Archive for March, 2011

CAUTION – Oily Rags Can Kill

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Subtitle: The Apprentice System is Not Extinct

photo of firemen fighting a fireLast August, I wrote about a tragic oily rags incident where two elderly people lost their lives. I come back to it now because a trial has been held and has a finding of “neglect.” To us woodworkers, that was obvious from early reporting.

What makes it interesting is that we’re seeing lots of old woodworking books being republished, some describing the apprenticeship system of centuries past. Well, dear readers, that system is not extinct. It is still being practiced, in some aspects, today.

In this case, a “master” joiner had left an “apprentice” to apply some oil finish to work in progress and then close up the shop. The master then went to visit another customer. The master testified that he gave complete directions to the apprentice about materials disposal, and warned him of the possibility of combustion. There seems to be some dispute on this point, according to recent news. (hint: use Google translate if you don’t read German.) The apprentice disposed of most materials properly, but swept up a few rags and put them in a dustbin inside the shop. The resulting fire quickly engulfed the shop and the living quarters above where two people failed to get out.

I found it interesting that part of the defense was the point that current teaching about the danger of materials is in the third year. This was a first year apprentice who was apparently using materials without understanding their danger.

It’s not my purpose to determine any sort of blame, but to spread these cautions so you don’t have to wait for the third year of your apprenticeship to learn them.

Please dispose of oily rags properly.

  1. Submerge them in water until you have time to collect them all, wring them out, and BURN them.
  2. OR, spread them out flat, in a non-combustable area outdoors, and let them dry completely before adding them to the refuse for pickup.