Metalworking is indispensable as both an art form and an industrial process, but it can be hazardous. Knowing when and where you’ll need everything from fire-retardant gloves to a steady rest to an evacuation plan is crucial for keeping everyone who uses your workspace safe.
Dress the Part
Protecting yourself starts before you even enter your workspace. Do a simple head-to-toe review: Do you have eye and ear protection? If you have long hair, is it securely tied back? You remembered not to wear jewelry or loose-fitting clothing, right? Did you also remember to bring your gloves and remove your rings? And of course, you’re wearing close-toed shoes. These precautions may seem simple and obvious, but they’re vital enough that you should do a pre-job safety check every time.
Depending on exactly what you’re working with, you may need more specialized personal protective equipment. Gloves and ear and eye protection can be surprisingly different from brand to brand and style to style, so experiment to figure out which types and sizes work best for you. Chemical use may make face shields and splash aprons a good idea, and fumes may require a properly fitting respirator. You should also consider whether fire-retardant clothing and boots make sense for your workspace.
Keep Machinery Up to Snuff
We all know that regular maintenance is crucial, but it can still be all too easy for things to slip through the cracks. Make sure you’re keeping good records of when and how your machines are maintained and don’t hesitate to change procedures if you’re getting even mildly unsatisfactory results. Keep your ears open for both official product recalls and unofficial chatter about a particular machine’s quirks or trouble spots.
Maintenance is only one part of the story when it comes to machinery safety. You also need to install proper safeguarding components on every machine that requires them. OSHA specifications are a good starting point, but you’ll probably want to customize your safeguarding for your particular situation. For example, consider the lathe steady rest: you may think the only important point here is that it keeps your workpiece stable and in place, but did you know that the type of lathe steady rest bearings it uses can affect the end result?
Establish a Safety Culture
Safety isn’t just a matter of good maintenance and proper equipment; it also requires good habits. Even if you’re the only one who uses your metalworking space, always act as though you’re setting a good example for others.
A crowded, dirty or disorganized workspace makes many sorts of accidents more likely. Figure out a schedule for cleaning and decluttering that works for your circumstances and stick to it (and don’t let anyone else slack off here!). Always clean up spills and other unexpected messes immediately. Make sure you have appropriate cleaning and first aid supplies in an easily accessible spot, along with temporary barriers to keep people away from an area that’s suddenly become unsafe.
Start thinking now about the best ways to respond to different dangers so you don’t get caught flat-footed if something goes wrong, and remember to include more generic disasters in your plans. For example, everyone should know the best route out of the building in case you have to evacuate for any reason. If you share your workspace with other metalworkers, and especially if you’re a supervisor, make it clear that safety is a priority by providing appropriate training and encouraging everyone to report concerns and chime in with ideas.
Whether you’re a solo hobbyist or a plant manager, you never want to cut corners when it comes to metalworking safety.