Mechanics: Making Everything Go

Imagine for a moment the vast network of mechanized transport around the globe: large trucks, buses, trains, airplanes, ships, all humming along purposefully. Now remove from that world all of the heavy duty equipment mechanics. Things don’t looks so rosy anymore. Without each of their specialized maintenance yards and repair facilities, those powerful machines are helpless. Drivers and managers are standing around, scratching their heads. Somewhere up in space, Captain Kirk barks into his communicator, “SCOTTY, I NEED THOSE ENGINES, NOW!”

While the disappearance of all of our skilled mechanics is purely science fiction, it is impossible to overstate their importance to any transport business—not to mention construction, mining, logging, railroads, farming and many, many more industries.

Unfortunately, good mechanics are not only valuable, they are vulnerable. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety fact sheet, mechanics face a number of safety risks, including physical hazards such as:

• fire (potential risk from fuels and other flammable materials),,
• moving parts of machines (being caught in or between),
• exploding tires or air bags (while repairing or installing),
• falling objects (including the vehicle) when working under vehicles, or with jacks, hoists, or hydraulic lifts,
• falls from lifts,
• airborne debris causing eye injury,
• slips and trips,
• electrical shocks and burns,
• burns from battery acid, hot surfaces, and exhaust,
• compressed air,
• hand tools, power tools, and equipment, and
• UV radiation from welding.

They also face possible exposure to toxins such as:

• chemicals, solvents, solder, and other products,
• gasoline or diesel exhaust, and
• asbestos.

If that’s not enough, mechanics may suffer injury or physical stress from awkward positions, repetitive manual tasks, or lifting heavy objects, as well as hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud noise.

In short, these vital members of your team need more than recognition—they need protection. The Red Seal occupational analysis states: “Heavy duty equipment technicians work in the full range of environmental conditions: from service shops to remote sites where inclement weather can affect the technician’s performance of his/her duties….Due to the size and complexity of the equipment, safety is of prime importance.”

Employers can take many measures to create a safe environment for mechanics. CCOHS provides the following tips for garage owners:

• keep, inspect, and maintain wiring, heating and ventilation systems in good condition,
• provide adequate lighting and replace flickering fluorescent tubes promptly, as the strobe effect may make moving parts appear stationary,
• designate separate areas for operations such as welding, cleaning, painting, lubricating and battery maintenance,
• allow adequate floor space for the volume of work expected,
• provide and maintain a clean lunchroom and washroom that are separate from the work area,
• do not block or obstruct access to fire extinguishers, doorways, and emergency exits,
• keep power tool guards and safety devices in place and functional,
• inspect and service fire extinguishers regularly,
• keep first aid kits fully stocked and accessible,
• have emergency eyewash stations or showers where appropriate and keep them clean from dirt and debris,
• post emergency phone numbers,
• ensure that floors and benches are cleaned frequently to reduce slipping and tripping hazards,
• ensure that trash containers are emptied regularly, and
• provide approved metal containers for discarded rags, paper and other items soaked with flammable materials (such as oil, gas or solvents).

CCOHS’s website provides a number of fact sheets on topics related to the work of heavy duty mechanics, including:

General work practices in garages
Vehicle maintenance
Servicing vehicles
Working under vehicles
Lockout/Tag out

For the full list, visit their index of topics relating to garages.

“If a company has full-time heavy duty mechanics on site, they should have a designated safety program for them, including emergency preparedness,” says Michelle Byun, COR advisor at SafetyDriven-TSCBC.

Alternatively, she says, if a company hires outside mechanics, the company should have a contract management program with a safety program, as required under the COR program. According to Element 9 of SafetyDriven’s COR Training document, Occupational Health & Safety Management Manual for Small Employers:
“Safety training for contractors means that every contractor must be made aware of your safety requirements… Prior to starting work activities, provide a safety orientation for contractors to ensure that they are familiar with the company’s health and safety requirements and specific site hazards and controls.”

Byun also points out that the contractor must sign a formal occupational health and safety (OHS) agreement and commit to upholding the company’s OHS standards. In addition, the employer should check with WorkSafeBC that the contractor is in good standing.

Behind every smooth-running fleet is a squad of highly skilled mechanics. Take care of them and they’ll take care of your vehicles, making sure that your transport business never grinds to a halt.

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