Electrical Needs for the Shop: Don’t Shortcut Workplace Safety

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By Al Thomas

As electrical power and control devices on vehicles have changed over the years, technicians have needed to upgrade their knowledge of the automobile’s electrical needs. With supplemental restraints, accident avoidance and electronic control and monitoring devices having an ever-increasing presence, technicians run into more potential electrical faults that need their attention. With this in mind, it’s surprising that technicians don’t pay more attention to the electrical needs of the shop.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Often shops have electrical cords running on wet floors, plugged into a circuit without a ground fault interrupter. You might also see cords with unrepaired breaks, or with the ground prong removed; electrical machines that could draw 20 amps plugged into a 15-amp wall outlet; long cords running small welders; no electrical bonding on potentially flammable stored items; or even solvents stored next to electrical power boxes. You will even see recently built shops that don’t take advantage of the cost savings and efficiency of three-phase electrical service.
  • Body shops are notorious for having wet floors, particularly in the paint department. And though the majority of the tools are driven by air and do not pose a risk when operated in wet areas, some tools are driven by electricity, such as buffing and polishing equipment. If electrical tools must be used around wet areas, the outlet should be equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter, (Fig 3) or GFCI, which may also be called a GFI.This protects workers from dangerous shocks. Though electrical equipment should not be used in wet areas, a GFCI is designed to protect workers in those situations.
  • Static electricity can build in and around electrically driven equipment. This electrical charge, if discharged as a spark, can cause serious damage when flammable liquids such as thinner are ignited. To guard against this happening, a grounding system should connect all potentially flammable liquids.

All of these protective devices, while very effective for preventing damage, will increase the cost of the equipment; and when coupled with the increased cost of operation, the less expensive tool may not truly cost less. When purchasing new equipment, doing a careful true cost analysis may reveal that less expensive equipment may be more costly in the long run.

Alfred Thomas is associate professor and department head of Collision Repair at Pennsylvania College of Technology and writes articles that appear in SearchAutoParts.com. Read the full article here.

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