Pressing responsibilities: How to operate power presses safely
Tags: workplace safety

Mechanical power presses are used to punch, shear, form and assemble metal parts for automobiles, doors and windows, and a variety of other products. Precisely because of their ability to cut through hard objects, they can be hazardous to anyone operating them, if proper precautions are not taken. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration calculated that power-press accidents cause about 650 amputations per year. Statistics for amputations were so high in metal-working industries compared to other manufacturing businesses that, several years ago, OSHA developed a National Emphasis Program to target power press safety for special enforcement and education activities.


“Operating a mechanical power press can be extremely dangerous,” said Greg Watchman, the acting head of OSHA at the time. “Yet injuries are preventable when employers ensure that guards, which have long been required and are readily available, are installed and maintained on presses in order to protect workers against the punching action of metal stamping equipment.”


Guarding against danger

If your employees work with power presses, they face the greatest danger of injury at the point of operation where the stock is inserted, held and withdrawn by hand. That is why effective machine guarding is crucial for keeping hands, arms or other parts of the body from making contact with dangerous moving parts.


OSHA considers any opening that is more than a quarter-inch wide to be big enough to cause an injury. These openings must be guarded with barrier guards, two-hand tripping devices or electronic safety devices. To prevent injuries, your power press safeguards should:

  • Be secure so employees can't easily remove them.
  • Be sturdy and in good condition.
  • Provide protection against falling objects that could land in the machine and then fly out as dangerous projectiles.
  • Have no sharp edges that could cause injury.
  • Not interfere with the work.
  • Allow for safe lubrication without having to remove safety guards first.

If your machine guards fail any of the above tests, the power press should not be used until an appropriate guard can be purchased or fabricated.


Supervisory responsibilities

Besides being responsible for safety guards, pressroom supervisors must:

  • Check each setup and make sure the operator knows how to run the press safely before beginning work. 
  • Observe operating procedures and make sure they are followed correctly.
  • Make sure that proper maintenance procedures are followed and that the presses are repaired, when necessary, prior to being used.

You or your maintenance personnel should also conduct regular inspections and maintenance procedures on the power presses, including:

  • Weekly inspections of the clutch/brake mechanism, anti-repeat feature and single-stroke mechanism.
  • Periodic in-depth inspections.
  • Visual inspection of each pullout device or restraint used on a power press (rechecks should occur at the beginning of each shift, following a new die set-up, and whenever operators change).

Training is crucial

The most important element in eliminating accidents is to make sure that workers are properly trained before they are allowed to operate presses. They should receive training on the type of power press they will be using, and they should be able to demonstrate the following proper procedures:

  • How to use all press controls.
  • Where each safety device is located on the machine and how to use it correctly.
  • How to use tools to remove “stuck work” and how to use swabs, brushes or oil cans to lubricate dies and stock.
  • Why, when and how to use personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, gloves, safety shoes and hearing protection.
  • Where to store parts, tools, die sets, bolster plates and other materials so that they do not present falling hazards.
  • Where possible pinch points with moving components are located.
  • The importance of keeping the work area clean and orderly.
  • Not to operate the press until it has been checked and tested prior to production operations.
  • How to report problems.

When using such potentially dangerous equipment, basic safety rules must be followed carefully. Tell your employees to concentrate on their work, avoid distractions and not to rush. They shouldn't wear loose clothing or jewelry that could get caught in moving parts. If they need to perform maintenance on any power press, they should closely adhere to standard lockout/tagout procedures.


Training tips

After reviewing the training items, show employees exactly how the guarding mechanism prevents them from getting caught up in the power press and why they should not attempt to circumvent the machine guards in any way. Ask employees if the guards are interfering with the work. If they are, find a replacement. Also ask about any other safety concerns involving the machines, discuss recent accidents or near misses, and explain the need for required personal protective equipment. Emphasize to employees that, as the people closest to the presses, they must trust their instincts and shut down and report any machine that doesn’t seem to be functioning correctly. After all, it's their safety that's on the line.


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