Managing scrap metal safety
The focus on safety doesn’t end after the part leaves the press
Cuts, broken bones, and even amputations—these types of injuries are a real possibility for a worker in a metal forming shop even after the final part has been stamped and formed in the press. That's because managing metal scrap, like any other manufacturing operation, requires the establishment of safe work practices.
Scrap doesn’t just represent a cost to a metal stamper that didn’t fully maximize raw material when processing a job. It also represents the potential for costs resulting from injuries if the scrap is handled or stored improperly.
Many work tasks, such as manual loading and unloading, lift truck operating, and breaking and cutting, involved in the management of scrap metal have the potential to injure workers (see Figure 1). The most common types of injuries that occur when handling scrap metal are sprains and strains, cuts, lacerations, and punctures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other potential dangers include workers getting caught in, struck by, or crushed by the equipment used to move the scrap; amputation from that same equipment; and respiratory illnesses from chemicals or dust on the scrap.
Unfortunately, employees and their managers often do not consider safety when handling scrap metal because it occurs after the forming job is done. However, safe work practices are just as essential when performing this task as when stamping and forming the product itself.
Loading and Unloading
Manual handling and using lift trucks or cranes typically are the two most common ways that metal formers load, unload, and manipulate scrap metal collected at the end of the stamping process. Each method poses its own set of risks.
Manual Handling. The most common risks to workers who manually lift and handle scrap metal include:
- Strains and sprains from improper lifting or carrying loads that are too large or too heavy
- Fractures and bruises caused by getting struck by materials or catching a body part in pinch points
- Cuts and bruises caused by falling materials
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are physical damage to the muscles, cartilage, bones, and nervous system. Sprains, strains, and back injuries are common in any workplace, but they are especially prevalent when employees handle heavy and awkward objects manually. MSDs can result from a one-time occurrence or from repetition of an activity over time.
A focus on ergonomics—the study of efficiency and safety in work environments—can help to avoid MSDs by restructuring or changing workplace conditions and reducing stressors on the employee.
In the area of scrap material handling and storing, ergonomic principles may require controls such as reducing the size or weight of the objects lifted, installing a mechanical lifting aid, or changing the height of a pallet or shelf where scrap may be collected.
To prevent injury from oversized loads, workers should seek help when a load is too heavy or so bulky that they cannot properly grasp or lift it. Although no approach completely eliminates back injuries, employers can prevent a substantial number of lifting injuries by implementing an effective ergonomics program and training employees in appropriate lifting techniques.
Sharp edges and the weight of large pieces of scrap can cause lacerations, punctures, amputations, and even broken bones. A large falling piece of scrap or a swinging load of any size can pierce, crush, or strike an employee, resulting in injury ranging from moderate to fatal.
It is essential that every employee be aware of the hazards of all work done in their area that could pose any danger to them. They need to be trained on safe work practices to follow and to understand how, when, and why to use any personal protective equipment (PPE) required for their job. Typical PPE needed for management of scrap metal includes hand and forearm protection, such as leather or Kevlar® gloves; eye protection; steel-toed safety shoes or boots; and metatarsal (upper foot) guards to protect the instep area from impact or compression.
Lift Truck Operations. Lift trucks are used in most manufacturing and metal fabricating shops to handle materials including scrap metal (see Figure 2). The major hazards associated with the operation of lift trucks are vehicle instability, which is affected by forks, other attachments, and load size, and improper vehicle use and operation. Proper stacking and storage of scrap material containers are critical since falling materials and collapsing loads can crush or pin workers, causing injuries or death. Stacks should be stable and self-supporting.
Employees should avoid overloading equipment when mechanically moving materials by letting the weight, size, and shape of the material dictate the type of equipment used. All material handling equipment has rated capacities that determine the maximum weight the equipment can handle and the conditions under which it can be safely used.
When using a lift truck, workers must:
- Center the load on the forks as close as possible to the mast to minimize the potential for the truck to tip or the load to fall.
- Avoid overloading it because it impairs control and causes tipping.
- Not add extra weight on the rear of a counterbalanced forklift to allow an overload.
- Adjust the load to the lowest position while traveling.
- Follow the truck manufacturer’s operating requirements.
- Pile and cross-tier all stacked loads correctly.
The majority of lift truck accidents can be attributed to unsafe operating procedures, lack of safety rule enforcement, and insufficient or inadequate training. Employers are responsible for training all personnel who work with or around forklifts on potential hazards and safe work practices. Operators also must receive truck-specific training.
Cranes. Only trained and competent workers should operate cranes. Operators must know the rated capacity of the crane as well as the weight of the load they will lift. Required safe work practices include the following:
- Attach loads to the crane hook by slings, fixtures, and other devices that have the capacity to support the load on the hook.
- Inspect slings before and during use, and immediately remove damaged or defective slings from service.
- Pad sharp edges to prevent cutting slings.
- Remain clear of loads as they are lifted.
- Avoid sudden crane acceleration and deceleration when moving suspended loads.
Instituting Safe Work Practices for Scrap Handling
In addition to training and education, applying general safety principles—such as proper work practices, equipment, and controls—can help reduce workplace accidents involving the moving, handling, and storage of scrap metal. Whether they are moving materials manually or mechanically, employees should know and understand the potential hazards associated with the task and how to minimize the danger. Workers should be aware of accidents that may result from the unsafe or improper handling of equipment as well as from improper work practices. In addition, workers should be able to recognize the methods for minimizing the occurrence of accidents. Employers and employees should examine their workplaces to detect any unsafe or unhealthful conditions, practices, or equipment and take corrective action.
Employers should establish a formal training program to teach workers how to recognize and avoid hazards when managing scrap metal. The training should emphasize the following factors:
- Dangers of lifting without proper training
- Avoidance of unnecessary physical stress and strain
- Awareness of what a worker can comfortably handle without undue strain
- Proper use of equipment
- Use of PPE
- Recognition of potential hazards and how to prevent or correct them
It is every employer’s responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for their employees. Ensuring workplace safety also makes good business sense. When employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health management system, incidents of injury and illness go down, as do insurance costs and workers’ compensation payments. At the same time, employee morale, productivity, competitiveness, and profits go up.
Breaking and Cutting Scrap Metal
Metal stampers typically don’t end up with a lot of scrap for recycling, but those that do need to cut or break apart scrap for ease of handling should keep these safety tips in mind.
Torch Cutting. Hot work always presents significant eye and face hazards, including exposure to ultraviolet and infrared radiation and flying sparks. Dark goggles must be worn to protect the eyes from UV and IR light. A face shield can be used in conjunction with goggles when necessary. Each type of cutting operation has a lens shade number requirement. Operators must be sure to use the proper lens for the work.
Other Mechanical Cutting. Band saws, abrasive saws, and hydraulic shears or presses also are used to cut scrap. Guarding the point of operation of these tools and equipment is essential. Some type of barrier or other means must be present to prevent any part of the worker’s body from coming into contact with any part that could cause injury.
Hazardous Chemical Exposure. Cutting certain types of scrap metal or prepainted material requires special ventilation because their fumes may be particularly hazardous.
Mechanical ventilation and other specific control measures are required when cutting could release fluorine, zinc, lead, beryllium, cadmium, mercury, or chrome.
STAMPING Journal is the only industrial publication dedicated solely to serving the needs of the metal stamping market. In 1987 the American Metal Stamping Association broadened its horizons and renamed itself and its publication, known then as Metal Stamping.