Don’t skimp on these 6 pieces of personal safety gear

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Kyle Smith

It’s easy to become complacent with shop safety, especially when the effects of letting your guard down are not always immediate. Fact is, working on cars and motorcycles can be dangerous.

I was personally reminded of this truth a few weeks ago, when I put a coat of primer on my cleaned-up winter project XR250R frame. With the freshly sandblasted and wiped-down frame hanging in the garage, I started spraying paint, and it wasn’t long before the fumes reminded me I should be really wearing some type of mask or respirator.

All of that got me thinking that I should review my garage’s safety items. Here are some items of essential kit for the home DIY enthusiast:

Safety glasses

safety glasses
These three pairs cover pretty much everything I do. The tinted ones are nice for using a torch when heating metal. Kyle Smith

Working on cars is tough enough when you can see what you are doing. This hobby is a whole lot more challenging if you lose your sight. Eye protection is no joke. I have a friend who lost an eye to a screwdriver, and another who had to visit the ER after a single wire from a wire brush on a grinder went straight into his cornea. Neither of them is shy about explaining what a horrible experience it is to suffer eye damage, and these two situation don’t even account for the risk of caustic chemical spray or splash.

Simple safety glasses can save your sight. Much like everything else in the garage, it’s wise not to cheap out; spend a little money here to get glasses that fit you well and are comfortable. You won’t wear them if you don’t like them, and safety glasses only work if you wear them.

Personally I have Oakley M-Frame glasses with changeable lenses. I find them to have great coverage while also being all-day wearable. Look around your local hardware store or welding supply as they typically have a range of OSHA-approved options.

Nitrile disposable gloves

nitrile gloves
Nitrile gloves keep you from soaking up solvents and oils into your skin. I’ve found 7-mil thick to be a nice sweet spot of durable and affordable. Kyle Smith

The skin is also the largest human organ. Folks often think skin serves to protect our insides, but it needs to be protected too. Solvents and oils can be quickly absorbed through the skin and carried in the bloodstream, to your liver, which can’t really do much with non-organic chemicals. Over time, these can build up and cause significant health problems.

Some basic, disposable nitrile gloves can make all the difference. Latex and other glove options don’t hold up well to the chemicals mechanics expose themselves to, and thus should be avoided unless they are the only option. Nitrile is really what you want, and be sure to source a thickness that will hold up to the task at hand. Gloves offer no protection if they are torn open.

Heavy leather gloves

heavy leather gloves
Keep your hands and lower arms safe from burns and abrasion with gloves like these. Kyle Smith

Nitrile gloves will keep chemicals from absorbing into your skin, but they do very little to protect from heat, cold, vibration, or abrasion. That is where a pair of leather gloves can really help. Awhile back, I got some (well-deserved) comments on an article about using an impact driver reminding me that using one without a nice glove is a quick way to lose some skin. Whether it’s holding a punch while hitting it with a hammer, keeping safe while working with hot things like welded parts, or handling items you are trying to break loose with heat, leather gloves can be a lifesaver.

Hearing protection

hearing protection options
Kyle Smith

There is often no treatment for hearing loss. The annoyance of pausing for 10 seconds to cover or insulate your eardrums pales in comparison to the frustration of struggling to hear. Protection for your ears comes in a few forms, and each has its merits. Over-the-ear muffs are convenient, in-ear plugs are affordable and transport easily, and custom-molded are all-day comfortable (and very durable). I took an afternoon and visited an audiologist to have my custom molds made. While there, I realized I was the youngest patient by decades, which hopefully means I won’t be returning any time soon.

Respirator

3M respirator
Kyle Smith

The short list above covers three of the five senses, and a respirator is all about making sure you don’t taste or smell harmful aerosols. We all have to breathe to stay alive, and a respirator is designed to make sure your lungs stay in a condition that allows you to keep breathing.

A commercial garage is rife with airborne compounds you should not inhale, and home garages are not much better. Aerosol solvents and paints all have damaging effects on human lungs and should be carefully avoided. Sawdust or grinding debris is no different. Paper or fabric masks are better than nothing, but a proper well-fitting respirator is the right tool for the job. I just picked up a nice 3M unit with replaceable cartridges that covers just about everything in my garage. Only thing to keep in mind is that the replaceable cartridges do have a shelf life, both in their packaging and once opened. Extend it by keeping them in sealed plastic bags labeled with the date they were put into use, and replace them regularly.

Auto-darkening welding helmet

I consider this one to be a bonus, because not everyone has a welder. But if you do I highly encourage you to splurge on a nice adjustable auto-darkening helmet. For me, the benefit was twofold when I first made the leap. First, this allows for more accurate welds and less eye strain because I could set the perfect shade opacity. Second, I was no longer tempted to just look away or close my eyes for quick tacks. The fact that I can now just leave my helmet on while readjusting the workpiece or shifting my position for better welds is especially useful. Bonus bonus: If you opt for a helmet with a “grind mode” that prevents the lens from darkening while using a grinder, it makes it a handy face shield while fabricating.

Stay safe out there!

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