Canadian Rental Service

What went Hong: How to keep your workshop safe

By James Hong   


Workshop safety lessons from tools to chemicals.

I once ran across a table saw in a company workshop. Well, at least that’s what the manager called it. What I called it was a hazard to everyone’s health. The table saw in question had no operation manual; was missing a safety guard; had a misaligned cutting blade receptor; was positioned on an un-level surface; had no fail stop and no housekeeping had been done to maintain a clean, clear space around and on the table and surrounding area. This was a high-hazard accident just waiting to happen.

Workshop safety, whether on company property or in your garage includes three major categories: tool safety, housekeeping and chemical storage. All three categories are equally important. 

Let’s start with tool safety. All hand and power tools require maintenance. The most efficient approach is to make a hard habit of inspecting each tool before use. Look for wear, worn edges, splayed power chords, rust and damage to the overall tool-body which indicates a drop or collision. Make the appropriate repairs and part replacements before resuming use of the tool. Ensure you wear all the related safety PPE before using any tool.

Housekeeping is another preventive safety measure frequently ignored, though it involves some pretty basic routine measures. Check for tripping hazards. Clear a path to move easily around the workshop. Store tools in a clean, uncluttered space. All of this will not only make your workshop safer, it will be a much more efficient and enjoyable experience to work there. 


Another major workshop safety hazard is inappropriate storage of chemicals such as paint thinners, varnishes, paint, oil, gas and other toxic substances. This category of workshop safety has strict safety guidelines, but don’t let that dissuade you from putting good practices in place. Make sure you have a first-aid kit with instructions for use if contact with chemicals occurs, with medical gloves and eyewash. Handle them with great care and ensure they’re all labeled and dated. It’s not uncommon to see containers on a workshop shelf with the label worn off and no markings to identify the product. Keep a permanent black marker on the storage shelf to use if necessary. Keep clean dry rags handy to clean up spills and wipe down liquid container drips. Assign space for storing each item and return it to that space after use. Seal the containers tightly to prevent vapour from escaping. Store everything in an open air space and don’t overcrowd. 

Store chemicals no higher than eye level – never on the top shelf – with anti-roll lips on each shelf. Don’t use the floor for storage. Using the floor even temporarily is a trip hazard and could cause a spill. Liquids go in unbreakable or double-contained packaging. Highly toxic or controlled materials should be stored in a locked poison cabinet. Did you know that spilled antifreeze will attract animals because of the sweet scent and poison and kill any animal that licks the spill, including any other animal that might eat the poisoned animal? That includes your pets.

Inspect all your containers periodically and especially when you use one. Clean up soiled containers and safely discard leaky containers and chemicals to your local toxic disposal site, or store the leaking container in a double-sealed leak-proof container until disposal is possible. Never dispose of chemicals in your garbage bin.

It’s a lot to take in and these are just the basics. Think of it this way: your workshop is an extension of your workplace or home. Treat it that way and you’ll be 75 percent there.

Be safe. Be well. 

James Hong is an OHS consultant, writer and journalist. 

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