How not to lose an arm and a leg

Rogue machines, toxic chemicals, readily combustible materials and even dust can maim or kill when left to scheme in the workshop.

By Kevin Lim

We know you like having all your limbs attached when returning home after a hard day’s work. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Last year, the manufacturing industry alone contributed to nearly 30% of all workplace-related accidents and 25% of all work-related deaths in Singapore.

What the above statistics don’t reflect however is that many of those accidents were avoidable.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to present you with our top seven workshop safety tips that’ll keep you alive and intact at the end of every workday.

Workshop Safety Tips
#1 - Always Be Alert

“Yeah I know that already…”

Of course you do. Accidents due to mental fatigue still happen though and you don’t want to end up as the next sad story on the news.

A distracted, wandering mind can be the result of many factors - lack of sleep, an overly-scrumptious lunch (the cause of many sleepy faces in workplaces all over Singapore) or even stress. No matter what the cause, your tired mind in a workshop environment makes for a hazardous combination.

Simply put, if you’re having trouble focusing at work, take a breather, have an energy drink, even slap yourself a couple of times if you have to. Re-energise yourself before getting back to your task because a lapse in concentration could mean the difference between sleeping at home and in a hospital.

#2 “Accident-Proof” Your Workbench

If you’ve got your own working space in the workshop, remember to keep it neat. Always arrange and store your tools in safe locations like the toolbox or storage rack.

Trust us, you won’t be saying “But it’s easier to find stuff when they’re lying on my table…” when you’re looking at that new piercing in your hand created by the power drill that just happened to be lying around.

#3 DON’T Dress to Kill

In case you’re thinking of dressing up to the nines to impress that gorgeous colleague from the sales team, forget it (or save it for after hours when you’ll smell better anyway). At the workshop, dressing is about being safe, not suave.

Dangling chains, rings, baggy clothes and even loose hair are great appetisers on any machine’s menu, followed by the main course: your precious hands and feet. Sporting a full set of limbs never goes out of fashion by the way.

#4 Dust off

Dust - the most commonly underestimated enemy at the workplace. While a single microscopic particle might not cause any harm, millions of them inhaled over a long enough period can turn into a real cause for concern.

A large number of workshop employees fall ill every year due to breathing air contaminated by the dusty environments they work in. This problem is exacerbated if a person happens to inhale wood particles that have been infected by fungus, bacteria or mould.

Thankfully, this problem can be easily solved. Simply wear a dust mask while working to greatly reduce the amount of microscopic particles inhaled. While it might be a bit uncomfortable, it’s a much better alternative to coughing your lungs and blood out so we strongly recommend getting used to it.

#5 Boom Boom Room

Fire and explosions account for 1 in 20 accidents at the workshop. Not a mind-bogglingly large fraction but we don’t need to tell you about the effects of being trapped in a burning workshop.

Always make it a point to store combustible items safely whenever they’re not in use. Pay special attention to flammable liquids, which can spill easily and have a higher tendency to ignite.

In the event of a small fire, you’ll want to put it out before it spreads out of control. It helps to make a mental note of the closest fire extinguishers at every work area and be prepared to use them immediately if needed. If the fire gets too big however, just leave it to the professional fire-fighters and run.

#6 Decon on the Double

If you’re not at all interested in looking like The Joker with his chemically defined features, this next tip will be of special interest to you.

When working with toxic, corrosive or oxidising substances, it’s vital to know how to safely decontaminate (decon) yourself in the event of an accident. Committing to memory the locations of emergency eye-washes, showers and first-aid kits will save valuable time during an emergency situation where precious seconds spell the difference between a complete recovery and permanent disfigurement.

#7 Turn it off!

Nothing shocks an unsuspecting worker more than the machine which he thought was turned off suddenly sparking to life. Well, that and having his boss catch him slacking off during work hours.

Always follow proper lock-out procedures, ensuring that machines are deactivated when not in use, especially during maintenance work. Machine guards should be used wherever possible and must never be tampered with (Even on April Fool’s day - It’s tempting, we know, but live friends are always better than dead ones).

We hope the dangers we’ve highlighted haven’t put you off from carving a career in a workshop.

While workshops are inherently riskier working environments, it’s up to you to make the best of it. Given enough caution, your workshop can actually be a safe, fun (OK, maybe not) and engaging environment to work in.

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