Safety Week Friday (Cost)

Safety costs.  There is no doubt about that – you cannot do it for free.  You can perhaps do it cheaply, for example you can make a reasonable air filter if you buy the correct filter material, and pass air through it, air will be filtered.

Some people can make something like this very easily, and have it work well.  Others may not be so confident, or be time poor, or just simply want a commercial version.  That is often what I tend towards.

Irrespective, safety costs.

Not being safe costs so much more.

When I was first getting my motorcycle licence so many years ago (I was 15 at the time, so that makes it…uh, something approaching 30 years ago) there was a simple line in the guide to getting your licence.  If you cannot afford the safety gear (helmet, gloves, boots, leather jacket & pants, or riding suit), you cannot afford to ride.

Pretty hard lesson.  The motorbike at the time cost me about $300.  The safety gear to ride it would cost over $1000.  So I didn’t start off with the whole lot, and got what I needed to mitigate the most risk.  A helmet, welding gloves, solid footware.  A heavy jacket and jeans: although that would not have been sufficient in a real accident.  Fortunately for me I got away with it, and by the time I had a couple of significant accidents a few years later, I had invested in the gear I needed.  So I broke some bones, but the gear did its job.

In a workshop, a similar concept applies: all the safety gear is needed without question, but there are some safety items that you shouldn’t enter your workshop without.

Where you draw that line is really case by case – I don’t know how you use your workshop to be able to give a definitive answer.  However, some items should be:

dust mask (disposable or otherwise)

eye protection

hearing protection

solid footwear

—————- this is a line.  This is the minimum I have when I go to work in someone else’s workshop.

push stick


—————- now I can use a tablesaw or router table with a minimum of safety (this is assuming the saw has all the normal fittings, guards, fence, mitre gauge etc)

And so on.  When you get sick of always cleaning up the mess, add a dust extractor.  You may be able to not use a dust mask if you have a really good dust extractor, and air filtration.

So to the final surveys: just what has it cost?  Measured two ways: total dollar figure, and percentage of shop value.  For something like a SawStop, count the value as the difference in cost between that machine, and the nearest equivalent without.  My saw is a pretty good one, worth around $2400.  The quality of it is not dissimilar to that of the full SawStop, worth around $7000.  So I’d say the safety mechanism on the SawStop costs about $4500.

2008 Safety Week Wrap

So that was safety week on the Wood Whisperer Network. Hope you got something out of it!

It seems from reading around, it is the same mistakes being made over and over and over…..and over and ov… (alright, enough)

What is it, that it takes a personal experience before we often will start doing the right thing? Advocates of pushsticks are often those who copped a massive kickback, machinery guards by those who have been cut, electrical safety by those who have been stung, material handling by those who can no longer lift without pain and so on. The whole OHS movement (if I can call it that) is constantly berated for being too pedantic, for making things too hard, for being too over zealous. It doesn’t do itself any favours because that is true to a certain extent, but the principle behind it is harnessing the collective wisdom to prevent injury before it occurs.

What I was talking about in the first video at the start of the week touched on this topic. Sure, safety devices are wonderful things, but they have to work for, and with the individual. If they make the job harder, less safe, are too cumbersome etc, then they will be abandoned. I don’t want myself or others to not use safety equipment, I want safety equipment to be designed to work with the activity, rather than hinder it.

Safety glasses and ear defenders are not too bad in their design and implementation, but dust masks are still poor. Perhaps the concept is too hard, or the thinking is “if you need it, you’ll put up with the poor design”. They are generally not comfortable (especially in hot weather), there are straps everywhere and more often than not it becomes a fight on the face between the mask, the glasses and the hearing protection.

There are ways to alleviate the situation…somewhat. Dust collection on the machine and dust filtering the workshop air all decrease the hazard posed.

Air cleaners such as this from Carbatec for around $370 are worth considering

To quote from their site “Once you’ve finished cutting and sanding operations and have turned off your dust extractor and protective mask, you might think you’ve been sufficiently safety conscious about protection from dust inhalation. However when you see a ray of sunlight come through window you can see that that a lot dust remains suspended in the air.” I know for a fact the same is true in my workshop, and by the end of a good day’s woodworking, my lungs are not so contented. So this is part of my workshop poor practice that I want to address.

So what else is there that suffers from the same “either the safety solution is perfect or I won’t use it at all” mentality? I’ll leave that to you to think about for your own workshop. What guards do you leave off, what safety gear do you not wear, what safety aids do you ignore because of the extra time, and hassle it is to include them? Give some thought to why this is so. If it is because they make the job harder, even increase the risk? Then don’t abandon the concept – find a better device! If your saw guard annoys the hell out of you, find a different design, if your safety specs make it harder to see what you are doing, get some new ones.

Don’t become a safety zealot only once you’ve suffered an injury. There are enough of them already (and good on them for raising people’s awareness), but let’s not continue recruiting to their ranks. Safety is much better as a preventative, than it is as at preventing a re-occurrence!

Work smart, work safe.

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