Maintaining a safe race shop is an issue at all levels of racing, from the weekend racer competing as a hobby to the top professionals whose lives revolve around having a safe work environment.

Stock Car Racing spoke with a pair of shop foremen from the ranks of NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series—Wood Brothers Racing’s Randy Merriman and Ganassi Racing’s Roger Mears—who offered their input on maintaining a safe shop.

“Most of it is common sense, just basic common sense and paying attention,” says Merriman, shop foreman for the No. 21 Ford of Elliott Sadler. “If you’ve got people who don’t pay attention, that’s when you have accidents.”

Not paying attention can also foster two common workplace traits—negligence and complacency—which can be two of the worst enemies a racer or shop employee can have.

“It’s just so easy to get in the habit—the bad habit—of picking up hand tools and neglecting safety issues, like small grinders and drills and these kind of things we use on a daily basis, even welders,” says Mears, shop foreman for the No. 40 Dodge of driver Sterling Marlin and the No. 01 Dodge of Jason Leffler. “I see welders a lot of times grab up the stingers and weld a few shots with their eyes closed, just because they’re in a hurry.”

Mears says experience has taught him some simple lessons in safety.

“I was a local racer in Bakersfield, California, for years and years, so I know from coming up that I did a lot of things that you shouldn’t do,” Mears says. “And it’s things that come with age and experience where you finally figure out just a few seconds of preventive maintenance could make a difference with your whole life, of losing an eye, of having a fire and getting burned seriously. It’s not worth it. That’s what the local race guys, the new guys starting up, a lot of times have to learn the hard way. You just hope they don’t have to.”

Hear are some tips offered by Mears and Merriman:

1. Eyewear

“First and foremost, the thing we really stay on top of is the eyewear, especially in the fabrication area of the shop with all the cutting and grinding and working with grinding materials and things,” says Mears. “That’s where we really focus on the face shields and the eye protection. Guys tend to get in a hurry and not want to throw their safety goggles on. That’s probably one of the biggest issues that seems to be ongoing and one that we have to stay on top of these guys about.”

Merriman calls the use of safety goggles his top reminder to co-workers. “I stay on them pretty hard about that.”

2. Fire extinguishers

Merriman has one purchase at the top of his priority list in setting up a race shop.

“First thing (a local racer) needs to buy is fire extinguishers,” he says. “That’s the first and foremost thing he’s got to have, proper fire equipment to put a fire out in case you catch anything on fire. Then make sure your fire equipment is up-to-date and kept up-to-date, which we do. We also have our fire extinguishers properly marked.”

3. Fire prevention

“One thing we do is make sure we don’t get any sparks in the race car,” Mears says. “When the cars come back from the race we make sure all the lines—oil lines and fuel lines and plumbing and seat covers and anything that’s flammable or that sparks could hurt—is taken out of the cars before they go back to the departments to be turned around for the next race.”

4. Proper attire

Gloves are also a significant part of accident prevention. Well-protected hands can mean the difference between consistently having minor hand injuries and having virtually no hand injuries.

“Gloves get worn out a lot in our shop,” Merriman says.

5. Secure welding area

OSHA inspects welding areas to make certain they’re kept safe and secure, free of flammable materials and mislabeled containers.

“You don’t want a 55-gallon drum of gas sitting there beside you while you’re welding tailpipes together,” says Merriman. “Another thing OSHA is big on is spray-paint-can lids. They always want a lid kept on spray cans.”

6. Proper disposal system

A disposal system for waste products is a must in a race shop. “If you’re building a car from the ground up, you’re going to need everything there to do the job from the ground up, which would mean generating paint residue and stuff like that,” says Merriman. “You need to have all that taken care of. You just don’t throw it out in the environment any more. You can’t do that. Plus your oils and gases, you’ve got to have some way to dispose of those properly. And while you have them there, you have to have something that they can stay contained in, containers that are properly labeled.”

7. Cleanliness

Having a clean race shop and having a safe race shop go hand-in-hand.

“Cleanliness is something we work really hard for,” says Mears. “We believe in promoting cleanliness and that the cleaner you keep things the better job you’ll do. Clean floors means keeping oil and liquids off the floor, things you could step on and slip and fall on. By the floors being painted and clean, you can always tell what’s on the floor and keep it clean that way. You should also keep things picked up so you don’t fall on them.”

8. Communication

Simply letting shop employees know basic rules of safety or giving them periodic refreshers is a key to having a safe work environment. This can be accomplished with scheduled safety meetings.

“We also send out memos and reminder fliers once in a while, especially about wearing goggles,” Mears says.

Verbal communication on site is a key as well.

“I try to keep a close eye on everything and make sure we have no problems. I make them aware of their problems if I see somebody that’s not paying enough attention,” Merriman says.

9. No distractions

A distracted worker is one prone to make mistakes, so shop etiquette should be maintained at all times.

“In the machine shop we’re really careful about not walking up and talking to someone while they’re running a piece of equipment,” says Mears. “We’re always reminding these guys to always wait until a guy is finished or steps back from a machine before you walk up and say something to them.”

10. No horseplay

One of the most basic rules to be observed in a race shop is one straight from grammar school.

“No horseplay,” says Mears, “because every piece of equipment you’re running in here is really serious, especially around the mills and lathes and drill presses and that kind of stuff.”

11. Jackstands—always

“When working on a race car, we never, ever let anybody under a car without the jackstands under them,” Mears says. “That’s a big, big rule, that jackstands are in place—all four of them—before you let anybody underneath the car. We don’t let them cheat either by just raising up one end to get under there real quick to do something without jackstands. That’s a have-to situation.”

12. Proper ventilation

Another basic rule is to be careful with the air you breathe.

“Of course, in the paint booth where we have a lot of chemicals and on the wash rack, we also have safety issues in those places,” Mears says. “It’s the same issue with clean-up. Then we make sure they wear ventilators and masks for any of the painting and around the heavy bondo, where you have bondo dust. In the wash rack we also have harsh chemicals for cleaning, so they use ventilator masks there also, and goggles.”