Peter Ulintz Peter Ulintz
PMA Technical Consultant

Toolroom Safety

September 25, 2023

Many of us never give a second thought to the potential hazards of hand tools running off of compressed air or electrical power. Both areas present major safety concerns in manufacturing and account for many injuries, and sometimes fatalities. Another overlooked safety concern: bench and pedestal grinders. These standard toolroom devices prove useful for a variety of tasks including grinding, sharpening, rough shaping, cleaning and polishing. Thus, a safety review of powered hand tools and grinders is in order.

Compressed Air

When misused, compressed air can cause serious injury or death. Using compressed air to blow dust, dirt or chips off of clothing or any body part is a very dangerous practice. A strong blast of air can dislodge an eye from its socket or rupture a lung or eardrums. Air forced into the blood stream may even cause death. 

To protect yourself and others when using compressed air, adhere to these nine safety guidelines:

  1. Never point an air hose at anyone, including yourself, in play or to remove debris from clothing or the body.
  2. Never use compressed air for cleaning tooling components or other parts without adequate eye protection. Wear safety glasses with side shields or goggles.
  3. If compressed air must be used to clean dirt and chips from work, OSHA requires a proper nozzle on the end of the air hose to maintain air pressure at 30 psi or less. Place a screen around the work area and check to see that other workers stay safely out of the range of flying debris.
  4. Whenever possible, substitute brushes or vacuum systems for compressed air in cleaning operations.
  5. Before using compressed air, check the air hose for damage or signs of failure. Ensure that connections and couplings are tight. A loose air hose under 80 psi can become a dangerous whip.
  6. Before attempting to disconnect a hose from an air line, shut off the air source and bleed remaining air from the line.
  7. Keep air hoses off the floor where they become tripping hazards and are subject to damage by vehicles, doors and dropped tools. If possible, suspend air hoses from overhead.
  8. Never use frayed, damaged or deteriorated hoses. Store hoses properly and away from heat sources or direct sunlight. A hose failure can cause serious injury. Hose reels can decrease chances of trip injury, and the hoses will last longer.
  9. A common mistake: using water-hose clamps to connect couplers on compressed-air hoses. Water-hose clamps can cut into the hose and cause it to break. Also, such clamps are not rated for the higher pressures associated with compressed-air hoses.

Electrical Cords

Workers use electricity every day to do their jobs, and something seemingly as harmless as an extension cord presents its own hazards.

  • Select extension cords carefully based on load, and ensure their approval by a laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory. Always choose an extension cord properly rated for at least the same total amps of the lights and devices to be powered.
  • Inspect electrical tools and extension cords prior to use. 
  • Don’t use a wet extension cord, and never plug an extension cord into an electrical device with wet hands.
  • Never unplug an extension cord by pulling on the cord; pull on the plug end only.
  • Never use extension cords with broken or missing ground pins—those are there for your safety.
  • Never run cords through windows or doors where they can be pinched or damaged. 
  • Keep extension cords out of walkways to avoid potential trip and fall hazards. 
  • Immediately remove frayed, damaged or severely kinked extension cords from use.

Bench and Pedestal Grinders

Bench grinderBench grinders mount to stable table-top locations such as workbenches. Pedestal grinders mount to pedestals that may be bolted to the floor, or mounted on rubber feet if the machine is heavy enough to remain stable during operation. Because grinders operate at high speeds, they present hazards that can cause serious or even fatal injuries, including:

  • Caught-in hazards that result in crushing injuries and amputations
  • Wheel explosions that can cause blindness and lacerations
  • Sparks and heat hazards that cause abrasions and burns
  • Flying particles that cause impact injuries
  • Dust that can cause respiratory distress.

When operating fixed machinery such as a bench or pedestal grinder, take safety precautions before starting work:

  • Confirm that the grinder is permanently and securely mounted to a solid surface such as a heavy work bench or the floor. Always refer to manufacturer instructions to ensure proper installation of any bench or pedestal grinder.
  • Inspect the grinder and all attachments before each use. Safety shields, guards and the work rest , which supports the work on most grinding machines, must be in place, adjusted properly and secured before using the grinder.
  • Ensure that the grinding wheel has an rpm rating that meets or exceeds the grinder’s rpm rating.
  • Do not use a wheel that has been dropped, even if it appears undamaged. A dropped wheel could be weakened or unbalanced enough to cause its disintegration when used.
  • Ensure that the selected wheel is appropriate for the job. Do not grind material for which the wheel was not designed.

OSHA requires that grinding wheels be closely inspected visually and ring-tested before mounting them on the grinder. Simple ring testing detects cracks or defects that otherwise might go unnoticed.

Adjust the work rest to within ⅛ in. of the wheel. Maintaining a small opening of ⅛ in. or less prevents the work from jamming between the wheel and the work rest—a hazard that may cause wheel breakage or caught-in injuries.

The tongue guard also provides protection for users, if adjusted properly. Keep the tongue guard adjusted to within ¼ in. of the wheel. Maintaining this small opening helps deflect sparks during grinding and may also contain parts of the wheel should it shatter during operation.

Make any adjustments to the work rest or the tongue guard while the wheel is at rest. Ensure that the work rest and the tongue guard are tightly secured after each adjustment. Because the wheel wears down over time, be sure to check and adjust the work rest and the tongue guard regularly. MF

Industry-Related Terms: Grinding, Point, Polishing, Run, Surface
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Finishing, Safety, Tooling


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