Workshop dangers and mishaps

This week has really got me thinking how lucky I’ve been, and in the same measure how stupid I’ve been. I have worked in the garage business since the late eighties, that’s a lot of hours under, over and inside cars at all kinds of angles, some of which even an accomplished contortionist would be proud of.

We all know there are dangers associated with working on cars but when you are doing it every day in a pressure environment where every minute is tuned to set repair times and every penny is calculated to ensure bills and wages can be paid, safety can end up taking a back seat.

Tragic news emerged this week that a mechanic lost his life while working on a car, reports suggest he was working on a car while it was supported solely by a jack. A common remark made at the time was how could anyone go under a car in these circumstances, everyone claiming that they would only go under a car with the use of axle stands or spare wheels thrown under as an extra safeguard. I won’t deny that all these are true and solid safety tips, I will also say that in my time I have gone under a car with jack support only, and not just a couple of times, in fact so many times that this story sent a shiver down my spine and really got me thinking how lucky I’ve been.

As a mechanic the one tool you have no matter what you are doing is a jack, and not just one, most will have numerous jacks for different lifting heights or ones with attachments, some homemade, for a range of jobs. The thing about these jacks is you know them, they need servicing just like everything else in the workshop, so you know their capabilities. I have often jacked a car up and just as I’m about to put the stands under, the phone rings, then someone calls in to talk about future work on their car or whatever. It could be half an hour or more before I return to the car on the jack. I can’t remember a time when I returned to a car that had fallen off or collapsed on the jack, so I grew to trust them. I have of course had incidents with jacks but mostly down to uneven surfaces or bad placement, something that could be considered carelessness.

With that in mind I can see how this happened and I’m sure a lot of people reading this who have worked in a busy garage will see how it happened too, you will also probably nod in agreement when I say that mechanics will continue to take the chance. It’s easier to take a quick look, less hassle for the customer, they’re already running late coming to you so you can see the part that needs to be ordered, you’re already wasting their time. Are you going to waste more of it by walking back in to the workshop to grab some axle stands? There’s already too much going on in there if you go in you won’t get back out for ten or fifteen minutes. All these things are going through your head when you automatically make the decision to push the jack under and next thing you know you’re on the ground looking at the job in hand. It’s that simple, it’s life and that’s how devastating accidents happen.

I’ve been pushing my luck for a long time, it’s unfortunate that it took this to make me stop and think.

  • Good article Simon, like myself especially when young and eager you tend to overlook basic safety. However it should be mandetory rules in every operating garage to instill the use of stands in every situation the vehicle is raised for underneath work. I realise that terrible accident was during home repair but that a wake up call to a lot of technicians.

    • Simon Manley

      Thanks Ciaran, it would be great to see an awareness campaign, but hopefully as you say this will be the lesson needed to change some technicians ways.