Machine shops and factory floors are not the safest environments, even when there are stringent safety measures in place. Many of the devices and equipment used in these commercial and industrial settings are inherently dangerous. That doesn’t mean the related systems are always responsible for injuries, failures or accidents, but it does mean the potential risks are higher if and when precautions are not taken.
That’s exactly the case with a heavy-duty hydraulic press or similar pneumatic press system. They pose a high injury risk for nearby operators, more so when safety protocols are not followed.
Presses are used for a variety of functions. The most common is that it compresses materials using the connected ram. There are also presses that mold, cut, straighten, drill or simply destroy various objects. They are incredibly effective because of how well they scale. Presses, for example, can handle much larger objects and materials than most machine tools or equipment. However, a larger surface and working area also mean a higher risk of injury.
There are also common failures that occur, many of which create unsafe or unstable conditions. These may include overheating problems, pressure buildup, oil leaks and spills, and general neglect.What can be done to ensure the safety of those working around presses? What measures can be put in place to prevent injuries or worse?
There’s no question that personal protective equipment is an absolute must when spending time on the machine or factory floor. Proper attire is also necessary, since loose or baggy clothing could get caught in machinery like a press, which can lead to injury.
Gear that should be worn includes:
Some of this gear is just worn to increase safety, not specifically because of a nearby press. Operators definitely want to be sure they wear hearing protection, hand and arm coverings, and proper headgear, however.
At the start of a shift or before turning the equipment on to complete a task, it should always be inspected thoroughly. Be sure to look for visible damage or leaks, especially if they would affect the performance of the machine in question.
Depending on the type of press and what’s it’s being used for, it may also be necessary to inspect the work order and plans to ensure you know what you’ll be doing. Sometimes, you may need to follow a different protocol depending on the task.
During that initial inspection, it’s also important to locate and remember where the emergency stop button is — also known as a kill switch. In an emergency, that will be the only way to stop the equipment from doing further damage or harm. You’ll also want to be sure it’s working properly, so test it out where applicable. If it is designed to set off an alarm, make sure your superiors know about the testing procedure.
Be mindful of what you’re doing with your hands, feet, fingers and even head. It’s easy to get distracted or lose focus and potentially extend one of your limbs into a dangerous space. That includes avoiding potentially risky actions. For instance, if you try to push an item or material into the press bin while it’s compressing, you may get your fingers or even arm caught.
In addition, keep the area around the press and equipment as clean as possible. Mop and dry any spills immediately to avoid slippage, and remove any debris that falls out of the machine.
Most presses have a protective rail or shield called a guard. Some might have barrier guards around the edges of a bin or a unique guard for foot pedals and controls. Whatever the case, make sure you understand what those components are, what they’re used for and how they keep you safe. It’s always a good idea to inspect them before using the equipment, as well.
If they are detached at the end of a shift, then always remember to reattach or reposition the guards before you get back to work. Some guards are even worn on the body, such as electronic safety implants or emergency cut-off sensors. Never begin a project without the proper guards in place.
As a general rule of thumb, every piece of machinery should be thoroughly inspected before operation, and that includes hydraulic and other forms of presses. That process helps ensure the equipment is in proper working order, that all functions are correct, and that any risks or hazards are mitigated as much as possible. Checking the validity of guards or shields on a press before turning it on is an excellent example.
With the proper safety measures in place, it’s entirely possible to eliminate potential injuries and accidents, significantly cutting down on the associated costs and damages. Keep that in mind the next time you visit the machine floor or have to work with a piece of related hardware.
Article by —
Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer
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