Workshops and garages are full of heavy machines, powerful tools and harsh chemicals, as well as flammable materials and other risks to the health and safety of both employees and customers. Most people who work in garages are well aware of the main risks associated with their working environment, but all it takes is one lapse of judgement for something to go seriously wrong. For this reason, it is important that you, as a garage owner, make a point of performing regular health and safety inspections and that you remind your employees of health and safety policies and best practices frequently.
Here is a quick overview of some of the most common risks that mechanics face:
Garages and workshops contain a large amount of petrol, LPG and other highly flammable substances. The fire itself is incredibly dangerous, and the danger is amplified by the possibility of toxic smoke being released, as well as the possibility of explosions.
Fire risks can be minimised through the installation of smoke detectors and by having a good, up to date evacuation plan. Fire exits should always be clearly marked and easily accessible, and the working area should be kept as clutter free as possible in case the garage fills up with smoke quickly and workers must evacuate while visibility is poor.
In addition, the garage or workshop should have a no-smoking policy that is enforced for both employees and customers. Naked flames should not be used near flammable materials. Fire extinguishers of the correct type and size should be kept on-site, and inspected regularly.
Heavy Machinery and Objects
Using, or simply being around, heavy machinery can be dangerous if someone has a brief lapse of attention. In addition, moving heavy objects can be risky. Train your employees to take extra care when driving or operating heavy machinery and have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to alcohol, medication and any other substances which could impair the concentration of a mechanic or driver.
Provide clearly marked walkways around the premises so that pedestrians know which areas they can safely navigate, and do not attempt to push vehicles around the workshop without having someone at the wheel to ensure that the vehicle is always under control.
Enforce the use of lifts and trolleys for moving heavy objects, and educate your employees on the correct way to lift items so that their spines are protected at all times. Make sure that your employees know not to attempt to lift very heavy items by themselves, and foster a safety-first work environment so that no shortcuts are taken with regard to securing items on lifts or jacks. You can learn more about manual handling injury prevention by examining the HSE’s Manual Handling Assessment Charts.
Electrical fires, burns, and electric shocks can all occur if your workplace has equipment with damaged wiring, or if your circuits are allowed to become overloaded. To reduce the risk of electricity related accidents, test all 240V portable devices annually, and encourage workers to perform visual inspections of tools before they use them. Opt for low voltage hand lamps, and make sure that your garage switchboard has a residual current device installed.
Avoid using multi-way adapters to plug in extra tools, because of the risk of the adapters being overloaded. If your need for plugs outgrows what you have in the facility, ask a qualified electrical engineer to install extra plugs for you.
Chemicals and Dust
Paints, gases, battery acid and petrol are all substances that workshop employees are exposed to on a regular basis. Workshops that involve a lot of cutting and bodywork are often full of dust too. Regular exposure to dust and chemicals can increase your risk of developing dermatitis or other skin conditions and can also be a respiratory hazard.
As an employer you are required to provide your employees with Personal Protective Equipment that is appropriate for their job, and to provide a safe working environment. This means providing adequate ventilation to minimise the risk of exposure to fumes and dust, and also offering overalls and gloves to minimise skin contact with harsh chemicals, as well as masks or respirators, depending on the nature of the work being carried out.
Power tools, grinders, saws and other similar equipment are all common causes of workplace injuries, especially if workers get complacent. Loss of fingers, arc eye, burns and other serious injuries are frequent in garages and workshops. Train your employees to always use the guard when operating cutting tools, to wear eye protection when welding or grinding, and to treat all tools with respect. Most injuries caused by power tools and machines are easily avoidable if the proper health and safety precautions are taken and the right protective equipment is worn.
Dangers to Customers
Many smaller garages allow customers to enter the premises, and while this is usually not an issue as long as they are supervised, it does greatly increase the risk of accidents occurring. Slips and falls are common problems, and there may be the risk of a customer knocking over something heavy or a container full of a hazardous chemical.
Ideally, customers should not be allowed to enter the working area, even if they are supervised. Consider designating a reception area and installing a viewing window so that prospective customers still feel like they have had the opportunity to “inspect the facilities”, but their safety is not put at risk.
Most workshop employees are well aware of the risks that are inherent in their working environment, but it is easy to forget the occasional safety precaution, or to get distracted, and this is why regular health and safety training sessions are important. Every time a new employee is recruited, put them through a health and safety training course. Consider refreshers a couple of times a year for long-standing employees, and offer first aid training courses for senior workers too.