Workshop safety

This article on workshop safety provides general guidelines on the following issues which seem to come up repeatedly when identifying hazards in an engineering factory or workshop: Machine guarding, Noise, Hazardous substances, Welding, First aid, Supervision, Manual handling, Certificates of competency, Floors, Passageways, stairs, ladders, and Confined Spaces.

This article on workshop safety provides general guidelines on:
When identifying hazards in an engineering factory or workshop, the following issues seem to come up repeatedly.

Machine guarding

Have your machines been reviewed to determine whether guarding is needed, and whether guarding which is in place is effective?
A simple survey of machinery in the workplace will identify machinery which has guarding in place, whether it be interlocking devices, physical barriers or other methods, and machinery which does not. Machinery and plant which does not have guarding can be identified by inspection, observation of the process, and discussion with people operating it.
A simple question to ask yourself when trying to identify unprotected machinery is 'Could someone put their hand into it while it is in operation?' Answering this question for every piece of machinery or plant will help you to identify unsafe and safe equipment.
Example of machinery found in workplaces include various saws, presses, guillotines, and metal-bending machines.
Having machine guarding in place will not be sufficient if it is not checked regularly for effective operation, and maintained or serviced regularly, so these need to be part of your management system for safety.
This can be quite common in engineering factories, and it is a good practice to test the workplace noise levels periodically, for example annually. Once identified, appropriate actions can be implemented to control the risk of unwanted effects on people in the workplace. Any noise at or exceeding 85dB(A) would indicate that noise control measures are needed.
Where there is doubt or uncertainty about noise levels, testing should take place to determine, what the levels are in the workplace.
Hazardous substances
Hazardous substances include not only chemicals, but also fumes, and these are generated from welding and other processes in the engineering factory. It is important to look at control measures such as ventilation, personal protective equipment and clothing, shields and screens, location of the exhaust emitting from the ventilation, access by others in the area, and fire emergency precautions.
Other chemicals in the workplace need to be labelled in sealed containers and material safety data sheets should be available. Employees need to be trained in the safety precautions when working with them. Assessment of their safe use is also required.
Welding processes create their own degree of risk, which must be managed to avoid short- and long-term effects such as 'welding flash' and other eye injuries, burns, and inhalation of fumes which can cause longer term illness.
Welding processes should also be included in your hazardous substances risk assessment.
First aid
There may be occasions when first aid is required. Generally, a first aid kit is needed, with someone nominated to provide first aid. A register of injuries book is required, for recording all workplace injuries.
For a comprehensive listing of first aid requirements throughout Australia, see our first aid section.
Supervising the performance of work tasks is essential in all workplaces, including the engineering trades. The degree of supervision required may vary between workplaces, however, by law, there needs to be supervision for safety. For example, to make sure that correct Personal Protective Equipment is being used, that shields and guards are in place, that chemicals are used according to the label or material safety data sheet (available from the supplier) and that people are safe in their work tasks.
Passive smoking
People who smoke in the workplace place others at risk of smoking-related illness, for which the employer is vicariously liable, ie the employer is liable for the actions of an employee in causing harm to others at the workplace.
Anti-smoking laws in Australia vary between jurisdictions. Smoking in enclosed places, including workplaces and pubs and clubs will be banned in all states and the ACT by the end of 2008. However, what is defined as an ‘enclosed area’ varies between jurisdictions.
Manual handling
The lifting and moving of materials in the engineering workshop could cause an injury if it is not done properly and safely, so it is essential that manual handling tasks are assessed to determine the safest way to handle something.
Materials, tools, equipment, and finished product and all likely to be handled in the engineering workplace.
It is common to see forklifts, cranes, hoists, trolleys, automation, rollers/conveyors and team lifting being used to minimise the risk of injury in these workplaces.
Certificates of competency
Certificates of competency were introduced in 1996 to standardise a national system for people working with plant such as scaffolding/dogging/rigging; crane and hoist operation; pressure equipment operation; and loadshifting equipment.
Examples of loadshifting equipment which could be found in the engineering workshop include forklifts, cranes, materials hoists and others.
Operators of any of this equipment need to have a license from the pre-1996 system, or a certificate of competency, or be under training, completing a logbook, and receiving supervision from a competent person.
Floors, passageways, stairs, ladders
The condition of the workplace floors is important in avoiding injury from manual handling tasks, tripping on obstacles or uneven surfaces, slips on oil or other material, and also emergency access and egress.
The floor in the workplace should be kept clear and unobstructed and regularly swept. Where persons stand in the same position on concrete, brick, metal, stone etc the floor must be covered, where practicable, with a semi-resilient, thermally non-conductive material.
Guard railing is required around openings in the floor, or edges, such as mezzanine storage areas. Toe boards may also be required in these instances.
Ladders should also be checked for damage and removed or repaired as required.
Confined spaces
Spaces that are not generally designed as working areas may have atmospheric contaminants, risk of burial, actuation of machinery, or oxygen deficiency or excess. These are generally classified as confined spaces.
These places pose a serious safety risk and therefore entry into them must be controlled, with specific actions taken before, during and after entry into the space. The AS2685 is required for any businesses performing confined space work.
In an engineering factory, this could extend to the manufacture of tanks, containers, enclosed truck bodies, and involvement in other activities.
Regular inspection will help to determine whether safety precautions adopted are actually working. 


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