If the machine you use has a motor the chances are that there is protective clothing for your workshop you must wear when using it. A helmet, heavy-duty gloves and face mask should be standard in all workshops, but there are some added extras to consider ~ especially when operating machinery.

In most cases, the parts of the body which need most protection when using a chainsaw, brushcutter or even a lawnmower are obvious: the feet, hands, face and ears.

Petrol engines, particularly two-strokes, emit levels of noise which, with prolonged use, will damage one’s hearing. You won’t notice it today, perhaps, but regular use of a noisy brushcutter or chainsaw will mean that, when you’re in your dotage, you’ll no longer be able to hear the birds singing. It seems a bit silly, therefore, now as a young person, to jeopardise one’s hearing in old age just because one feels a twit when seen wearing earmuffs by one’s macho neighbour. 

Anything that has its cutting device close to the ground, for example a brushcutter or lawnmower, should tell one that the feet and legs need protection for, apart from the possibility of bits of blade themselves striking rocks and coming adrift at high speed, the devices themselves can spew out bits of rock, dog bones or splinters of wood which can severely injure unprotected feet and legs. But in addition, brushcutters should be used with protective headgear in the form of a combined face or eye protector and earmuffs.

Many people believe that glasses/spectacles constitute eye-protection. Wrong! Spectacle lenses, if they are made of glass, can easily shatter if struck by a stone or piece of steel. This will surely lead to shards of lens entering the eye. And if the lenses are made of plastic they will quickly become scratched and pitted by flying grains of sand and other debris. Spectacles also afford no protection from items entering the eye from the side.

One of the problems spectacle wearers have, however, is that although the common protective plastic goggles will fit over most pairs of spectacles, they tend to fog up. A better bet for spectacle wearers, therefore, is to try a helmet with a full face protector. While allowing air to flow around the face, the screen prevents flying particles from entering one’s field of vision. And one has the added benefit of having the rest of one’s face protected from flying stones, wood etc.

Face protectors are either clear polycarbonate, sometimes coated on the inside with an anti-fogging agent, or fine plastic screens. Most face protectors can be combined with ear muffs which, if correctly designed, allow one to hear normal sounds such as voices, or changes in engine pitch, but reduce the level of sound to such that it is not harmful to one’s hearing.

Protective footwear and gloves are important in many instances. Nobody should tinker in a workshop without proper footwear. A hammer falling off a workbench can quite easily crack a toe bone and Sod’s Law says that anything sharp, for example a Stanley knife, is bound to fall onto one’s foot blade first. How often have you seen people welding without protective gloves? Meat cooks at a very much lower temperature than that at which steel melts and one’s arm faces a severe burn if it encounters a flying spark from a welding torch or rod.

Chainsaws are probably the most dangerous of all power tools and even a slight encounter with the moving chain or a saw leaves one with a severe injury unless one is properly protected. Apart from the danger of flying wood chips and bits of broken chain, safety boots are a start to protect the feet in case one drops the saw. But even if one doesn’t drop the saw, should it “kick” or become dislodged from the piece one is cutting it can quickly fly into one’s leg.

Heavy-duty trousers, steel-toe boots and a mask for operating a chainsaw.

 

For this reason, thick protective trousers have been designed, made of special fabric which, instead of parting when cut, unravel in thick fibres to clog the blade and bring it to a quick stop before it can damage the flesh. Workers in formal situations are protected by legislation and employers are obliged to provide suitable safety gear or woe betide them should a Dept of Labour inspector happen along.

The problem comes to labourers in the informal sector ~ workers on plots or farms where the employer is more lax about safety, and less prone to face inspection of the department. Safety gear must be provided to staff using power tools and machinery, and employers must ensure items are being used correctly.

This is part three in a series entitled In the Workshop: Tools & machinery. For more, click here.

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