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Many years ago, I needed a bracket welded on my car while stationed over seas. It was raining and the ground was soaked with large puddles all over the place. The shop owner came out and looked at my car, agreed on a price and then disappeared into his shop. A few minutes later he came out dragging several pieces of angle iron, which he placed in a line from the shop to the bumper of my care. Next came a welding stinger, a hand held flash shield, and a rubber mat, which he placed on the wet ground to lay on, and dressed in shorts, a tank top, and shower shoes, he proceeded to weld the bracket on the bumper of my car, in the rain! What’s all this got to do with fire safety…with all the potential for electrocution and burnt skin from falling slag, it was the stack of old rags, that he forgot to move off the old antique welding unit, that caught fire inside the shop while he was outside welding. There have been several posts on the bulletin board about shop fires and the losses suffered due to carelessness or lack of education about prevention. Stacking rags or any combustible materials near sources of extreme heat, open flame, or spark generating equipment, such as welders or grinders, is just asking for trouble. In this business, we use a great deal of flammable products and we generate sparks while grinding, cutting, or welding metal. There are some very simple preventative steps that will only take a few minutes to perform and may mean the difference between a long relationship between you and your shop or not!
First thing you should do is sit down with a tablet of paper and identify all the areas in your shop that could be a fire hazard. As an example: Were do you do your grinding or welding. Maybe you don’t do either, maybe you just paint. In this case, were do you store your supply of cleaning rags, or paper towels; is there a proper safety container for storage of soaked rags. These are the kinds of things you need to identify. Is there a heater in the shop and does it meet code, in other words has it been installed properly insuring all the safety issues have been adhered to.
If your painting in the shop and the heating source is sitting on the floor, you may want to see about installing one that was designed to hang from the ceiling so that it can’t ignite solvent or paint vapors that tend to linger around the shop floor. Ideally, you should be painting in a paint booth but realistically, most folks just paint in their garage or shop. Also at issue, were and how you store your paint and solvents. Paints and solvents should be stored outside in a paint storage locker, but again, realistically, most folks just store it in their shop. At least try to store it in a separate metal locker away from any possible open flames or sparks, and make sure there is plenty of ventilation. Other things to check include the electric cords and plugs on all your power tools, and all the receptacles in your shop. If you notice any burn spots, it may be an indication of a bad plug on one of your power tools, or too much demand is being placed on that receptacle. Check out your extension cords as well and make sure they are rated for the demands of the tools you plug into them.
The initial inspection may take a few hours to perform, but then you can make a check list from your identified areas and set up an inspection interval. Some of the things you identify will only need to be checked once a week or once a month, others may require a daily routine. The most important thing is that you identify these hazard areas and follow through with a good checklist. Make sure you have sufficient and readily accessible fire extinguishers and an escape plain, with at least two ways out of your shop in the event of a fire. A little prevention can go a long way toward another day of painting bliss! Robin
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