August 23, 2001
If you want a safe press operation, look beyond the machinery. Don't be surprised to find the keys to a good safety program well outside the confines of the pressroom.
When pressroom safety is discussed, the main focus often is the punch press and its peripheral equipment. However, comprehensive programs encompass a much broader spectrum of topics. Any helpful discussion of pressroom safety should include at least four major elements:
Everybody Plays. Effective safety programs in any facility begin and end with the people involved. The watchword, as far as people are concerned, is training, training, training. When introducing new employees into their work environment, most companies include safety awareness of some kind in their orientation period. Safety training in the pressroom, however, cannot be a one-time experience.
The expression "Familiarity breeds contempt" is apropos here. As people become more familiar with the pressroom environment, the urgency of safety awareness impressed on them at the outset begins to wane. Other concerns and interests start to receive higher priority, and safety concerns can become more of a nuisance. When such a situation has been allowed to develop, it often is an injury that suddenly brings the urgency of safety awareness back to the fore.
In the pressroom, safety awareness is a daily necessity and involves everyone. Managers must provide training opportunities, floor supervisors must monitor the implementation of safety procedures, and operators must understand that established procedures keep them safe only if they follow them.
Operators Need Coaching. Another important aspect of safety training is instruction in the function and operation of the equipment. Operators need to know what their machines are capable of and what they can and cannot control.
While a major goal of safety awareness is prevention of sudden injury, the game does not end there. Most jobs have inherent potential for injury that can develop over an extended period of time. These can easily be overlooked until the problem becomes apparent — unfortunately, usually after the damage has been done.
Here is where businesses must pay special attention to proper ergonomic workspace design. Shops would do well to minimize damaging repetitive motion and make sure that the movements required of their operators during production are a the proper balance of large and small muscle movement.
It must be understood by all involved that providing a safe work environment for the people is not a luxury, but a necessity.
The main elements in a pressroom are, of course, a punch press with the appropriate stock feeding apparatus (coil or blanks), material handling devices (forklifts or lift trucks) and, often, peripheral machinery for secondary operations. How this equipment is distributed and placed in the available space has a significant effect on safety in the shop.
Shops must pay careful attention to the amount of space required for safe operation. Marking raw stock placement clearly and storing it away from traffic patterns are other important safety considerations. Crowding too much equipment in an area is an invitation to accidents.
Two other important factors in a safe pressroom are equipment maintenance and the proper use of equipment. An effective preventive maintenance program is essential to machine safety. Even more important, however, is how the machines are used. Performing operations on a machine that are outside their designed parameters usually is unsafe and must be avoided.
Finally, safe workholding devices and proper guarding must not be neglected. The argument that this comes at the sacrifice of efficiency is no longer valid. The latest workholding devices also are the most efficient, and guarding has been designed to have a minimal negative effect on efficiency.
In a stamping environment, materials usually are quite heavy. Consequently, ample opportunities arise for dangerous situations to develop.
Storage of raw stock (coils and flat sheet metal) and tools must be planned carefully with regard to location and safe access. Storage facilities must have appropriate capacities. The containers used for stamped parts must be made to safely hold the size and weight of the materials that are put in them. In addition, shops should pay special attention that stamping fluids do not drip on the floor.
Transport of tooling to and from storage and the press often is done with forklifts. This all-too-common practice is not the safest method, though. Safe tool handling by forklift is highly operator-sensitive and requires considerable skill. An otherwise good forklift operator, who never had loaded a die into a press, once tried to place a die (improperly) on the bolster. As he tried to set the die down, the die slid through the press onto the floor on the other side. Oops.
It is essential that pressroom forklift operators receive special safety training for tool transport. The preferred method of bringing tools to and from a press is with height-adjustable tables with retractable rollers or balls. These can be brought to the press and the dies safely rolled off the table onto the press bolster (preferably also equipped with rollers).
Selling good housekeeping as a significant aspect of a safe work environment often can be a hard task with pressroom workers. However, careful instruction on the effect clutter has on safety usually yields positive results.
Clutter, when not a safety problem itself, can hide serious hazards such as oil, coolant, and water spills. Tables covered with paper or cardboard clutter can hide pieces of sheet metal with razor-sharp edges. Clean and uncluttered work areas also enhance safety by making unsafe conditions readily apparent.
Other important safety measures relating to the physical plant are good lighting, proper use and storage of stamping lubricants (with MSDSs kept handy), nonslippery floor conditions (good mats for operators on concrete floors), and proper ventilation. Of course, eye protection and hearing protection long have been widely used; but people, when left to their own devices, tend to neglect their use. Safety standards for light, noise level, and air have been established and are readily available from various sources, such as OSHA and various trade associations.
Pressroom safety touches every aspect of the stamping environment. Those who take it seriously derive benefits far exceeding the efforts expended. Those who don't, well — they may head for the showers a little disappointed.