Sunday, 25 October 2009

001 Health and Safety

When I was sixteen, I began my apprenticeship as an avionics / instrument technician. The first thing we did was to attend a lecture on industrial safety, complete with scary movies of industrial accidents and a long list of 'thou shalt not' behaviour modes. This was before we'd even seen the workshop which would be our daytime 'home' for the next forty weeks.

It would be wrong of me to treat my readers any differently; safety first and always. This brief post will outline the essentials of radio experimenter's safety knowledge, but be aware that the author is not a H&S professional, and the reader is advised to take local expert advice before beginning work.

The potential hazards include:

Risk of burning. Soldering irons have a very hot functional end; the temperature is usually set to around 360 degrees C, but may be higher where an unregulated iron is used. Molten solder is at the same, high temperature, and because it is a liquid (and a heavy one), it can flow, drop or spray and cause burns.

Risk of cutting / abrasion / amputation. Some tools used have functional sharp edges; knives, hacksaws, chisels, etc. Always cut away from your body / hand / other parts. Take great care when cutting thin sheet materials; the edges will easily cut you.

Risk of puncture wounds. Some tools have functional sharp points, and care must be taken to avoid being stabbed by your own spike, needle, needle-nose pliers etc. Tightening a cable tie with pliers is particularly hazardous; the tie may break, and the pliers will move fast. Take care with cut wire ends. Larger wire sizes make sharp, stiff spikes.

Risk of poisoning. Some of the chemicals and materials used in electronics are dangerous. Do not open electronic components. Many contain susbstances hazardous to health, such as beryllia, polychlorinated biphenyls and lead alloys. Solder may contain lead in high proportion. Always wash your hands after handling solder.

Risk of respiratory irritation. Be very careful when cutting fibreglass panels; the dust is a respiratory irritant. Wear a dust mask, and if possible operate a vacuum cleaner by the work when cutting. Solder contains a resinous 'flux', which will vapourise when heated. Make sure you have adequate ventilation, and use a small fan if possible to draw the fumes away from you.

Risk of electrocution. Do not use mains power for your projects. The risks far outweigh the convenience; you can change a battery, but you only get one life. Make sure you electric-powered tools (including soldering iron and bench lamp) are in good condition, with no frayed or damaged wires. If in doubt, get a qualified electrician to inspect them.

Risk of radio-frequency burns. The projects, as published, do not produce enough power to cause significant danger of RF burns, but you should be aware that even modest RF energy can produce very painful and potentially dangerous burns on the skin.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and other safety information will be included in future articles as necessary.

I repeat once more - I'm not an expert - take advice if you are at all unsure. Work safe!

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