There are so many things to love about CNC machining: watching a formless hunk of metal given form and purpose, executing a program flawlessly after hours of design work, or even just watching these complex tools at work. My favorite part of machining, though, has to be not dying or otherwise grievously injuring myself. Here are some machine shop safety tips to help you enjoy that too.
1. Wear Goggles At All Times
Seeing is great. It's easily one of the best senses (top 5 for sure), but the eyes that enable it are unfortunately rather fragile. And while I'm certain you've heard this rule, it always bears repeating. There's basically no reason you should ever not be wearing goggles when working with heavy machinery. Even if the machine seems well sealed, even if it's CNC, and even if you just bought some really nice aviators and you really want to show them off. Machines can be temperamental, and when something going wrong means chips of hot metal flying at your face, keeping your eyes guarded at all times is a must.
"But I look so good..."
2. No Open Toed Shoes
Next to eyes, feet are definitely one of the most important part of your body. Fortunately, unlike with eyes, people already typically have the common sense to cover them up with their own special foot-goggles, or "shoes". Unfortunately, some of them don't do a very good job. Sandals, crocs, flip-flops, and other shoes that undoubtedly also have silly names leave your feet exposed to the elements, which in this case are flying hunks of metal off of a malfunctioning CNC lathe. No matter how much you trust your machine, or how much you love the fresh air your dogs get in flip-flops, it's always worth the small effort of wearing some sturdy boots.
3. Machine Guarding
Machine tools are made for a very specific purpose- the cutting, bending, drilling, and sculpting of metal. You know what's a lot softer than metal? People. Working around them day to day, it's easy to forget that machine tools are very dangerous machines, but proper machine guarding is often the only thing standing between your hand and ground beef.
Just think about that.
In addition to horrific mangling, improper guarding can have financial ramifications as well. Every year dozens of businesses are fined massive sums by OSHA for not following the proper machine guarding code, and which should've been completely avoidable. If you want to make sure that your shop is up to snuff, check our comprehensive guide on proper machine guarding.
4. Watch Out For Dangling Clothes/Hair/Jewelry
If this is starting to seem like a fashion blog, don't worry, this is the last time we're going to tell you how to dress. Now, I love Scarf Saturday and Mullet Monday as much as the next guy, but dangling clothes and hair are a huge safety hazard when working with machinery, and one need only look at a lathe to see why. The point is, machines have lots of moving parts, and the more things attached to you that could get caught up in those parts, the more likely you are to be injured, so keep your hair tied up and your clothes tight whenever possible.
5. Avoid Distractions
This is probably the most often disregarded machining safety tip, but it's among the most important. In the day to day grind, it can be tempting to try to multitask. Maybe you put in some headphones, check your phone, read your favorite machining blog, or otherwise distract yourself from the sometimes monotonous task of machine working. Don't do that. Tempting as it is, you should remain 100% alert at all times when working with heavy machinery—even with CNC machinery, you never know when something could go awry and require your immediate attention.
As I'm sure you've noticed, there's one big theme running through all of these safety tips: be careful. As comfortable as you may get with your machines, it's always important to respect them. As long as you pay heed to that, and follow the tips we mentioned here, you should be fine. And if you ever feel yourself getting sloppy, remember: ground beef.
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