Shop Safety

In addition to the courses required by most districts, such as English, sciences, and math, many schools also offer vocational classes like industrial arts, welding, and auto-shop. A district’s vocational school program can prepare students for future careers and/or provide them with useful life skills. Due to the use of specialized tools and equipment in these programs, an understanding of the safety requirements and proper supervision in operating these tools is essential to prevent injury and other losses.

Important items needing one’s attention are:

  • Make sure the necessary eye and face protection is worn before using any tools. Safety glasses and goggles will shield the eyes from flying debris. Welding helmets are required if a welding program is available. The helmets provide some protection from the heat and shield the eyes, face, and neck from flashburn, ultraviolet light, and sparks.
  • Determine if students and staff should wear gloves while operating power tools. Machine operating guides/manuals should indicate whether gloves are required for safe operation. Gloves may actually increase the risk of injury from certain tools with rapid moving or spinning parts. If the tool’s operating manual suggests using gloves, make sure students and staff wear properly fitted gloves to protect hands from cuts and abrasions.
  • Make sure all tools’ safety guards are in place. Guards should protect the operator and others at the point of operation and nip points; and from rotating parts, flying chips, and sparks.
  • Make sure tool users locate and are familiar with the power/contact on-off switch. Tools such as hand held power drills, horizontal and vertical angle grinders, disc and belt sanders should be equipped with a momentary contact on-off switch. Users should be knowledgeable about how to use such a switch to avoid an injury.
  • Make sure users are familiar with the specific safety requirements of saws and grinders before use. All saws have specific safety requirements they must meet before they can be safely used. For example, circular saws must be equipped with a guard above and below the base plate. The proper guard for a grinder includes side guards which cover the spindle and 75% of the wheel diameter. Before being allowed to use such tools, students should be familiar with the necessary safety requirements.
  • Instruct students to check the blade before using a saw and the wheel before using a grinder. A blade that is chipped, blunt, or cracked should not be used. A sharp blade in good condition not only cuts easier, it prevents accidents due to rough handling. The wheels for the grinders need to be inspected before use. Make sure they have not been damaged in storage or transit. Students should be taught to recognize damaged blades and wheels.
  • Keep all workspaces in a vocational shop neat and organized. An area cluttered with debris or unused parts poses significant safety risks. Achieving good and stable footing before operating a power tool is absolutely necessary in order to be safe. Slip, trip and fall is a very common cause of injury in every district. Further, a work area cluttered with debris also poses significant fire hazards.
  • Always segregate and store fuel, oil, and other flammable materials in a separate storage area. Once the class is finished using fuel, paint, or other combustible materials, do not allow them to be left out or with the containers open. Store them immediately in a designated flammable cabinet. A small spark can turn into a disaster fast if flammable materials are not stored separately. Even the fumes from these liquids can ignite under certain conditions. Further, do not allow old oil to accumulate in work areas. Many service stations and quick lube stations will accept old oil as part of a recycling program. If no service stations accept the old oil, the local government or recycling coordinator in your area may be able to identity curbside or other recycling programs.

Vocational education programs provide many benefits to students. When training students, it is important that they learn how to keep themselves and the people around them safe. The OSHA website provides all rules and requirements when working with hand and power tools. It can be accessed at For additional risk management information, contact your Loss Control Specialist.