If I could go back in time to my first days on the job, using rubber gloves for chemical exposure, knee pads, and hearing and eye protection would be on my list of things I should have done sooner. The top item, though, would be using a NIOSH respirator! I look back at all those moisture-cured coatings and lacquer crack filling done without any protection and the dizzying moments after spent sitting on the steps, or in the car, waiting to regain my senses. I think to myself, “What WAS I thinking!?”
I eventually did start wearing respirators and using knee pads, hearing, and eye protection, but the proactive behavior came from those close calls and repeated experiences we’ve all had with wood chips in your eyeball, sore and swollen knees, the ringing in your ears from hours of edging, and the tingling feeling from soaking your hands in solvent stain for the day.
Today, I make it mandatory for all my guys to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). They occasionally get caught being lazy wearing their glasses on their head or leaving their earmuffs in the van, etc. It’s a constant vigil to keep up with, but extremely important if they want to remain healthy in their later years.
Having been in this occupation for a considerable amount of time, many of the safety devices that we are implementing today were not available 20 years ago. Sometimes it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks, but it has happened because we are realizing the long-term implications, both physically as well as chemically to our bodies.
We have implemented many safety best practices through the years. Naturally, ear protection and knee protection were our initial priorities, these were pretty obvious from the start. High-quality knee pads are used daily and the gloves that are available now are used on every application in which our skin comes into contact with the chemicals that we use.
One of my learning moments came from one of my students, Sam Adams, who began his career as a maintenance man for a school district. In our conversations, he always referred to our finishes and stains as chemicals, which they are. This has sunken into my brain as far as to protect myself to eliminate contact with these chemicals to my skin.
My recommendation would be to implement proper personal protection with your hands, your knees, your eyes, as well as proper ventilation while using the chemicals and cutting the wood, which makes our careers. For many of the new products on the market today, we are not aware of what the potential long-term exposure issues could be, so this is why we must exercise caution while using these products.
One of the most important pieces of PPE for someone in our industry is hearing protection. All the power tools we use are incredibly noisy. Wearing ear plugs or ear muffs is essential to minimizing hearing loss. Sanding floors is probably the noisiest thing we do. The equipment we use is loud, and we run this equipment all day. Prolonged exposure to the noise created by these machines will significantly affect your hearing. I have noticed that many contractors have taken to wearing ear muffs that have a radio in them. I think that it’s not a good idea to wear these for a few reasons.
First, I feel it’s important to hear how your equipment is running. You can tell a lot about how your machine is running by what you hear. Secondly, when you back-up with the big machine you are usually looking down at the machine to make sure you are staying in line, your hearing helps you know when you are approaching a wall or other obstructions behind you when you are looking forward. Thirdly, if your radio is turned up loud enough to drown out the machine noise, then the music your playing is probably loud enough to affect your hearing.