greases, tars, oils, oil-based paints, solvents, lacquers, alcohols, and flammable gases
  • Class C - energized electrical equipment
  • Class D - combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium, lithium, and potassium
  • Class K - combustible cooking media (vegetable or animal oils and fats).


     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.

tools ...

       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:


  • Learn each tool's application and limitations, as well as the specific hazards peculiar to it. Keep all guards in place and in good working order. Form a habit of checking to see that keys and adjusting wrenches are removed from a tool before turning it "on."
  • Before using, check wrenches for cracks and worn jaws; screwdrivers for broken or rounded tips; hammers for chipped, mushroomed, or loose heads and broken handles; chisels for mushroomed heads; and extension cords or electric tools for broken plugs and frayed insulation. If you find any of these defects, fix or replace the tool before using.
  • Don't force any tool -- It will do the job better and be safer to use at the rate for which it was designed. Use the correct tool for the application -- Don't force a tool or attachment to do a job for which it was not designed. Screwdrivers are not chisels...
  • Don't use power tools in damp or wet locations. To prevent electrical shocks, check your tools for an intact ground wire prong or make sure they are double-insulated and don't have frayed or worn cords. If tool is equipped with three-prong plug, it should be plugged into a three-hole electrical receptacle. If an adapter is used to accommodate a two-prong receptacle, the adapter lug must be attached to a known ground. Never remove the third prong. If the third prong has been cut off or the cord is frayed or cut, don't use the tool.
  • NEVER "rest" your tools inside the engine compartment or at least count them in and count them out.
  • Secure your work. Use clamps or a vise to hold work when practical. It's safer than using your hand and frees both hands to operate the tool.


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:


  • Grinders in the shop should be guarded to prevent injury if the grinding wheel breaks. Bench and pedestal grinders should have safety guards which cover at least three-fourths of the outside of the wheel.
  • An adjustable work or tool rest should be used and kept within one-eighth inch of the wheel. Keep the tongue guard within one-fourth inch of the wheel.
  • Make sure you only use the surface area of the wheel intended for grinding and that all guards are in place.
  • Make sure you wear hearing and eye protection when using the equipment.
  • Never stand in the plane of rotation when turning the machine on or off  -- most grinder disc failures occur during start up or power down when the sudden change in RPMs can accelerate a crack failure and launch pieces of broken grinder disc at you.  At such speeds, the guard will only slow the shrapnel down a bit but may not stop it.
  • Grinding metal usually produces sparks -- ensure nothing flammable is near!


Hydraulic Lifts


    You should take certain precautions when operating a hydraulic lift:

  • Review the lift's instructions prior to operating it. Be sure you understand them.
  • Make sure everyone is standing clear of the vehicle as it is being driven into position on the lift and the load is resting squarely on the lift.
  • Check the load limits of the lift and adapter to make sure you don't overload them.
  • Don't lock the hoist controls in the open or shut position. They are to be operated manually. Make sure the lift's mechanical locking device is working.
  • If you notice any irregular operation or leaking oil, do not use the lift until you have determined the cause and corrected it.


Hydraulic Jacks


       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 ...

  • Before using a jack, be sure it's in safe, operable condition and you're familiar with its operation.
  • Be sure the vehicle you are jacking is parked on a firm, level surface.
  • NEVER get under a vehicle supported only by a jack.
  • To prevent a serious accident, place wheel chocks around tires remaining in contact with the ground before jacking.
  • Always use jack stands under the vehicle with the hydraulic jack. They'll keep the vehicle from falling on you if the jack is accidentally released. As an added safety measure, also place heavy wood blocks (6"x6" as a minimum) under axles or frame members as added protection should the jack stands fail while you are under the vehicle.
  • Check and recheck all safety devices on hydraulic jacks.
  • Don't exceed the weight limits posted on the jacks, and keep them in good condition.


       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."


Jack Stands


       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.


Engine Stands


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 ...


  • strongly recommends using 4-wheeled stands (or more).  Three wheelers are inherently less stable and are a lot easier to tip over.
  • Know your stand's weight rating!  Large or heavy engines may exceed your stand's stated capacity so make sure you know how much your engine weighs (fully decked out) BEFORE you put it on the stand.
  • Never ever get between the engine and Mother Earth!  (Don't work under an engine on a stand.)
  • Get help when rotating an engine mounted on a stand.  That's a lot of weight and it can become unstable quickly.  Work slow and carefully.
  • Don't roll an engine stand unless the area is smooth and the path is uncluttered.
  • Be careful of forces applied to an engine on a stand, such as torque on a nut or bolt, as these forces could cause the stand-mounted engine to become unstable.
  • Never attempt to start an engine mounted on an engine stand.



Toxic Chemicals/solvents


       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.



Epoxy Plastics


       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

14. OSHA

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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