There are really no two ways about it – working in a CNC machine shop can be dangerous. It is an enclosed area full of machines designed to cut, burn, and otherwise impose their will on materials far tougher than a human body. Lathes spin while cutters slice material away piece by piece. Water jets shoot water, mixed with abrasives, through metal and alloys like scissors cutting through paper.
The dangers are the same regardless of whether you’re in a 25,000 square foot machining facility like ours or working on your hobby project in your garage. The principles that will keep you safe, however, are also largely the same.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
The shop is no place for distractions and it is imperative that you’re aware of what’s going on around you at all times. This is not the place to be checking your phone or listening to headphones. Be aware of the sounds around you and keep an ear open for sounds that don’t belong. It could very well be that a machine will make an out of the ordinary sound before something goes wrong with it. You don’t want to miss that clue because you were too busy checking Facebook or finding a song to listen to.
At the same time, be aware of your presence in the shop. Know your proximity to machines, other people, and anything else that could pose a problem if bumped, run into, or disturbed.
Know Your Machine
Know the specific safety risks posed by the machine or machines you plan on using that day. While a CNC milling machine is designed to be as safe as possible, the fact that most activity takes place within its enclosed spaces does not make it “safe.” It is still full of sharp implements and metal shavings, not to mention liquids and fluids that can spray all over you and your shop in the event something goes wrong.
Likewise, the spinning action of a CNC turning lathe can grab hair, loose clothing, aprons, or anything else that gets too close to it. Shards of metal and other materials can go flying, posing a significant risk to eyes and other exposed flesh.
Be aware not only of the safe operation of a particular machine but also of the specific safety risks posed by that machine.
Inspect the Shop
Take a look around before you start working. Is everything you need within reach? Are there extra parts laying around or sharp instruments that should be put away? Do you have sufficient safety gear accessible to you to protect eyes, ears, body, and hands? Are there items on the floor that could trip you or cause you to otherwise fall? Is the ground dry? Were there any spills that need to be tended to?
The moments invested in a quick check of your shop can save a lifetime of pain, discomfort, or disability. Don’t miss this crucial step simply because you’ve assumed that things are the way you left them the last time you worked here.
Be Careful on a First Run
Motorcycle owners will tell you that it takes a while to get comfortable with a powerful bike before really seeing what the machine is capable of. While the temptation to open up the throttle on a new bike can be strong, most will tell you it’s a gradual process. You ease into the capabilities of the bike as you learn them.
The same is true of running a CNC program for the first time. Regardless of your confidence with the parameters or the program being used, caution should be used the first time a particular run is set up. Make sure tool movements happen as you expect them to. And, under no circumstances should you leave the machine alone. Be ready to shut a machine down at a moment’s notice. You might even consider leaving your hand on the emergency stop button.
With a little common sense, a lot of attention, and a healthy dose of respect for the machines around you, you can ensure that your time in your machine shop is fun, productive, and, above all else, safe.