By Chris Wantuck
If you're involved with the Collector Car restoration hobby as a Do It Yourselfer (DIY) or work in a shop that caters to the auto trade, you may periodically learn of people getting hurt while working on a project. We hear of stories through published periodicals like Old Cars Weekly and Hemmings Motor News or by reading accounts on a Discussion Forum. Some of the more popular Forums are the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) , Hokey Ass Message Board (HAMB) and Garage Journal. While reading posts in the various forums, about once a year you can expect at least one story of a restoration shop injury. The story depicting the injury can sometimes include a graphic description of how it happened, and some even contain pictures. We're not going to present unsightly graphics or recount gory descriptions, but rather analyze some of the conditions that can lead to accidental injury. We're going to look at three incidents, the first in 1985 and the other two more recently in 2014 and 2015. We're not suggesting that all accidents are preventable, but there are some situations you might avoid to prevent being added to the statistics.
Fatigue — In the 2015 incident the person telling his story was a DIY restorer who was working on his project vehicle. Being an older car, the restoration process involved cutting wood. He reported to have been running his table saw and a planer for most of the day. While running the last piece of wood through the planer, one of his fingers grazed the high speed cutter. Fortunately the DIY restorer didn't lose his finger. But it took a couple of months healing time and, among other things, his project was delayed. After reviewing this particular incident (and making some assumptions), it seems that fatigue was a primary factor. The DIY Restorer reported that he was tired at the end of the day. The day's tasks of cutting wood and running them through the planer was more work than he usually performed in one day. Setting up his equipment for this particular task was time consuming, and he wanted to complete all the necessary tasks so that he could finish and put away the power tools. He wasn't rushing, he was just tired from a long day's activity. It only takes a nanosecond of inattention to wreak havoc.
Distractions — Our second incident occurred in 2014. The person reporting it was in a shop running a power saw. While moving the material through the saw, the he was startled by a loud noise. The exact nature of the distraction wasn't reported but the resulting injury was severe enough that he required several surgeries. Many months of recovery were required and he incurred some permanent handicaps in the process. Needless to say these kinds of injuries can create emotional as well as physical problems. This wasn't necessarily a lack of good shop skills, but a review of this accident concludes that had the distraction not occurred, the injury may not have happened.
Preventing this kind of event is difficult. Distractions come in all sizes and shapes. They can be something as seemingly harmless as his wife calling him in for lunch, or something as significant as an auto accident in front of shop. Your best bet is to be mentally prepared for such events at all times. Try to train yourself that if you are startled and jump, you'll jump away from any device that can cause you harm.
Safety Devices — The third incident here involves an avid DIY restorer that had a piece of rusty metal being partially embedded into his eye. While operating a die grinder a small piece of metal flew onto the eye's surface. Not commonly known is that the cornea of the eye constantly develops new layers on the top. In the 1-1/2 day's time that it took to visit the opthomologist the flake was already under several layers of new cornea. An emergency procedure was quickly scheduled. It required that a scalpel be used to scrape several of the new layers of cornea away before removing the metal flake. After thirty one years since this occurred, the opthomologist, using the high-powered illuminated magnifier can still see rust stains in the lower layers of the cornea. This incident involved the smallest of metal flakes and likely could have been prevented if safety glasses were worn.
Conclusions — While shop safety requires some safety equipment, it is equally important to develop a culture of safety when you approach the various tasks required during your restoration process. Here are just a few tips, but by no means all of them, to consider using in your shop:
Trip Hazards — As shown in photo 1, a small thin cord was plugged into the wall outlet to power lamps used to light the work area. Positioning these lamps stretched the cord across the walk way. It's important to keep walk areas free of clutter or objects that can fall or create a tripping hazard. These kinds of hazards not only can injure anyone working in the shop, but it can also damage the project. If you trip over your light stand, you can be sure that it'll fall in the direction of that newly painted panel, and you really don't want to have to deal with repainting it.
Photo 1 — It is hard to see in this photo, but a thin 18 gauge brown zip cord is plugged into the wall outlet and was on the ground when first plugged in. The lamp inside the project auto was repositioned which stretched the cord across the walk way. This could have been avoided by using a four outlet extension box from the wall outlet to the middle of the project auto and then plug power tools into the four way. If there's a lot of traffic over the wire, it may be worth the effort to cover the cord with duct tape.
Open Drawers — This is another item that can interfere with the work area and should be avoided. Photo 2 shows partially open drawers on a tool cabinet which is positioned in the middle of the shop. These open drawers could be a hazard to your shins or knees. Also, depending what's in the cabinet, extended drawers could cause the cabinet to tip over. Clutter in general in the shop can cause injury and should be avoided.
Photo 2 — Open drawers on our shop equipment are just another potential hazard. When walking past them, their sharp edges can cut into a leg or knee. If the injury isn't enough, if you were carrying something and the open drawer caused you to drop an item from your hands and it gets damaged, what have you saved? Quite simply, after retrieving a tool from a drawer, close it!.
Heavy Lifting — While you don't expect a heavy load to fall or our shop equipment to fail, you should be aware that it could. You want to work in a fashion that keeps you from harm's way should the unexpected happen. Photo 3 shows a heavy load being lifted and set into a chassis during a restoration project. The hoist was inspected and lift capacities confirmed before attempting to use the hoist for this task. While only one person is shown in the picture, several people were on hand to maneuver this heavy load, again keeping it at arms length while it is lifted and lowered into position.
Photo 3 — This picture shows some vital information when we examine it closely. Pictured is a 1930 Lincoln engine and transmission assembled and being installed into the chassis with a rolling hoist. Helper Tom Burke is steadying the 850 pound load on the hoist. Note the multiple straps under and around the assembly to lift and steady the load. Also note that when handling this heavy load, it is at arm's length in case the load falls. The load was lifted slightly off the engine cradle and adjusted many times before this picture was taken.
There's one other thing to consider when lifting heavy objects, whether by crane or by hand. Many of today's car restorers are either retired or approaching retirement age. And, let's face it, none of us are getting any younger. You just can't lift at 60 what you did at 40 and trying can produce muscle strains and other serious injuries. Know the weight of what you are trying to lift, and think through how you're going to lift it and where you're going with it. Sometimes it may be worthwhile to take the time to strap an object to your engine hoist to move it around your shop.
Illness and Medication — Be wary of performing tasks using shop equipment if you're ill and not fully alert. This includes illnesses, such as the flu or prior injuries such as a pulled muscle. Be aware of the side effects of any medications you may be taking. Many of them can affect or impair your skills.