Safety in the Shop: First Aid Kits

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There’s no way around it, working on vehicles can be a dangerous business. There are many ways mechanics and lube techs can be injured while on the job. In fact, across the nation there were 15,680 nonfatal injuries and illnesses to auto mechanics that involved days off work in the year 2005. These injuries can range from minor cuts and bruises all the way to serious burns, head wounds, eye injuries and nearly everything in between. Even in the most safety conscious oil and lube shops, injuries can and will happen from time to time. Being prepared for this inevitability can make a huge difference in the severity of injuries when they do happen. Having the right collection and amount of medical supplies available can go a long way in ensuring accidents on the job are dealt with quickly and properly. Having well-stocked first aid kits on hand should be a non-negotiable safety practice for every oil and lube establishment.

As with many of the other safety issues we’ve covered in NOLN’s Safety in the Shop series, first aid kits are more than just a simple and smart way to keep employees from harm. In addition to simply being the “right thing to do” for workers who endure the various cuts, nicks and bruises that come with the territory of working on cars, a shop well outfitted with the appropriate medical supplies is also standing on firm legal ground. In a world filled with dubious worker’s comp claims and ambulance-chasing lawyers, it’s important that business owners and management avoid any appearance of negligence. Something as simple as having easily accessible and appropriately equipped first aid kits shows a lube shop’s commitment to taking care of its employees.

Of course, if all of these aren’t reason enough, there are a variety of OSHA regulations on the subject of maintaining first aid materials “in near proximity” to where workers are.

 Where Does It Hurt?

Before we get into the specifics of what should be in your first aid kit, let’s talk about some of the most common injuries that occur when working on cars. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mechanics are more likely to be injured or killed while on the job than the average worker. One of the most frequent injuries comes from unplanned encounters between heads and other hard objects (often the undersides of cars). In fact, impacts from objects, equipment and tools accounted for nearly 45 percent of the total injuries reported in the BLS findings.

Other common wounds include burns from hot engine parts, fractures, broken bones, bruises or other injuries resulting from falls (frequently caused by slipping on oil, tripping over tools, falling into service pits, etc.), exposure to and poisoning from harsh chemicals, cuts (particularly on the hands) and a wide variety of eye injuries.

There are also less frequent dangers that are, nevertheless, not to be overlooked, like electrical shock/burns from tools and car batteries, for instance. Freak accidents can happen anywhere at anytime, making it impossible to prepare for everything. Still, being aware of potential threats can go a long way toward reducing them.

What’s in the Box?

To treat the wide variety of possible ailments mentioned in the previous section, oil and lube shops should have several first aid kits readily available. These simple kits are affordable (generally costing less than $40) and can be invaluable when an injury occurs. So what items should be included in an auto service shop first aid kit?

First aid kits that meet OSHA requirements for auto shops (see OSHA standard 1910.151b) include a wide variety of bandages, gauze, compress, Certi-Strip adhesives and absorbent pads. Since the most common auto shop injury of all is the humble cut — according to a 2011 report from the Journal of Industrial Health — one can never have too many bandages on hand.

Some other important items to include in the little white box are antiseptic towelettes, burn cream, a cold pack and an eye dressing kit, which includes eyewash, pads and tape. Other sundries not to be forgotten include scissors, some sort of medical tape and latex gloves.

Going the Extra Mile

The items listed above should be considered the bare minimum every shop should have available. For those wishing to go beyond the basics, focusing on treatments for the most frequent and/or debilitating injuries is a good place to start. On the minor and very frequent end of the spectrum, having a lot of small bandages and band-aids for minor cuts and scrapes, as well as over-the-counter pain killers and hydrogen peroxide (to keep cuts from getting infected) is definitely a good idea. On the more serious and less common side, are burns and eye injuries. To treat these, be sure to have burn cream, gauze and eye wash available.

Eye Wash Station Requirements

While having an eye wash station in your shop is certainly a good idea, most automotive repair facilities are not required by law to have one. OSHA guidelines rather cryptically state: “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use. As the standard states, an eyewash and/or safety shower would be required where an employee's eyes or body could be exposed to injurious corrosive materials. If none of the materials used in this work area is an injurious corrosive [chemical] (as indicated by the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each product), then an emergency eyewash or shower would not be required pursuant to 1910.151(c).”

The vast majority of chemicals encountered in oil and lube shops are not severe enough eye irritants to warrant an eye wash station requirement. However, it’s a good idea to look over the MSDS documents in your shop to ensure you’re familiar with the exposure treatments for each. If your shop does not have a built-in eye wash station, portable pressurized stations are readily available and relatively inexpensive. Just be sure to get one with at least a one-gallon capacity. Not only will having one of these nearby ensure you are on the right side of the vaguely worded law, but you may need it some day.

Practical Points

Now that all the proper medical paraphernalia has been acquired, just set it and forget it right? Not quite. A lube shop’s first aid kit(s) should be placed in readily accessible and highly visible areas. It’s a good idea to keep one by the cash register (where it’s unlikely to ever be moved) and one closer to the action in the service bays. Every employee should know where the kits are and should be given a thorough overview of the inventory. And remember, if anything is ever taken out and used, don’t forget to replace it! Of course, the larger the oil and lube operation and the more employees there are and the more medical supplies that should be kept on-site. 

Well-stocked first aid kits are, perhaps, the most obvious, easiest and least expensive way to make sure your shop is prepared for that inevitable day when an accident does happen. Don’t get caught without one.

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