A Safe Environment

When There’s Work to be Done, Do It Safely

Story Kevin Harper - April 12, 2012 10:18 AM


A clean shop is a safe shop. Flooring that prevents slipping, wiping up spills when they happen and finding the tools for the job efficiently (rather than using a tool for a purpose for which it wasn’t designed) are big steps to a happier ending.


Using jackstands underneath a car will protect you from danger. The jackstand should be strong enough to support the weight and having more than one is never a bad idea.


We’re outside to show you an example of safe in a better light, but this would work inside the garage. Once the car has been jacked up, these Race Ramps under the tires serve the same purpose as the common jackstand. Leaving the jack in place is an added safety feature.


Here’s a case where, instead of using a jack, the car was driven up onto a set of ramps which use a cradle to keep the car from rolling forward or backwards. We will still chock the rear wheels before climbing under it.


Race Ramps makes a wheel chock that is heavy duty and bound to provide plenty of resistance in case of an issue. This is much better than a brick or a piece of wood.


This is a ratchet. It is not a hammer. It is not a pry bar. It is not a punch. Proper use of the tools in the purpose for which they were designed prevents tool-related accidents.


Can you find the Barracuda? This is the winner in a “messiest garage” contest in Los Angeles. Does yours look anything like this one? Not much work has likely been done on the Barracuda lately.


(Left to right) Tim Preston of PODS Los Angeles, Craig Hammon, Janice Hammon and Jamie Dietenhofer of Garage Envy. Yes, this is the same garage.


Here’s a closer look at the garage. We didn’t even know the Barracuda had a hood scoop. Now we can see more of the car and actually get to it. Craig can also get to his R/C cars for enjoyment outside the garage.

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Your garage can be called many things.

You can call it a shop. You can call it a refuge. You can call it a gathering place for like minds. Whatever you call it, make sure you are calling it a safe place.

Safety awareness can be the number one reason for reduction in garage accidents. The idea of knowing that the proper steps have been taken will reduce the distraction from the task at hand. As we spend more time in the garage doing our work, we’re able to get more accomplished whatever the accomplishment may be.

One of the areas that seem to have been delivering the message quite clearly is the proper support of any vehicle that has been lifted from the ground. Finding the proper jacking points to place the jack is the first step. Once the car has been lifted, properly supporting it becomes the next step. Many smart mechanics will utilize proper size jackstands, but keep the jack in place as a safeguard in case the jackstand fails. Placing the car on ramps that are built to hold the capacity and weight of the vehicle, especially if you’re working on just one end of the car can also be a safe step.  Make sure the wheels that remain on the ground are chocked against rolling with a good sturdy chock.

Wes Scott is the manager of consulting services for the National Safety Council. Scott recently pointed out that two areas remain among the top reasons for accidents in a garage or workshop environment.

“One of the areas of concerns is slips, trips and falls,” said Scott. “When you are in the garage, you need to pay attention to the environment. If you have a fluid spill, take the time to clean it up. Sometimes, you’ll just work around the spill, hoping to clean it up later. Well, you get busy and you forget about it and the next thing you know, you’ve stepped in it. If you don’t do good housekeeping, you increase the risk of an accident.”

The second area cited was tool related, especially improper use of the tool. “We see injuries like cuts and abrasions and even more serious injuries, especially in the use of power tools,” Scott added. “Using the wrong tool for the job is asking for trouble. A screwdriver is not a chisel.”

That sentiment is echoed by the tool manufacturers. Tools are designed for specific purposes. Paul Steinweg is a product manager for GearWrench. The tool manufacturers are always working to provide better tools, but the tools can only be better if they are being used as intended.

“Asking a tool to do a job it isn’t designed for is asking for trouble,” said Steinweg. “The biggest risk is the tool overloading, resulting in sudden tool failure. For example, a standard-length wrench is designed to withstand the force that could be reasonably applied by a person holding the tool with his hands. When you use a cheater bar on that same wrench, you’re applying much more force than the wrench head was designed for. The overloaded wrench can fracture suddenly, creating an unexpected and instant lack of resistance, throwing the user off balance and into danger. Instead of using a cheater bar, use a longer wrench.”

While tool designs are put to rigorous testing before released to the market, there remains a certain responsibility with the end user to take the product in the manner in which it was intended. “The most important design criteria is safety,” added Steinweg. “Tools must be strong enough to do the job they are intended for and user safety is paramount. All good tools are designed to be strong, to feel right in your hand, and to provide years of service. Great tools add something unique, a feature that really sets them apart.”

Steinweg cited Crescent adjustable wrenches and GearWrench’s own ratcheting wrenches. “When the Cresecnt wrench was introduced, it offered something new and truly useful. It was an instant success and today, over 100 years later, it’s still found in just about every toolbox. Same thing for the ratcheting wrench. It provides a faster way to get jobs done. When true innovation happens, classic tools are born.”

Having the tools to do the job is an important step, but one of the downfalls that could become a safety problem is finding the tools. The best garages have meticulous organization. The toolboxes have the right tools in the right drawers and in the right positions. Sockets can be found at a glance, rather than sorting through a bin, keeping metric separate from standard.

There are any number of ways that a garage can be organized and the method is best left up to the individual.

Of course, most of our garages are not as much “car sanctuary” as we would like. Many household garages will have to fight for space for tools and auto supplies with leftover furniture or unwanted pictures and lamps or even handyman gear. In times like these, you have to ensure that you have the space to do the job you need. Imagine being a car guy who can’t get to the car.

Late last year, PODS Los Angeles teamed up with Garage Envy and local media outlets to find the messiest garage in the Los Angeles area. Beneath it all, they found a classic Mopar.

Janice Hammon of Mission Viejo swallowed a bit of the family pride and entered a radio contest. Listeners were told to upload photos of the mess they called a garage. Those photos were posted on a website and visitors to the site became judges for the contest.

“There were a lot of garages submitted in the contest that needed a makeover and some serious cleaning,” said Jamie Dietenhofer, founder and co-executive of Garage Envy, Inc. “After taking a closer look at the Hammon’s home, it was clear how much it would mean to their family for us to renovate their garage and give them a fresh start.” 

It was actually the Hammon’s 23-year-old daughter who heard about the contest on the radio and submitted a photo of the family’s garage in all its messy glory, hoping for a desperately needed makeover. The Hammons first moved into their home in 1987 before their daughter was born. “Our garage is full of 24 years of collecting and storage for items we never could quite get rid of,” said Hammon.

Once the Hammons were selected as winners, some of their belongings were transferred to a PODS (Portable On Demand Storage) unit for safekeeping. The folks at Garage Envy set about the task of providing the storage options and design for the garage to prevent the accumulation from raching that point again.

“When we saw the Hammon’s garage, I knew what a fun challenge this would be,” said Tim Preston, general manager of PODS Los Angeles. “I can’t think of a family more deserving to have their garage transformed into an area for everyone to enjoy.”

The real motivation for the clean-up was Hammon’s husband Craig, who is a passionate car fan and remote control car collector. Taking up one third of the garage is a well-preserved Plymouth Barracuda which remains carefully covered to protect it from the surrounding clutter.

“Our garage is definitely a man cave,” said Janice Hammon. “I’m looking forward to giving my husband an area where he can have the elbow room to work on his cars and we can also enjoy spending time with him.”

There is a happy ending to the Hammon’s story, one that can be realized by anyone with a messy garage. Organization and storage options, when combined with keeping a safe environment, can make the garage a place of productive peace. It’s a chance to bring the passion to a positive place. It may even play a part in speeding up the project, only to make room for the next one. It’s hard to find anything wrong with that.