Terry McDonald: Site Safety

The improper handling of cutting tools with sharp edges isn't the only way they can cause injury, as manufacturing flaws or environmental influences can cause breakage.


Spring has finally sprung! Isn’t that one of the nicest things you’ve read today? Just think, it’s the start of grilling season (remember to follow all the proper safety procedures when doing so), the start of fishing season (don’t hook yourself), camping season (look out for snakes), baseball season (don’t get beaned by a flyball), and vacation season, where it’s just a good idea to be careful in general. All of these things are what we look forward to during the long months of winter, but spring also brings some things that are not so welcome. Allergy season starts now, and some of our employees are very much affected by allergies this time of year. This poses a very real threat to our production schedule. So what can we do about it?

As we discussed last month, we must make every effort to keep the workplace air clean and free of particulates that will cause allergies, or even more serious breathing problems. We should have personal protective devices available for our employees who need them and do all we can to create a clean and healthy working environment. It is probably a good practice to have oxygen available in some form for emergency purposes, along with some medications to alleviate allergy symptoms when they become uncontrollable.

I would also highly recommend that if you do not have trained personnel designated as first responder that you immediately designate this position and see that they obtain the proper training. This training is often offered by local fire departments and police departments, as well as local community colleges. You can also check with your local Red Cross or Salvation Army. Typically the training is free, or available at a very minimum cost. One thing to remember is that it is less expensive to have an employee miss work due to illness than to have an injury due to his or her inability to perform properly due to illness. Allergies have become a very real safety issue due to the very large increase in people affected.

One of the issues discussed elsewhere in the magazine this month is cutting tools. These tools are another very real safety hazard that is often ignored. There is, of course, the standard issue of the sharpness or dullness of tools that present a handling issue. But there is another issue that we must stay aware of, and this is the danger of using a cutting tool that has been damaged. The damage can occur during the manufacture, the resharpening, or even just while handling the tool. All of us who have been in the gear cutting industry for an extended period have seen instances of a cutting tool breaking during use. There are so many things that can cause this breakage that it would be very difficult to list them all. Suffice it to say that the tool, the blank material, the setup of the machine, the tooling holding the piece, the feeds and speeds being used, and the coolant are some of the reasons for cutting tool breakage during use. What we are concerned about here is how to improve the safety for our employees.

The number-one item, in my opinion, is proper training for your employees. They must know what to look for in the use of any cutting tool in order to have the optimum safe experience. They need to know what a properly sharpened cutting tool looks like, what the blank that is correct looks like, and what the proper setup on the machine looks like. This does entail some training on the part of the employer, but again this is much less expensive that an injured employee.

Of course, safety guarding is another area of concern, and one that most people would probably put first. It is my contention that without the proper safety training, you cannot “idiot proof” a machine operation. Most guarding solutions that I see rely on the operator using them as intended, and that can’t happen without the proper training. Remember, operators often see guarding as an impairment to the most efficient operation and therefore neglect to use them, or use them improperly. I believe that depending upon guarding to protect the employee without properly training them leads to a false sense of security. 

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is partner and manager of Repair Parts, Inc., and a current member and past–chairman of the American National Standards Institute B11.11 Subcommittee on Safety Requirements for Construction, Care, and Use of Gear Cutting Equipment. McDonald writes this monthly column specifically for Gear Solutions magazine, and he can be reached at (815) 968–4499 or rpi@repair–parts–inc.com. The company's Web site is [www.repair–parts–inc.com].