Shop Safety

by: Cassie Pfeifer, The Sandner Group - Claims Management

There are many varieties of shops that are used in school districts.  Shops can be used for teaching industrial arts, auto care, or for district maintenance.  Regardless of the primary use, all machine shops are fraught with hazards, requiring a significant amount of risk management to ensure the safety of everybody in the shop.  Power tools and machines, like drills, sanders, table saws or bench grinders, and hydraulic lifts, create significant hazards that do not necessarily exist in other areas of the district.  The presence of these machines increases the importance of overall cleanliness and creates a great need for personal protective equipment.  Please read on for some tips on how to have the safest and most efficient shop space possible.

Perhaps the most important guideline in shop safety is to never work alone.  The risk of serious injury due to the materials used and stored in a shop is far too great to risk an injury when working alone.  There should always be at least one other person (who is trained to use the materials) present who can assist in the event of an injury or machine malfunction.  Access to the shop should be restricted when it is not in use to prevent unauthorized access.  Shops should also have appropriate personal protective gear available in an organized space prior to entering the shop area.  Students should never be without the necessary protection when inside a shop classroom, especially when machines are in operation, nor should students ever be allowed access to shops and power tools without the guidance of a trained instructor.

Prior to entering a shop, instructors and students should be informed of appropriate clothing to be worn when inside.  Students with long hair should have it pulled back when operating power tools, and all jewelry should be removed.  Loose clothing or long sleeves should also be kept away from operating machinery, and closed-toed shoes should always be worn when in the shop.  Additionally, a first aid kit should be kept inside the shop at all times.  The kit should be regularly updated to avoid using old materials in the event of an injury.

Power tools are incredibly efficient in getting a job done when used properly and with every safeguard put to good use.  However, a power tool can quickly become a significant hazard if the machine is not used properly or the appropriate guards and protective equipment are not in place.  Any district using power tools in a shop needs to follow guidelines for personal protective equipment and ensure the tools are being used correctly and given regular maintenance.  Every person using a power tool needs to go through training to ensure they know the appropriate procedures in operating the machine.  Guards and shields should only be removed when the machine is both turned off and unplugged; put back in place prior to plugging the machine in.  Any machine without an appropriate guard or shield should either be removed from the shop area or should be unplugged to prevent use.

Fuel storage in maintenance or auto shops needs to be well organized and kept away from any machines that can create sparks.  The best way to store fuel is in a closed container and in a flame retardant fuel storage cabinet that is used only for the storage of fuel.  If a fuel storage cabinet is not available, districts should keep fuel in a shed outside the shop.  Under no circumstances should fuel be kept in an open container or stored near workspaces.  Storing fuel in this way greatly increases the risk of fire, which can quickly get out of control in such a setting.

The organization in the shop directly contributes to the level of safety observed when students and employees are working.  Many injuries arise from students or employees tripping over cords or obsolete materials.  This is perhaps the easiest risk to prevent through a diligent organization and clean-out program.  All pathways should be kept clear of materials that can present trip/fall hazards, and floors should be swept regularly to ensure the floor surface does not become slick from dust, grime, or sawdust.  Extra materials should be stored in an out-of-the-way location, and broken or unused materials should be discarded immediately rather than stored in the shop.  Broken tools or machines needing repair should be removed from the shop, or it should be unplugged and a large “Out of Order” sign should be attached to it to prevent accidental use.  All cords should be stored in an organized fashion, as well.  Cords lying on the floor should be secured to prevent falls and should never be entwined with the cords from other machines.  Cords from unplugged machines should not be left discarded on the floor.  They should instead be rolled and kept in a safe location near the machine.

Following these guidelines can create a more successful learning environment as well as a more efficient maintenance program at all school districts.  We recommend districts conduct regular inspections of shop areas to ensure that they are always maintaining the highest safety standards. 

At Sandner Group – Claims Management, our loss control specialists are available to assist in all facets of the risk management process, including conducting loss control service visits for the purpose of identifying potential hazards.  Please do not hesitate to contact the specialist in your area should you have any questions or concerns regarding the level of safety in your district shops at one of the numbers at the right.