The Brakes: Press Brakes and You -- Whose business is safety? Everybody's

October 11, 2001
By: Bob Butchart

What sort of safety measures needed in your shop depends somewhat on your equipment, but making your press brake a safe piece of equipment is largely a matter of old-fashioned common sense.

Whether you are an owner, employer, operator, tool setter, or maintenance person, press brake safety is your business. You are responsible for operating and maintaining your equipment in compliance with recognized safety standards and plain common sense.

Foremost, an organized safety committee is a must if you want to ensure an efficient and productive shop. Even in the smallest shops, a committee can review your plant's safety procedures and make recommendations to eliminate unsafe working habits. Proper operating and safety instructions should be provided not only to new employees but also to experienced people who need a refresher on proper work methods.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), every employer must furnish its workers with a shop that is free of recognized hazards that can cause death or serious injury. A safe workplace and good work habits are good investments. Safe press brake operating conditions depend on detecting existing and potential hazards and taking immediate action to remedy them.

The ANSI B11.3 standard (safety requirements for construction, care, and use of power press brakes) states that employers shall train and instruct operators in the safe methods of performing any operation before beginning work on any operation.

Specific Tips for around the Machine

A power press brake is the working part of your production system; however, it is but one part of the system.

Different types of press brakes (e.g., mechanical, hydraulic, or hydramechanical) with different types of controls are suited to a variety of applications. Dual palm buttons should be used to activate the ram when piece parts are small and operators must stand close to the point of operation. Foot switches should be used for long flanged parts when operators are allowed to stand away from the point of operation. Proper point-of-operation safeguarding is a must with each type of press brake.

Press brakes can bend, form, notch, punch, and pierce piece parts when equipped with the right dies. This is the tooling component of the system. Operators can feed piece parts into the system either mechanically or manually, making sure that required guarding is in place.

The final component needed to complete a functioning production system is point-of-operation safeguarding. Press brake users should conduct a thorough analysis of the hazards associated with their operations and consider all the components-piece parts to be formed, type of press brake, tooling, and method of feeding-to select suitable point-of-operation safeguarding. ANSI B11.3 states that "if a point-of-operation guard or device can be used, it shall be used."

Proper Maintenance Means Safer Operation

A safety-focused maintenance program can be the key to reducing accidents caused by unsafe conditions. A safe-thinking maintenance crew should be familiar with the press brake manufacturer's maintenance recommendations and follow them regularly. Allowing a machine to remain unleveled, dirty, or out of adjustment not only prolongs setup time, but surely is unsafe too.

In short, there is no substitute for a regular and complete press brake maintenance program.

Safety Dos and Don'ts


  • Leave the ram at the bottom of the stroke when the press brake is not in operation.
  • Support the ram by inserting safety blocks between the dies if it becomes necessary to position the ram above the bottom of the stroke when the brake is not in operation.
  • Check with your shop supervisor when in doubt about press brake capacity or when using any die with which you are not familiar.
  • Use hand tools and supporting devices for feeding, supporting, and removing small piece parts.
  • Support long, wide material that has to be fed during forming from below on the open palm of the hand.
  • Make sure that piece parts make firm contact with the backgauge before activating the press brake.
  • Place your unoccupied hand on the handrail.
  • Use a protective hood on foot switches and foot pedals to prevent actuation by falling objects.
  • Close hydraulic locking valves (on hydraulic machines) and remove foot pedals (on mechanical machines) when press brakes are not to be operated.
  • Stop the main motor and open disconnect switch (allowing the flywheel to stop on mechanical brakes) before installing dies, making adjustments and repairs, replacing tooling, or leaving the press brake.
  • Turn key selector switch and power switch to the off position and remove keys when the press brake is not in use.


  • Install or move a press brake without the services of a qualified, professional rigger. Press brakes are top-heavy to the front and must be handled with care to prevent tipping.
  • Eliminate or bypass any point-of-operation safeguarding or related safety components on a press brake.
  • Place any part of your body in the die area of a press brake.
  • Tie down the ram-actuating devices to provide continuous operation.
  • Operate a press brake when personnel are in the rear area behind the bed and ram.
  • Operate a press brake on skids or leveling screws. Leveling screws are supplied for initial leveling only. A machine must be shimmed to a firm, level position and bolted securely to the foundation or floor.
  • Leave any tools or instruments in or on the press brake at any time.
  • Reach into the die area to lubricate, clean, or adjust the brake. Use remote systems or long-handled instruments.
  • Operate press brakes with access covers or plates removed.
  • Operate press brakes without pinch points guarded or without adequate point-of-operation safeguarding.
  • Remove warning plates, instruction manuals, or safety equipment from machines.
  • Use safety tools, fixtures, or supporting devices when changing settings.
  • Taking good care of your press brake will prolong the life of the machine, make it safer, and enable you to make more accurate parts faster.

    Bob Butchart

    Contributing Writer
    Press Brake & Shear Clinic
    254 Somers Loop
    Reidsville, NC 27320
    Phone: 336-342-4393
    Fax: 336-342-4129