Wise up in the workshop
by CHRIS HORTON
On average, just over 20 DIY enthusiasts a year are killed while working on their cars. RoSPA - the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - is treating the deaths so seriously that its current hard-hitting campaign is aimed specifically at improving lamentably low safety standards in the home workshop. Nearly all these fatalities, says RoSPA's Danny Daniels, are the result of the incorrect use of jacks, wheel ramps or axle stands which result in the car falling on and crushing the hapless victim.
Suffocation: In some cases he or she will be extremely lucky to escape with nothing more than broken ribs, severe bruising and probably shock. But more often than not the victim is asphyxiated the weight of the car on the chest prevents breathing as effectively as a noose round the neck or crushed to death. Derek Millward of the Triumph 2000/2500/2.5 Register, said to be an absolute stickler for safety, was killed instantly in a freak accident when the car he was positioning on wheel ramps felt by many to be one of the safest ways to lift a car rolled down onto him. Only marginally less horrifying are the 20,000 other cases a year which result in varying degrees of personal injury.
Burns, deep cuts which require stitches, loss of fingers or entire hands, eye injuries, slipped discs and even acute poisoning are an increasingly common sight in hospital casualty units. And it's possible the figures could be as high as 40,000 a year when cuts, bruises and burns which aren't treated professionally are taken into account.
Harder to quantify but no less significant are the injuries which result from road traffic accidents caused by faulty parts or, more often, poor workmanship. RoSPA's Danny Daniels said: "It's vital that people don't over-estimate their abilities or skill, and we strongly urge all mechanics and restorers, part-timers or professionals alike, to seek advice if they are unsure about any aspect of the task in hand. Not only will they be helping themselves but, and this is just as important, they will also be protecting other road users."
Make sure you are well prepared. Read the manual before you start the job, not halfway through it, and make sure you have all the tools and equipment you'll need. Get yourself kitted out with the appropriate protective clothing. Well-fitting overalls and a stout pair of shoes with steel toe-caps, not trainers, are an essential first step, followed by goggles, ear defenders and particle masks as required. Don't forget barrier cream for your hands, and tie back your hair if it's very long.
Never, never, rely on a jack alone to support the weight of a car. It must be backed up with a strong pair of axle stands, firmly placed on level ground. If that ground is soft, stand them on thick pieces of plywood to prevent them digging in and possibly tipping over. As an added precaution, stack some spare wheels and tyres under the car.
Never smoke or have any naked flames near your car. Beware of sparks caused by grinding or metal-to-metal contact, and also the flammable fumes given off by many adhesives, cleaning materials and paints. Be particularly careful when you work on the fuel system and remember that even the battery can give off highly explosive hydrogen gas, particularly when it's on charge. Always have a good fire extinguisher to hand.
Your car may have only a 12-volt electric system, but it can still represent a very significant electrical hazard. Always disconnect the battery before you start any major work anywhere on the vehicle. Make sure you don't trap a mains cable in the door this can make the whole body live and don't use electrical tools in wet or even damp conditions. Always use an RCD (residual current device) plugged into the mains to protect yourself.
Use the correct tool for the job and make sure your hands are not so oily that they could slip off it and hit something sharp. Leather gardening gloves are very useful in some circumstances. Make sure you always have a first aid kit and access to clean (and preferably running) water.
Exhaust fumes are insidious but deadly. Never run your engine in an enclosed space for more than a few minutes, and always keep the garage doors open.
Don't forget that you may also be overcome by petrol or paint fumes, particularly if you're working in an inspection pit.
The vast majority of accidents of all types are caused by human error, carelessness in other words, but you may not be lucky enough to get the chance to learn by your mistakes.
CHRIS HORTON DA7C