June is national safety month, so what better opportunity to take a few minutes to think, or rethink, safety around our model railroads. Safety is the first priority around real railroads, our smaller versions should be no different.
Safety in the Train Room
Our model railroads are often housed in basements, garages, attics or other out-of-the-way locations. These train rooms are frequently less finished than the rest of the house, and that may include normal safety precautions. The primary danger in these rooms may not come from the layout itself, but from other utilities located nearby.
Your train room should be equipped with a working smoke detector. Not only should you check the batteries regularly, it is a good idea to clean the detector once or twice a year as well. Working on benchwork and other projects can kick up a lot of dust and let’s be honest, we don’t clean our train rooms as much as we probably should!
Keep a small fire extinguisher on hand as well. A small “ABC” extinguisher, suitable for different types of fire, can be picked up at home stores. Like your smoke detector, it should be checked regularly to make sure it is still charged. Take the time to read the instructions and understand how to use the extinguisher BEFORE you need to use it!
Our layouts can often be safety hazards unto themselves. Do you have easy access to fuse boxes, sump pumps, utilities, gas and water shut off valves? How about easy access out of the room to emergency exits? The latter becomes even more important if you have a large layout which regularly hosts groups of operators. When you design your train platforms, avoid the temptation to gain a few extra feet of track space by encroaching on these essential areas. Not only is access critical to the safety of your home and family, you’ll save a lot of railroad reconstruction in the event you ever have to replace a furnace or have a water line burst.
Just like plugging too many accessories into your power supply can cause problems, so too can plugging too many trains into a single wall outlet. Keep your wiring neat and organized both on and off the platform to avoid electrical problems or fires. If you work in a damp environment, remember to keep cords and plugs off the floor. A ground-fault protection outlet should be used in most basement settings.
While model railroading isn’t exactly an “extreme sport” there are plenty of ways for you to get hurt if you aren’t careful. Most of the steps you need to take to work safely are fairly obvious. Follow the instructions on your tools and power supplies, keep your workspace uncluttered, wear proper safety glasses – we all know this but do we all do it?
Even small modeling tools pose a risk. Here’s a quick safety tip for your hobby knives and other sharp hand tools: the rubber grips used to help teach kids how to hold a pencil will also fit a standard hobby knife. These will keep the knives from rolling off a workbench and cost only a few cents. (It will also make it much easier to identify your tools at the local club!)
Although we don’t tend to think much of ergonomics in the modeling room, a comfortable and organized workbench is essential to long-term enjoyment in the hobby. Put your workbench at a height that is comfortable for you. Make it well-lit. Provide plenty of handy storage for tools and parts. Keep tools in a safe place when not in use – especially if kids are around. Unplug tools like soldering irons and motor tools when not in use. An organized workplace is not only more safe, it is more efficient. You are much more likely to do it right (or to do it at all for that matter) if you are comfortable doing it.
Make sure you use your solvent-based paints and adhesives in a well ventilated area as well. You may not think the minimum exposure you get to those fumes is dangerous in the time it takes to build a model, but multiply that over a lifetime of hobby projects and the dangers are very apparent. Always wash your hands when you are finished working on a model, and keep food off the workbench.
Last but not least, no hobby room is complete without a basic first aid kit. Keep it stocked with bandages, gauze, disinfectant and splinter-removers. No matter how careful we are, accidents will happen.
Working with Kids
Model railroading is a family hobby, so safety is even more important. Make safety your first priority, and your kids will too. Keep an eye on your children and grand-children as they help work and play with the trains. Child size work gloves, goggles and ear plugs make their work more safe and more fun. Teaching proper work and safety habits in the train room is just one more skill they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
May all your summers be filled with fun, and safe, modeling!