How you set up your shop, your working procedures and workspace can affect your safety, comfort, stress level and efficiency of making. If your shop is well planned you will be more efficient. The more efficient you are, the faster you work and the more creative time you will have available to you. It pays to spend some time on organization.
The more you think about, and plan your workspace and what you do in it the easier life as a craftsperson will be for you. And it’s safer, too. Many accidents happen because equipment is badly positioned, or there is clutter. Avoid making piles or having things too messy. Be smart in how you set up your space. It is important to set aside the time to describe and analyze what you do in your craft so that you can see better how to improve things.
It helps to make a plan of your workshop, like an architect’s view of the layout of a floor in a house. Make it fairly big to have room to make notes on it. Draw in walls for the rooms and list on it the various jobs that are done in different areas. Label major equipment on the drawing. Draw in arrows to show how workpieces flow through the shop from entry to exit.
Do some cross-hatching on it to identify areas where hazardous materials are stored and use some different kind of marking to show where hazardous noise is encountered. Indicate with X’s where ergonomic dangers may be present. Mark where space usage and access issues are present. Then add to your blossoming drawing little triangles to indicate where there are airborne hazards. Finally, make little colored stick-on dots where accidents or near accidents have occurred in the past, this will show where accident clusters happen. Accidents happen less often if things are tidy and organized.
Now look at your plan and see if you can rearrange jobs or equipment to make things a little safer, more efficient, productive and easier to live in. Think about access, ergonomics, confined spaces, traffic flow, fire dangers, extinguisher placement and all the issues above (Labour Canada 13). Segregate different jobs, that is have specific workstations for different jobs.
Chemical use, for instance should be done in a fume hood. Remember proper ventilation in your shop is vital. It helps to have low isolating walls around workstations to keep processes separate and hence more controllable in safety terms. It is a good idea to have your office in a separate room than your workshop. This is to lower your overall exposure to your workshop materials and processes. I also knew someone who fried their computer mother board in a combined office/workshop space because enough minuscule metallic dust entered it that it short circuited.
The work station should be carefully designed to be efficient, allow ease of working and be safe. Tools get positioned around the work station for maximum accessibility in order of frequency of use. Have tools in rotating bins, or blocks with tools sprouting from them that move about the work surface, use shelves, open compartments and tool boards. Easy reach and avoidance of twisting motions to reach tools are important considerations. An example of the effects of a workstation alteration is switching to a telephone headset. Users don’t hurt their necks or jaws and are up to 48% more efficient at getting work done.
Look for role models that you can learn from, look for who has to work smoothly, accurately, safely and rapidly. How about doctors, surgeons, dentists, tatooists? All the tools laid out. Every one in its place. As one gets older, phrases like “put things back where you found them” begin to make more sense. Just like a chemistry lab, try and have most table surfaces empty much of the time.
Mark Zirinsky describes a production shop reorganization where their shop foreman removed all tools and equipment and then reinstalled everything more intelligently: “The result of this was that our defect rate decreased from 4% to less than 0.5%, our average cycle time (to do the manufacturing steps) went from 20 minutes to 8 minutes, and the assemblers went from a 1/2 hour break in a day to 1.25 hours per day. Our production went up, costs went down, everyone was more relaxed, everybody was happy” (Mark Zirinsky, Orchid list, 4/13/97, “Re: tidy bench“).
According to a 1973 ergonomic analysis of a craft factory, workstation design (easily remedied by more modern readily available alternatives), and disorganized working areas were a frequent contributor to ergonomic problems (Grant et al. 93). Talk to an office furniture supplier, doctor, insurance agent and your OSHA office about ergonomics and your specific working conditions.
Spend some time analyzing your shop and discuss the results with someone knowledgeable. You will find you work easier, happier and faster.