Workshop safety and hazard awareness


Workshop safety

I’ve got an email from Loryn from She’s got a great site about motorcycling and she builds her own custom bikes. She is awesome, check her out. And she said, “Hey, why don’t do we something about workshop safety”. You can check out her comprehensive article here.

Want to skip the details and go straight to the list of hazards I mentioned in the video?

Give me the workshop safety checklist!

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What five safety items should every beginner home mechanic have in their garage?

Number one definitely would be rags. You can buy rags from your auto supply store or your hardware stores or from other places, but I generally just keep my old t-shirts and then cut them up and use them as rags. When you’re working on a motorcycle, you’re generally going to spill oil or fuel or you’ll have grease on parts, so you really got to mop that up. Rags are a quick and easy way of doing it and it’s a pretty cheap way too if you’re recycling your old t-shirts.

However, if you are soaking up oil or brake cleaner or anything that’s flammable in a rag, you really need to think about what you’re going to do when you’re finished, because if you leave a rag soaked in fuel around your shop, you’re creating a fire hazard. Once I’m finished for the day, I’ll grab the rags that I’ve used and I’ll put them in a plastic bag, tie them up to seal them up, and then I’ll dispose of them. You might check with your local regulations because putting oily rags into landfill sometimes isn’t considered a great idea.

Number two on my list would be gloves. The main reasons I like to wear gloves is, firstly, to prevent my hands getting injuries. I’m always getting cuts and scrapes and I’m bleeding all over my shop on a pretty regular basis, so where I can, I like to keep my hands protected with gloves. The other reason for gloves is I hate handling oily greasy parts and then having to touch a clean bike. So, if you’re using gloves, you can keep the gloves on for the dirty work, and then take them off quickly when you’re doing the “clean” work.

My favourite – which is a really quick, easy and cheap way of doing it – is just black nitrile disposable gloves. So, if you’re doing a chain lube or you’re draining oil and you know you’re going to get dirty, you can just throw a pair of these nitrile gloves on and then chuck them out straight away. I found these in the painting aisle at my hardware store, but they are available in many online stores like Amazon. So, nitrile gloves would be my number one pick for protecting your hands and your parts on your bike.

Number three on the list would have to be protecting your eyes with some sort of safety glasses. I did have an uncle once lost an eye from using an angle grinder. A sliver of metal went into his eye, so he lost that eye. So, I’m a little bit paranoid about my eyes and I don’t want to stop riding motorcycles because I’m blind, so you’ll generally see me in the shop with a pair of safety glasses either on my face or on my head so they’re always with me at all times.

These are really cheap. You can get them online or at safety stores for a couple of dollars a pair and if they get all scratched up because you’re dropping them or whatever, you just throw them out and use another pair. So, I keep a few of these lying around in different places around my shop so I can grab a pair quickly and easily. So, number three, protect your eyes, safety glasses.

Number four on my list would be keeping the floor cleared up. So, mops and brooms when you’re working in your own shop is probably a good idea. So, if you keep the oil off the floor, you’re less likely to slip in it. In my shop I do a bit of wordworking as well, so there’ll be a lot dust and wood shavings around. So, for a couple or reasons, one for slips and trips and falls, and secondly, if it’s wood shavings, it’s a fire hazard. Keep the floor clean and reduce your chances of taking a tumble and knocking your head perhaps, or setting fire to your shop, which is also a very bad idea.

Number five on my list would be a first aid kit. As I said earlier, I’m generally cutting my hands on a regular basis, not by intention, but just probably by a little carelessness, or I haven’t been able to identify something that’s going to cut my hands before I did something dumb like pick it up.

That first aid kit is pretty well stocked with basics. Saline solution is great for washing out cuts and things, and then I’ve got just a bunch of band-aids and small bandages. I really haven’t used anything more than saline, band-aids, and the tweezers. If you get a splinter – either wood or metal in your hands – it’s great to have a pair of tweezers handy so you can fish it out.

That first aid kit is very close by and I have been fortunate in my working career to have had first aid training so I’m pretty self-sufficient, fishing splinters out of my own fingers and patching up minor cuts. You’ve got to be a little bit careful, but also be prepared in the event that you do have a mishap and you just have to do a bit of self-repair.

2) What safety hazards do beginner home mechanics tend to overlook?

Loryn’s next question was about safety hazards that beginners might overlook when they’re working on their own bikes. The way I look at injuries or safety is really about your ability to identify the hazards or the things that have the potential to hurt you. When you’re new at all of this you don’t have any idea what sort of things are going to hurt you. You only learn that through experience, watching videos or reading articles or being specifically trained in hazard awareness.

Hazard identification really is – in my opinion – the biggest issue with new or shop, home-trained mechanics. You’ve got to understand that, okay so, this motorcycle’s sitting in a lift at the moment or on a platform, it’s got potential energy, if it falls off it’s going to hurt somebody, we’ve got nuts and bolts that have got stored energy because they’re tightened up. So, there’s a whole lot of hazards that you can find in a workshop, especially in your own shop that potentially could hurt you.

So, I think what we’ll do is I’ll make a bit of a list of those and I’ll put link below and you can download that list. The objective there is just to get you familiar with some of the things that could hurt you in your shop and hopefully that’ll jog your memory before you’re about to start a particular task and just you give you a chance to think about it and go, “Ah, maybe that’s not the best way to do it, because I’m likely to hurt myself doing it.”

Give me the workshop safety checklist!

3) What safety practices do you implement in your garage, no matter what?

The things that I do in my shop that I consider pretty much non-negotiable is – as I mentioned – the safety glasses. I’ll generally having safety glasses on all the time, unless I’m wearing a welding mask. The main issues are things flying around the air. If you’re using an angle grinder and there’s sparks or metal flying around, or if I’m using a striking tool like a hammer and I’m hitting metal there’s a potential chance that something’s going to fly off. If it ends up in your eye you’re going to have a bad day. Safety glasses, number one, absolutely non-negotiable in my shop.

4) Have you ever had any close calls / safety issues in your garage? What happened, and how did that change your behaviour in the garage?

The closest call I’ve had in my own shop was quite a few years ago now, and I was using a large nine-inch angle grinder to cut through a very large section of steel. I had the steel on the ground and I had one foot in front of the other and I was using the angle grinder to chop through that steel. But what I didn’t realize was that all the sparks coming off the angle grinder were going towards my back leg. I had a set of cotton coveralls over my work pants and because they’re quite loose, I couldn’t really feel anything for a while. But this piece of steel was quite thick and it needed quite a bit of work, so I was cutting for a few minutes. At some point I thought, “My leg’s starting to get bit warm now.” I looked down and I was on fire! There were enough sparks coming off the angle grinder that had set the cotton on fire. So, clearly, I stopped the angle grinder. I can’t remember what I did, whether I patted the fire out or whether it self-extinguished. It didn’t burn through my work pants and didn’t burn my leg or anything, but sure scared the hell out of me when it happened!

That’s the closest I’ve come to having a really serious injury in my own shop, and now when I’m using an angle grinder, I’m always very, very conscious of where the sparks are going. So I generally won’t be using an angle grinder around fluids and chemicals. If the bike’s nearby, there’s oil and fuel around the bike, so unless I really, really have to, I won’t use an angle grinder near the bike, and if I do, I’m very, very careful about where the sparks go. My hot work area is in the other side of the shop and you’ll see that in my shop tour video, but that’s the place where I’m quite happy for the sparks to go bouncing off the walls and into that air.

I do use an angle grinder much more carefully now and I’m also very conscious of which direction the wheel is throwing the sparks and generally we’re aiming to get those away from your face or anything on your body like your clothes.

5) What one bad safety practice makes you cringe whenever you see someone doing it

There’s one thing I see quite a lot on YouTube – predominantly with other video creators, mechanics and makers and DIY guys – and that’s to do with angle grinders.

I haven’t been able to figure out why people have a propensity to remove the guards on angle grinders. I think it’s possibly because you’ve got a little bit more flexibility in how you use the grinder and what side of the wheel and getting into tight spaces.

But if you’re holding the angle grinder on the body, there is not much gap between that spinning disc and your fingers. And likewise, if you’re using the handle – and I see a lot of people have taken the handles off too – there’s about 10 millimeters space between my finger and the disc. Now, these discs don’t discriminate between steel or bone, so just Google angle grinder injuries (**GORE WARNING!!** I dare you to click the link!) and have a look at the images, and see for yourself what happens.

But I’m guessing it’s because people like the access to the wheel, but I just don’t do this and I always find another way of making the cut or positioning the workpiece or my hands with the grinder, so that we don’t have a chance of slicing open fingers.

So, kids, be careful with angle grinders! Look after your hands and your eyes and everything else because if you make a mess of those, you can’t ride any motorcycles!

Looking for the list of hazards? Drop in your email address below:

Give me the workshop safety checklist!

Need lots of detailed help with your custom bike build? Check out our Community.

About the author 

Matt McLeod

I teach people how to build custom motorcycles by helping them build skills and confidence with my coaching, articles and training videos.
I provide better technical information for custom motorcycle builders. And I shorten the learning curve getting you there.

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