Garage safety is not often discussed because it can be dismissed as just a matter of common sense. But, in the daily use of a typical garage, many hazardous conditions can develop over time. If well-organized and clean the chances of disaster are diminished. As a life-long user of garages for the usual, as well as, unusual purposes I have accumulated some knowledge of how to care for you garage space safely. Common sense? Yes – but there is more.
Lighting: Thorough, dependable lighting is essential. All floor areas should be visible with permanent, code compliant electric lighting. This way it is dependable, easily maintained and in proper locations. Added lamps, clamp lights, work lights are great for temporary, task lighting only and should be removed after each use and stored away. But they have cords, adjustments and can go off easily when bumped. Tripping hazards add to the threat. I have tripped and gotten tangled up many times with improper lighting.
Floor Hazards: A well-lighted floor is essential for garage safety. Clutter and obstructions lead to injuries. Oily, greasy, sandy or dirty floor surfaces make things slippery causing falls. Old metal structures, bolts, wood trapdoors and such are often found in old buildings and should be removed. Concrete floors are best because they cannot burn. They are required for any type of garage space because of fire resistance.
Clean Floor / Painted Floor: Concrete is easy to clean as a floor surface. About anything one could spill on concrete can be cleaned up one way or another. Mechanics I have known recommend high quality eposy floor coatings in white or light gray or tan. That way they can easily spot oil or fluid drips and keep it clean
Fire Safety: Chemicals found in garages are wide ranging if their purposes. Those related to finishing or painting can be as dangerous and gasoline’s and fuels for auto-mobiles. Appropriate fire extinguishers should be maintained for the garage. Nearly everyone who has tinkered with their own car fuel systems, such as carburetors, can recall a time when they accidentally squirted gas over to where the ignition distributor is and has an instant fire on their engine. It happens so fast. Extinguishing it immediately is required if it is within a building. If the garage is within a home, especially older home, it becomes very dangerous quickly. I tend to not start an engine unless the vehicle is outside and have extinguisher at hand.
Ventilation: If you have a detached garage with windows and garage doors to open you can have great ventilation for when using volatile and irritating chemicals. If no windows to open or the garage is within a home then a powered ventilator should be installed through wall or roof. Breathing concentrated fumes is a well-known garage hazard.
Chemicals, fuels, poisons, fertilizers: These can all be lethal due to inflammability, poisons, corrosion and explosion. Know your materials and store safely as manufacturer recommends. This may mean separate storage areas that are not easily disturbed and knocked over to spill.
Poisons and pets: Garage chemicals like anti-freeze / coolant for cars is known to be lethal and attractive to dogs. This should never be left spilled or open. Dogs and cats can get into all kinds of hazards if chemical containers are available to chew, sniff, lick and paw.
Gasoline – king of hazards: Because of volatility gasoline can only be safely stored in safety-approved, contemporary containers and handled exactly as they recommend on containers. It is better stored in a garden shed away from house and/or garage. The never-evers and do-nots regarding are well known.
Propane – no leaks allowed: Safe to store if absolutely contained in proper tank and away from heat and electrical arc sources.
Electrical cords, outlets: A current, code compliant electrical system in you garage is essential for safety. The idea of adding multi input power strips to a single circuit is risky. Using undersized cords is often a hazard. If you understand cord sizing for extension in terms of guages and amperage you won’t likely start a fire from over heating. If you don’t use these thing correctly you can also blow circuit breakers and fuses, also dangerous.
Heating The Garage: A permanent, fixtured heat source, installed per code and inspected for safety is really the only safe heating approach. Using portable heaters is very common and should only be done with full knowledge of their safe operation. It is essential to know ventilation requirements for gas and oil heaters and electrical loads for portable electrical heaters.
Organizing the Garage: Organizing is good safety for any garage. If you use primarily for vehicles then there should be enough walk-around space left over. This can be a parameter for selecting a garage plan to build. Identifying and creating critical areas for storage, workbench, tools, equipment soul be done before occupying the space. Always be sure to allow space for safely walking in the filled garage.
About Drippage: Many vehicles drip oil, transmission fluid, grease, antifreeze/coolant and sometimes, gasoline or diesel. All of these are hazardous and should not be allowed to stand and collect. Using absorbent layers on floor to capture does help but they should be disposed of regularly as manufacturer recommends. They too can be volatile.
Power Tools: Power tools require knowledge for operation, maintenance and their storage safety. Obviously away from children and pets and secured if necessary.
Sawdust: Woodworking creates much sawdust which is not only an annoyance if left lying around, but all so a fire hazard. Mixed with fuels and lubricants on floors can help with its clean-up but should not be left mixed which is dangerous at several levels.
Metal work dust: Again, left lying around is bad of other reasons. Corrosion from moisture, water, leaky radiators and such things make messy hazards. Metal fragments and practicals are physically harmful in contact with humans and pets as cuts, slivers, eye and respiratory injuries.
Miscellaneous Storage: Bikes, garden equipment, tools, etc. need to be stored carefully for safe access in and out of the garage.
Wood Storage: Wood is considered a fuel. It is also heavy and bulky so dimensional aspects must be considered for use and safety. It should be well separated from heat, fuel and electrical arc sources.
Wow! Lots of things can exist in a garage in ordinary use. If used for workshop, studio, gymnasium, music studio, garage band practice, welding, painting, body work, home business or specialize storage instead, you can find much specific safety information in those specialities.
If you have garage safety tips please add to this blog. It is a great subject for all.