Safety in Community Workshops

I had an interesting experience recently, although not one that I’d want to repeat.  Luckily (and it was pure luck) there were no injuries from the day, but it did serve to highlight some points.

The workshop was one where I had the responsibility of the people using it, and some of the things I saw and had to react to really drove home the fact that many, many injuries (in fact most) in the home or community workshop are operator error.  The fact that I had theoretical responsibility for their safety in a situation where they were not prepared to accept that what I had to say was the final word on what could, and could not be done convinced me that some fundamental changes were required.

What occurred included using a tablesaw without guarding (unacceptable in a community workshop, and against the rules of the parent organisation), dangerous cutting modes on small blocks of wood, using other small blocks of wood to control them (significant risk of a kickback), and I even saw a hammer being used as a push stick.

Imagine if the steel section came in contact with the blade – there would be no cutting of the pushstick, only throwing (and then imagine a hammer at 200km/hr), and any carbide teeth letting go at that speed as well.  If it was the fibreglass section, that would potentially shatter, with shards going at the same speed, and/or the shattered handle being javelined across the room.

So just remember, if you do work in community workshops, that the rules are potentially different (and stricter) than what you apply to yourself in your own place, as are the consequences.

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