Ask just about any shade-tree, home-driveway tech why they work on vehicles without any safety gear or personal protective equipment and you’ll likely get the same answer: “been workin’ on cars for years, never got hurt, don’t need any protection.” But garage work is risky; which is why government labour regulators from coast to coast have tomes of rules for automotive repair facilities. Yes, working on your personal auto once or twice a month doesn’t represent the same level of risk as a professional techs face who clock in 40+ hours a week, every week, but when preventing injuries requires small investments in terms of time and supplies, why wouldn’t we all take those steps to keep things safe and healthy?
According to just about any insurance firm or government labour studies out there, cuts, sprains, and strains rank at the top of the list of the most common auto repair injuries. A quality pair of mechanics’ gloves would slash the risks to hands and fingers considerably. These needn’t be the old, clunky, extra-thick work gloves of the past, but can instead be form fitting and flexible with plenty of bolt gripping protection (not to mention improved burn safety; that’s number 3 on the injury list). Good, quality gloves can be purchased for as little as $25. As for strained muscles and joints, consider renting the lift equipment you might need from time to time, instead of spending a few days on your back, recovering.
Eye injuries are second on the list, and arguably even scarier. I speak from experience, thanks to a grinder mishap while in my teens that incident nearly cost my sight in one eye; other Driving staffers have related similar first- and second-hand stories as well. They’re a must, no matter what job you’re tackling. Even if you aren’t taking shrapnel to the face, not all eye-irritants are visible, and rust and brake dust can make for a tearful time. This is probably one of the easiest categories to improve, as safety glasses come in a wide variety of styles, along with the traditional lab goggle format. And at less than $10 per pair, they’re probably the cheapest and most valuable PPE you can buy (with the exception of disposable masks).
Burns are another nasty one. Gloves can prevent a lot of burn injuries, but not all. Nothing beats common sense and patience; whether you’re dealing with a muffler or a radiator, let it cool off. Don’t forget about chemical burns either: while battery acid burns are rare, other automotive liquids can react with certain shop chemicals to create some caustic combinations.
Auto maintenance can be hard on your lungs as well, so remember that breathing masks aren’t just for public health protection. Prices are returning to normal, so there’s no excuse for not having a box of N95 respirators on hand. Still, remember that even the best disposable mask won’t protect against certain compounds such as those that float in the air when spray painting: this is why professional painters use an independent air supply when they’re working in the booth. Remember too that trying to paint an entire vehicle in a neighbourhood home garage will likely get you a knock on the door from local bylaw officials. It’s one thing to shoot a few small parts with a small sprayer, but haul out the large paint gun and fire up the compressor, and your neighbours might have a few things to say.
Your home tool box isn’t complete without some basic PPE. After all, you need to stay healthy to enjoy your ride.