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


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.