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What was your worst electronics workbench accident involving equipment, voltage, soldering irons, chemicals, or whatever else, and what changes have you made to prevent that type of accident from happening again?

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This should be community wiki - if only i had the magic button –  DarenW Nov 4 '10 at 5:47
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Safety is not my strong point. I have the fuses at the right rating if that counts. I keep soldering irons on the other side of the room. –  Thomas O Nov 4 '10 at 13:48
    
community wiki now darenW. –  Kortuk Nov 4 '10 at 15:52
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12 Answers

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Here are some precautions I take... they might be a little excessive but I'd rather play it safe.

Soldering:

  • Cheap solder extractor.
  • Simple, clear glasses to protect my eyes against bits of metal flying away from my side-cutters.

PCB Manufacture:

  • All-round protection goggles to try and keep my eyes as dust/chemical free as possible (and to protect from a shattering drill bit).
  • Wet-wipes for cleaning the area after drilling (wet to help pick up the loose particles).
  • A fine-dust mask is important when drilling due to the toxic effects of FR2 and FR4.
  • Good ventilation (either a fine-dust extractor or lots of open doors and windows).
  • Plenty of clean water and rags/kitchen roll for chemical spills.
  • A neutralising agent for the chemicals (such as baking soda).
  • Disposable but thin gloves (you don't want nasty chemicals lying around on them for too long).
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+1 for glases! One time I was soldering a small part, I leaned in really close to it and then for some reason (manufacturing defect, I guess) solder released above average amount of fumes which got into my (unprotected) eyes. I was stunned for a couple of seconds and almost dropped the iron. –  AndrejaKo Nov 4 '10 at 11:13
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+1 for glasses, I only had to get ferric chloride in my eye once before I bought some –  Toby Jaffey Nov 4 '10 at 11:49
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Only a switch that cut the power to everything, so that I don't forget something turned on (like the soldering iron...)

http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/thumblarge_519/12784118163hDBbE.jpg

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Oh Great Red Rocker Switch, thou Controller of all Power! We bow to thee! –  DarenW Nov 4 '10 at 6:57
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@warren: European plugs, from when I used them they are a little nicer, but probably more expensive to manufacture and somewhat larger. –  Nick T Nov 4 '10 at 12:43
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We have some benches that turn on when you login to the computer and turn off when you logoff. Pretty nice for an open lab. –  Kellenjb Nov 4 '10 at 15:51
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Way back in middle school, the wood shop had a Big Red Button to kill everything. In college there were some giant (but boring) breakers in each electrical lab to cut all bench power. –  Nick T Nov 4 '10 at 19:26
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One of the computer labs at uni was in the engineering building, so it had the mandatory Big Red Button to cut off all power in the room. It also had the mandatory Big Red Button to activate the door openers (disabled access). Guess how far apart they were? Students learned to save frequently. –  Optimal Cynic Oct 13 '11 at 12:26
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Never, EVER use a chair with open armrests (non-closed loops) at a workbench with soldering irons.

It's just a matter of time before a hot soldering iron is grabbed by its cord (courtesy of your chair) and introduced to your groin area.

Yes, I'm still fully functional. I did burn a pair of pants, though.

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Ouch! I love armless chairs for all kinds of reasons, snag prevention just one of them. –  DarenW Nov 4 '10 at 22:48
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Regularly clean/organize my bench. Fewer knives hiding, waiting to stab me.

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How about a soldering iron with automatic turnoff? Don't want to leave that thing on all the time...

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I admit that I don't have much experience, but the thing which isn't mentioned here and helped me the most was thinking steps through before doing anything.

I've burned myself several times and I noticed that each time that happens, it's because I want to just do something without thinking how I'm going to do it. So I have a circuit board and want to desolder something. No problem, right? I'll just desolder it and that's it. Well, that kind of thinking got me burned. Instead I found it better to separate "complex" operation into simple steps and plan on what I'm going to do if it doesn't work correctly and stop if I get into area I did think of.

So for my desoldering example I'll first examine the board and decide where I'm going to apply the soldering iron, if I'm going to use vacuum pump or desoldering braid, what am I going to do if solder melts and part is still stuck, what am I going to do braid sticks to the part and so on.

The thinking part does take a couple of seconds, but I think it's better to wait a few seconds than to burn yourself.

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This reminds me of what I tell my 6 year old: Engage the brain! Good advice though - our brain is our number 1 piece of safety equipment. –  RQDQ Nov 4 '10 at 13:48
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Many, many years ago when I was around 5-10 I burnt my fingers a lot on soldering irons, but hey, kids heal fast, so no biggie, I still have one faint scar from that time.

Many years ago when I lived at home and had a 6 year old little brother, I left my soldering iron on when I left my room, my brother knocked the iron on the floor and picked it up, using the wrong end.

My parents were not impressed.

... so, yeah, I second the big red rocker switch.

More recently I was digging around a digital camera and I accidentally grabbed the flash capacitor, it burnt a black mark in my finger while delivering the worst shock I've had since I cut a live 230 V line.

Recovering from the shock took a couple of minutes of cursing.

I then proceeded to take my multimeter to measure the voltage on the capacitor, but I fat-fingered it and the probe slipped to short out the cap, enough energy was released to leave a blackened area in my eyes for 10 minutes afterwards and the PCB around the HV traces basically exploded.

... but other than that I've been pretty safe, so there hasn't been many improvements, other than to add "the big red rocker switch" to power down everything on my workbench at once.

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Common accident: burnt fingers and/or wires.
Safety improvement: make note to self to be more careful with the soldering iron next time.

Rinse and repeat.

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Repeat...e.g. you do it again anyways? :P –  Nick T Nov 4 '10 at 19:23
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You can't run from the inevitable ;-) –  Vincent Van Den Berghe Nov 5 '10 at 6:52
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The jumbo version of the big red rocker is to get a contactor installed in your lab

Then there can be an off switch (Big E-STOP button) at the door.

So somebody trying to save you doesn't get electrocuted either.

The training from my aluminum smelter days won't go away.

The real reason is to get a second off switch repeater put somewhere you actually live. then you can say "hey I left the lab on!" and turn it off without havng to go too far ;-)

Of course, if your workbench is only little, you can probably hook up an E-Stop loop pretty easily with a consumer grade power control switch.

Consider an E-Stop loop. The life it saves will probably be yours.

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And that goes triple for Robots. E-stop is the FIRST function. And it works in hardware. I've worked on big scary robots for years and never been so much as crushed to death. I wish some co-workers from my time in heavy industry had been so lucky. –  Tim Williscroft Nov 4 '10 at 23:02
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I used to regularly nock my bottle of beer off the bench to smash on the concrete floor, which made me sad. Now I keep a mangled roll of duct tape on a secondary bench so I don't spill. Pretty sure this qualifies me for a CSA:OH&S medal of honour or something, but I don't like to brag.

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lol............................ –  Shubham Feb 16 '12 at 18:54
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When I was around 15 I spent a lot of time soldering stuff on the floor, since my desk was far too small to fit everything. Working on the floor has its specifics, namely - you crawl around on all fours a lot. It was only a matter of time before I "stepped" onto the soldering iron with my hand, placing my entire weight on it.

I spent the rest of the day holding various cold glass cans from the fridge, replacing them every 20 minutes.

Improvements made since: get a properly sized desk. Now that I am paying for my own furniture, my hobby desk is 5 feet wide and is bordered on one side by another large desk and on the other side by a rack of shelves. Not that I don't run out of space occasionally, but at least I no longer solder on the floor...

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Any good chemistry lab only has stools, rather than chairs. If you spill something and need to step away from it quickly (before it runs off the counter and into your lap), you don't want a chair with a back.

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