Safety week- at work

30 Apr

It’s been a couple of months back at my job in aerospace, building cabinets for private jets. I’ve been very thankful that I have a solid foundation of safety knowledge.  If there’s anything woodworking has taught me it’s that your gut feeling paired with the safety knowledge you have are worth their weight in gold. I often put my foot down and decide I won’t carry out a task in the way I was shown if I don’t feel comfortable with that particular method. I usually just find another method that I know is safer.

A CNC cuts out all of the parts for the cabinets. This saves the shop floor from being one giant stationary machine maze with toxic dust everywhere. Instead us cabinetmakers have the job of assembling, and correcting whatever the CNC messed up and/or didn’t do. We have two “cutting rooms” where all of the stationary machines live and where any orbital sanding happens. We each use the cutting room for brief intervals-mostly. Sometimes the cutting room is blissfully deserted, other times it’s a full house, and maybe someone is even waiting to use the tool you’re on. It’s important to keep your focus during these times and not feel rushed.

But in the cutting room I think a lot of people want to make their cuts as quickly as possible- which is dangerous. The rule is that you sweep after using a machine, but this gets skipped by some. I cringe at some of things I see- mostly I see a lot of hands close to the table saw blades- not accounting for worst case scenarios as I was taught in school. Also because people are in a hurry THREE times someone has found a table saw blade ON with no one at the table saw. We have giant knee switches to turn off the saws that people tap and walk away without checking to see if they tapped hard enough to really power down the saw.

The shop floor is relatively quiet, and consists of many work benches with the tools needed on our own pegboard to one side of the bench. There are only a few power tools at each bench, trim routers and drills being the most common.

We have general safety policies even on the shop floor. We are encouraged to always sheath our utility knives, cap any bottles of thinner, unplug air hoses, or power cords as soon as we set a tool down, use the central vac to suck up dust AS we create it, and wear cut resistant gloves when handling utility knives. And of course we are encouraged to wear respirators when creating dust, ear protection when it’s noisy, and we are forbidden to be on the shop floor without safety shoes and glasses.

The biggest dangers for me so far (and I suspect for others) have been the toxic materials we handle all day long. Orbital sanding is another that takes a toll on my thumb and elbow. My one weakness is never really knowing when my body wants to call it quits. I assume I’m okay to go a little longer. I’m trying to work on protecting my body from myself. I also seem unaware of the poor positions I contort myself into while working. I often find myself craning my neck and back at weird angles to get a better view at my work, and then try to reposition myself so that I won’t end up with a tweaked neck or back. It’s a constant battle.

Long term health can’t be stressed enough in a work environment like mine. Most of the other cabinetmakers also have a solid foundation of safety knowledge, and so they are very aware of immediate danger while using power tools and stationary machines. But what I see is that a lot of people are complacent about wearing a mask when routing, or ear protection because they want to listen to their ipod.  More still handle chemicals that create dangerous fumes without wearing masks. My eye openers: The other month when I was using a putty much like auto body filler I didn’t notice some had gotten some on the back of my hand as I pulled off my gloves. I saw it finally when it started to itch and rushed to wash it off – but it had already burned my skin. It left little scars. I try to peel my gloves off more carefully and check my skin often. We also use a type of crazy glue that is super strong, we use syringes to apply it and my syringe let a drop escape onto the floor unnoticed. I walked on it and my shoe literally got glued to the floor. I had to use my full weight to break it free. I vowed to be more aware of drips.

Safety is  a constant in a field like woodworking. And it’s important to keep learning about safety. Anytime an eyeopener presents itself, we need to listen and learn.

Here are some links to other posts I wrote on safety.

General safety tips from woodworking school

And a repetition injury of mine

Happy and safe woodworking to all.

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