Being a wood floor contractor is not exactly the safest job in the world. As such, there are certain precautions you should take on each and every jobsite to protect yourself. We’ve compiled a list of some of them to help you avoid some of the more dangerous aspects of installing and refinishing hardwood floors.
Here are five ways to ensure that you are staying as safe as possible on each and every job:
Wear a respirator.
Why? Because dust can irritate your respiratory system, but also because wood dust can be carcinogenic.
According to OSHA, exposure to wood dust is associated with dermatitis, allergic respiratory effects, and cancer. Because of this, it’s important to ensure that you’re protected. Many contractors refuse to wear masks or respirators on the job, but why take that risk when there’s a simple fix available?
Even with “dustless” sanding systems, dust is still created and kicked up into the air, so it’s necessary to have protection on at all times.
A simple dust mask doesn’t cut it––there’s a crucial difference between dust masks and respirators. According to Wood Floor Business:
“Dust masks are not the same as respirators. There’s a common misconception that all “masks” are the same. In fact, a mask is not the same as a respirator. Did you know respirators used in a workplace must be tested and approved to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards? For wood flooring work, disposable N95 cup-style respirators are the most common. They help protect you from solid particulates in the air, such as wood dust from a floor sander, and are also good for liquid particulates (mists and sprays). They are inexpensive, lightweight and comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.”
However, it’s not enough to simply put on a respirator. For the most protection possible, it’s crucial to ensure that you have a good seal between the respirator and your face. Read the instruction manual that comes with the respirator to make sure that you have formed a proper seal with your face. The integrity of this seal is as important as the quality of the respirator itself.
It is also wise to leave your respirator on even when you’re done sanding or edging. When you’re taking off dust bags, a bunch of dust particles are often kicked up into the air, so it’s crucial to have your respirator on at this point as well.
Use hearing protection.
We all know how noisy it can be on a jobsite. And hearing loss is something that you might not even notice until it’s too late––once it’s gone, it’s gone. Hearing loss is a permanent injury.
Big machines, edgers, and pneumatic nailers can all damage your hearing with repeated exposure over time. Whacking away at a nailer all day is like being at a gun range, so you have to protect your ears accordingly.
According to Wood Floor Business, “In the flooring industry, big machines and edgers and even pneumatic nailers can get pretty loud. Did you know big machines can get into the upper 90s on the decibel scale? According to NIOSH, you are only permitted 30 minutes of exposure at 97 decibels before you need to wear hearing protection. And most workers will be using a big machine for much longer than that. Edgers can get even louder, which means you will need hearing protection even sooner.”
Even short-term exposure to these sounds can create lasting damage to your hearing, so make sure you’re utilizing earplugs and earmuffs. And make sure that they have a proper fit. Earplugs have to be pretty deep into your ear canal to give you proper protection––deeper than you may think.
Protect your eyes.
According to Wood Floor Business, every day approximately 2,000 U.S. workers sustain a work-related eye injury which requires medical treatment.
From dust to nails to anything else. Most people think that they don’t need eye protection, and that’s when problems tend to happen. It’s a good idea to protect yourself and prevent any possible injury from happening in the first place––it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Eye protection has come a long way since the time when the glasses that were available looked like they came from your middle school science class. There is much more comfortable eye protection available on the market now, so you can surely find something that fits well and provides ample protection.
Don’t mess with electricity.
Electricity is no joke, and it’s not something to mess with if you don’t know what you’re doing.
According to Wood Floor Business, “In some houses, there are 220-volt stoves, dryers and window AC units that—with the right pigtail—can be easily plugged into. In homes without that convenience, contractors must hire an electrician to install the correct outlet or they must find a power supply in the box. In some states, it is illegal for anyone but a licensed electrician to open the panel box.”
It’s important to know what kind of electrical situation you’re dealing with and how to properly power your equipment without putting yourself at risk of being electrocuted or short-circuiting the wires on the jobsite.
Tying your equipment directly into the electrical panel is dangerous and illegal in some states, so avoid this as much as possible.
Most of the time, your best bet will be to pay an electrician and build the price of their services into your estimates.
This Wood Floor Business article has more useful pointers for safely powering your equipment on a jobsite.
Beware of fire hazards.
Spontaneous combustion is a huge threat that we are all too familiar with. Don’t pile finish-soaked or stain-soaked rags on top of each other because this poses a huge risk for spontaneous combustion. The best way to prevent soaked rags from catching fire is by hosing them down with water when you’re done and placing them in a special fireproof container with a tight-fitting lid.
Sanding bags pose another big risk for spontaneous combustion. Try to get into the habit of emptying them regularly as you are sanding or edging––preferably when they’re half-full––and never leave a bag containing dust unattended, even for just a few minutes. The dust inside could spontaneously combust and start a huge fire.
Ventilate properly and improve the air quality.
Improving the air quality of the jobsite is crucial not only for you and your crew, but also for your customers. When working with dangerous chemicals such as finishes and stains, it’s important to do everything you can to reduce the amount of VOC’s (volatile organic chemicals) that you’re inhaling.
One way to do this is to open windows and doors whenever and wherever possible to help circulate the air. You can also use an air circulator like the AM2400D Air Mover to help move the air more quickly in an effort to improve the air quality of your jobsite. As an added bonus, this product helps speed up finish drying times as well.
Another way to improve the indoor air quality of your jobsite is to simply use product with lower VOC counts. Using a VOC-free or low VOC finish such as Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey can go a long way to improving the indoor air quality of your jobsite.
By keeping these precautions in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating a safer jobsite. What are some other safety tips you’ve learned while spending time on the job?