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Being prepared to handle accidents will limit their severity and shop impact

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 11:56
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All accidents can be prevented, many industry safety experts contend. While this may be an arguable point, shops should have a plan in place to deal with them if they do occur.


Like many industries that use heavy equipment, the collision repair and refinishing trade is subject to potential hazards at every turn. Just some of these include hydraulic pulling machines; broken glass; ripped, exposed sharp steel edges; spills of all types (Fig 1); high-voltage welders (and now high-voltage cars); damaged batteries, which could have either alkaline or acidic toxins; chemicals that can potentially damage blood, liver, lungs and nerves; and irritants that expose workers to allergic reactions, lung damage or even cancer.

Exposure to some of the above hazards can result in an acute and immediate emergency. Such a situation requires quick responses from either in-shop trained employees or first respondents, such as ambulance or fire department personnel – and sometimes both. Other exposures may result in the slow onset of symptoms, but can cause long-term and sometimes permanent disabilities. Acute emergencies may result from just one exposure, such as being cut by ripped steel and needing stitches. Long-term exposure causes other situations, such as needing a thumb joint replacement after many years (30+, in my case) using a DA and other such tools. Hearing loss also is gradual, and most technicians don't notice this slow deterioration until they find that they need to ask others to repeat themselves often.

Accidents regularly occur during normal daily shop activities. Accidents that lead to emergencies can often be prevented – or at least have their severity lessened – if a shop has a well thought-out emergency plan. Also, in this post-9/11 environment, shops need to plan for emergencies that could be caused by outside forces as well. We often spend a great deal of time making production procedures and policies; we should also spend the time to produce an emergency response plan for our shops.

Having a written emergency plan with prevention as its goal is essential. Making sure that all safety guards are on tools and being used, safety glasses are being worn and that all personal protective equipment is in good working order and being used are the types of details that can prevent or minimize mishaps.

The emergency plan

The written plan should designate individuals to take on specific responsibilities, such as regularly checking the business's safety and emergency equipment to be assured that items are operative and available. Fire extinguishers, eye wash stations (Fig 2), spill kits, first aid kits and fire blankets should be stocked and functioning. The person or persons designated should also check that the material safety data sheets (MSDS) are up-to-date and available. A scheduled checking routine should make sure that all signs and labels are in place and operating, that all equipment and material labels are in place and that emergency equipment access has not been blocked.

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There should be written policies regarding preventive measures such as personal protective devices (PPD) – items including safety glasses, gloves, respirators and protective clothing – proper labeling and storage of potentially hazardous materials, as well as using bonding straps with flammable items. A specific person should also be responsible for making sure that these preventive measures are observed. That person could be trained to teach new employees both the proper use of respirators, and how they should be put on and stored when removed. As well, this individual should know how to administer the yearly respirator testing (Fig 3).

The emergency plan should designate a primary person and an alternate as the "first responder," or the person responsible for such things as first aid, personal injury care, evacuation, fire response, electrical accidents and chemical spills, among other problems. These individuals should be trained to respond to acute injury – that is, they should be able to administer first aid until Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has arrived. The first aid kit should be readily available.

A second person, designated to call for EMS aid and inform management of the emergency, should follow a planned call procedure. Most U.S. locations now use 911 for calling fire, EMS and police assistance; if this differs in your area, a list of necessary phone numbers should be created.

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