Mitigating workshop hazards

For technicians operating in them, vehicle workshops can be pretty hazardous environments. Peter Shakespeare looks at ways of mitigating the issues

All vehicle workshops contain potential dangers, waiting to catch out the lazy or unwary. Most are situated in large uninsulated industrial units and operate an open-door policy to facilitate vehicle movement. Therefore, in the height of summer they provide a shady cool working environment but, come the dark cold winter months, conditions can feel more like Siberia than the UK.

Low temperatures can cause numb fingers – and thick clothing covering them can make working with steel tools on fiddly components a major challenge. A worst-case scenario is a loss of feeling in hands and feet leading to components and tools being dropped – and potential damage and injury resulting.

Ilminster-based Powrmatic provides a range of heating systems for large commercial vehicle workshops. The company says it excels at offering ‘tailored heating solutions’ to meet workshops’ specific requirements. “To maintain a safe working ambient temperature in vehicle workshops during winter, there are several heating solutions available that comply with safety standards and regulations,” says Brett Smith, Powrmatic’s heating product manager. “Some commonly used heating equipment types include gas, oil, or electric warm air heating, as well as gas or electric radiant heaters. These can be installed internally or, if space is at a premium, external heaters can be fitted, to bring ducted warm air into the building.” Smith points out that British Standard BS6230 provides specific recommendations for heating equipment used in areas where there is a risk of fuel spillage. “According to the standard, if there is a risk of petrol spillage, heaters must be installed a minimum of 1.8m off the floor,” adds Smith. “However, if there is only a risk of diesel spillage, heaters can be mounted on the floor.”

When operating a workshop with an open-door policy or large doors that are regularly opened, Smith says minimising heat loss is a priority. “One effective solution to prevent the loss of warm air – and minimise the ingress of dust and insects – is the use of door curtains,” he reasons. “When doors are open, curtains act as a barrier between the interior and the outside environment. They can be heated or, more commonly in this type of application, be kept ambient.”


In areas where technicians are working for long periods that may be cooler, Smith recommends radiant heating as an effective option for spot heating in a workshop. “Radiant heating works best when there is a clear line of sight between the heater and the object being heated,” he says. “This means that if you are working in an inspection pit underneath vehicles, radiant heating may not be the most practical option. In this scenario, a well-balanced warm air system or localised radiant heating using smaller quartz-type heaters may be more suitable.”

According to Powrmatic, the most cost-efficient fuel source for heating a large building or workshop is gas. “Gas heating systems are widely used due to their ability to heat large spaces. However, it is worth noting that the energy landscape is continuously evolving – and environmentally friendly options are becoming more popular. Electric heating is gaining traction due to its ‘green’ credentials but is often more costly overall when you factor in installation and upfront costs.”

Smith says the heating installation cost for a large commercial vehicle workshop typically depends on several factors, such as size, insulation properties, air change rate and the type of heating system being used. As an example, he says, for a large building measuring 60m x 60m x 12m and with a 'U' value of 2.5 and air change rate of two, the typical installed cost for a gas heating system would generally be in the region of £50k to £70k.

When working with tools and metal parts, the risk of injury to technicians’ hands is ever-present. Safety gloves made of cut-resistant materials, such as Kevlar or leather, provide an additional layer of defence. Moreover, heat-resistant gloves can shield technicians from burns caused by contact with hot surfaces or fluids.

Working in a vehicle workshop often requires precise handling of tools, small components and slippery objects. Here, safety gloves with textured surfaces or grip-enhancing materials such as rubber or silicone, improve grip and prevent accidental slippage.


According to guidance issued by the UK government, diesel fuel is a relatively benign substance. In its liquid form, acute exposure can cause eye and skin irritation and vomiting if ingested (from manual syphoning). In humans, there is no unequivocal evidence to link diesel fuel to cancer, but guidance still recommends using PPE when handling the fuel.

The same cannot be said about lubricants. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations state that oils and lubricants do cause skin irritation and prolonged exposure to used engine oil can cause skin cancer. Lubricating oils contain PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and other toxic chemicals added to increase its life, lubricating properties and to prevent sludge build-up. The chemical properties of additives in the engine oil change once it has been through a full duty cycle and it will also contain traces of heavy metals from bearing wear. Some PAHs have been identified as cancer-causing agents.

The Health and Safety Executive has issued guidance (SR19) on working with lubricants and waste oil. The guidance covers access, storage, personal protective equipment (PPE), procedures, health monitoring, cleaning, good housekeeping and training and supervision. According to SR19, anyone handling lubricants and waste oil must wear gloves (vinyl or nitrile) and single use gloves must be thrown away after use.

When it comes to electric vehicles, only technicians with the appropriate training should go near them. But HSE has issued more general guidance for workshop managers about working on high-voltage electrical systems. It states that repairers must refer to vehicle specific sources of information from the manufacturer to identify precautions that must be implemented to prevent danger.

Importantly, remote operation keys should always be kept away from the vehicle to prevent any accidental activation of the electrical system and accidental movement of the vehicle. Keys should be locked away, with access controlled by the person working on the vehicle.

Visual checks should be carried out on the vehicle for signs of damage to high-voltage electrical components or cabling (usually coloured orange). These systems should be isolated and proven dead by testing before any work is undertaken. Isolation and locking off the electricity source must be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Even when isolated, vehicle batteries and other components may still contain large amounts of residual energy and retain a high voltage. Only suitable tools and test equipment should be used. These items may include electrically insulated tools and test equipment compliant with GS38.

Finally, working on live electrical equipment should only be considered when there is no other way for work to be undertaken. The HSE guidance also states that electric vehicles should be worked on within an area that can be secured to exclude people other than the technicians working on it, and warning signs should be used to make people in the workshop aware of the dangers.

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