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Your Responsibility to Your Safety

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Is ignorance bliss or is it a death sentence?

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I once worked at a repair shop where a small body shop was next door. I would occasionally see the two guys who worked there on my smoke breaks. Talking to these guys you could tell that something was not right. It seemed the busier they got, the more drunk they got. But, I never saw them drink or go to the liquor store down the street.

Their shop had room for only two cars and another bay served as a makeshift spray booth. I asked a fellow employee about the guys next door. He said, “They are paint sniffers, addicted to painting cars.” Now it was all too clear to me.

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Once I had them repaint the rocker panels on a car that I damaged on a lift. I decided to drop by and see how it was going. They had just started to paint.

I was amazed to see the one guy with just a paper mask on and painting the left rocker panel. There were no fans and only minimal ventilation. Needless to say, the right rocker panel looked great, but the left was not so good.

This was par for the course, they were notorious for painting a car that would have a great roof, hood and trunk. But, the longer they painted, the worse the lower parts, like doors and fenders looked, due to their increasing buzz.

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Talking to some friends recently, I found out that the body shop was gone and one of the guys died due to liver problems. It made me think about my own mortality and exposure to harmful things in my own environment.

I realized that if I had been aware of all the harmful things that I am now, I would have been more careful. In my current job, I have a lot more access to information about harmful substances. Sometimes what I learn scares me when I think back to all the things I have been exposed to while working at some shops.

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It made me ask a deeper question: “Whose responsibility is it to inform technicians about potential hazards?” What I realized is scary. I realized that most of the information that I needed to protect myself was so close, but I was too impatient to look.

One of the worst examples of this was not reading the label or box of the product. Labels can tell you if the product should be used in a well-ventilated area or if prolonged contact with the skin can cause cancer or other health-related problem.

Another source of information that I failed to look at was the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Most products that have harmful substance are required to have one. MSDS sheets are sometimes packaged with the product, or the package will have information on where they can be obtained. You can find MSDS sheets for products like solvents and even clutch kits.

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Another source of information that I failed to read was the EPA’s “Gold Book” titled: Controlling Brake Dust to Protect Your Health – What Every Auto Mechanic Should Know. It can be obtained by calling (202) 554-1404 or emailing [email protected] This book will show you how to do a brake job that will minimize your exposure to harmful substances.

Let me make one thing clear. I am not recommending that you start looking at this information so you can start your own product liability case. In fact, I believe that knowing the dangers and preventing your own demise is a lot more desirable than injuring yourself and waiting for a court ruling or settlement check.

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Thinking that a product liability lawsuit is like hitting the lottery is wrong. Waiting around for punitive damages and pain and suffering awards from a jury or an out-of-court settlement from a company is not a day at the beach. Chances are you will be waiting for a long time, and the waiting period will not be pleasant. You might even die, leaving your next-of-kin to take up the battle. This is not a legacy you want to leave behind.

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