6 Electronic Safety Tips I learned while Mountain Climbing

Sometimes a new activity reminds you about some old ones

electronic safety tips

Electronic safety tips from mountain climbing? Yes! After spending two weeks in Europe for work, I had the chance to spend a weekend with friends in Germany. We hiked up Kampenwand in Bavaria. While working my way through the snow and rocks, I realized mountain climbing safety tips were the same as electronic safety tips. Really! Here’s how.

Grabbing a soldering iron and throwing polarized components around a circuit board is something I often do. So often, I don’t even realize I’m using some of these electronic safety tips. However, a new activity gives you a chance to exercise the safety portion of your brain. Especially when there are no guard rails.

While constantly wondering “why am I doing this again?” I thought about these 6 electronic safety tips that I learned while climbing a mountain.

1 Point of Contact for Electronic Safety Tips

Whether you are climbing a ladder or a mountain, you have to remember the 3 points of contact safety rule. This simple rule says:

Always maintain one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot, when climbing or descending.

One of the most valuable electronic safety tips is related to this rule. Instead of 3 points of contact, when working with electronics, you should only have 1 point of contact.

Remember that current wants to follow a path and your body may provide that path. Never touch a powered circuit with both hands. For example, when poking around with a multimeter or oscilloscope probe, you may want to fix the ground lead while you poke with the positive lead.

You might be thinking, “surely this only applies to high voltage AC circuits.” While it is unlikely a low voltage DC circuit will have enough energy to harm you, it is about forming the habit. Whether I work on an Arduino, or I am wiring a switch connected to mains I do two things:

  1. Treat the circuit as if it were powered, even when it isn’t; and
  2. Only place one hand in the circuit at a time: it’s the 1 Point of Contact Rule.

Wear the Right Gear

wear-the-right-safety-gear-bootsThis poorly zoomed in picture shows I was not prepared for a mild mountain hike. My shoes were worn out, and my jeans did not breathe well. Using gloves and leg protectors helped. However, it reminded me of a general safety tip that makes for one of the great electronic safety tips: wear the right gear.

Safety Glasses

Whenever I solder, I wear either my standard glasses or a pair of safety glasses. Hot solder and flux can spatter. You don’t want either landing even the smallest drop on your precious eyes. If the board I am reworking is more than five years old, I don’t rely on standard glasses alone. I’ll wear my safety glasses over them.

The glasses I wear are the 3M Photochromatic Smart Lens. They are comfortable to wear, scratch resistant, and have a coating that slightly tints when exposed to sunlight.

In addition to soldering, anytime I am powering up a new circuit either the first time or after I make changes, I wear glasses. If a component explodes and sends shards of metal or plastic into the air, I’d rather a scratch on a lens I replace from Amazon than one that requires a doctor visit.

Also, don’t wear the wrong gear

Related to wearing the right gear is realizing you should NOT be wearing metal items. When working on electronics circuits, I always remove my watch, rings (I used to wear one), bracelets, and necklaces. Even if the jewelry you wear is tight around your neck or wrist, it’s best not to offer the blue smoke monster a chance to escape by accidentally touching.

Look a few steps ahead

Be mindful of where you are going. You don’t want to trap yourself into a corner. This lesson I learned while navigating through a field of snow. Even following the steps of those before me, I occasionally lead to a dead-end that required me to backtrack before moving forward.

The same can happen when you’re building up a project or electronics circuit. For example, when soldering the BinBoo front panel, I had to be careful not to cut leads too short when creating the matrix. I needed to think ahead to make sure I didn’t have to scrap the whole panel.

This idea may not sound like one of my electronic safety tips. How could you get hurt? Well, the idea here is to be thinking ahead of where your actions lead. However, you need to pay attention to where you are now.

Pay attention to now

While keeping an eye on where you are going, make sure your attention is on your current task or step. If I stepped on a loose rock, it didn’t matter if there was a great handhold available three steps later.

Same thing when it comes to electronic safety tips. If you are thinking too much about how to solder a component a few steps later, you might burn the one your iron’s heating element is accidentally touching. Or worse, you might grab the wrong part of a soldering iron.

Minimize your distractions and think before you grab a wire or your iron. Even with a focus on now, mistakes will happen.

Take a break when you mistake

While hiking up the snow covered areas, I lost my balance often. Initially, my reaction was to step forward quickly, trying to regain my balance. But this was a stupid idea! Instead of putting my foot in a known good hold, I could have stomped right into a hole, breaking my leg or ankle.

What I found I needed to do after a hair-raising (well maybe for you, certainly not for me) event was pause for a few moments.

Same thing applies as one of my electronic safety tips. If you cause a spark, burn yourself, or solder a part wrong your heart will start racing and your body be pumping adrenaline. Sometimes this primal reaction can be a good thing. However, it also means your brain and body has become more reactionary and less logical.

Take a break. Drink some water. Yes, water. Not diet cola, not beer, not coffee, but some water. Relax for a few minutes. This opportunity is an excellent time to do some mid-project clean up while your body calms down.

Listen to the key instructions

On occasion, my friends would take a break from speaking Germany to each other and give me safety tips in English. I quickly learned to pay careful attention to these lessons. This tip translates as one of my electronic safety tips:

When teaching electronics classes, the #1 lesson I repeat multiple times is: do not make changes to a powered circuit. Yet, there is always one student who heeds my warning and wonders why their circuit stops working suddenly.

Maybe you haven’t learned yet why someone keeps saying only to use one hand, or wear safety glasses, or pay attention to where you are going. I can understand that. However, when you get told twice, pay attention!

Your questions, comments, and even corrections are encouraged and very much appreciated! However. I have zero-tolerance for inappropriate or harassing comments. I try to reply to everyone... -James

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