As with any skilled trade, CNC machining has its fair share of occupational hazards. Therefore, it's important to educate yourself on the potential dangers, how to avoid them and what to do in the event an accident occurs. So, is CNC machining dangerous? Yes and no. It's not more dangerous than other hands-on jobs but there are some occupational risks.
What's a CNC machine shop like?
CNC machinists tend to work in shops that have very large & heavy machines with many moving parts. Often there will be cranes overhead moving heavy molds around, power tools in use creating sparks and grinding away at parts, machines operating loudly and small metal shards littering the air.
Since there is so much going on at any one time, to work in a shop, a CNC machinist must be able to focus their attention. This way they don't get distracted while doing their tasks.
So, what are some of the hazards in this work environment? Well, we can break them down into several categories: mechanical hazards, health hazards, soft tissue injuries, slip hazards and fire hazards.
The mechanical hazards of a CNC machine job all have to do with the moving parts of the machine and the ways in which your body can come into contact with them.
Many of the machines, and the molds machines produce can be quite heavy. Often when items need to be moved or the machines need to be relocated an overhead crane is used. Machinists need to be careful not to get in the path of moving items. It would also not be advised to stand directly under heavy moving items. This isn't to suggest that items being moved by crane regularly fall, but rather just an extra safety precaution.
The machines as well as some of the tools machinists use for handwork, welding, drilling etc. can also be very sharp. Machinists must be very diligent and pay attention to what they are doing and their surroundings to stay safe. Other hazards to mention are discharge in the form of small metal particles and sparks. Metal particles are generally contained behind closed barriers, but if a machinist or mold maker is hand drilling molds, they must take care to protect their skin and eyes. The same can be said about sparks.
The best way mitigate mechanical hazards is to ensure that employees have been properly trained to use the machines. Safeguards such as two-hand controls or barriers make the likelihood of injuring oneself due to a moving part significantly lower. Finally, personal protective equipment such as safety glasses & steel toe boots need to be worn. Personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves may also need to be worn if mandated by the company.
Health hazards in the CNC industry tend to be substances workers are exposed to by inhalation, ingestion, direct skin contact or just being in the general environment.
CNC machine shops often have many different chemicals in-house. If these chemicals come into direct contact with your skin they can burn, irritate, or even penetrate through to the underlying tissue. Therefore, it is important to wear gloves when handling certain chemicals. Other substances can be more conspicuous because they absorb into your skin on contact, so you may not realize something is wrong until much later.
The air inside a machining shop can also pose a hazard. Airborne substances such as solvents, dust, oil, or metal fumes can be inhaled and damage the tissue in the lungs over time. When required, masks should be worn to combat this.
The general environment of a CNC shop can be hot and noisy. While most shops use various ventilation techniques to pump in cool air and expel the warm air the heat can still get to you! It's important to stay hydrated and to take mandated breaks to avoid dehydration or other complications. There's also the noise of the machines that you will have to contend with. CNC machinists will often wear ear plugs because the constant loud streams of sound can damage your hearing.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue are injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. We often call these bruises, sprains, strains, stress or one of the many "itis's" (i.e., tendonitis, bursitis, etc.). Generally, these types of injuries occur from repetitive movements, awkward posture and extended lifting. To mitigate these types of injuries employees should be encouraged to take their mandated breaks. They should also change positions every 20 minutes so they can cycle through different postures and engage different muscles.
Slip and fall accidents are not exclusive to CNC shops, in fact, most slip and fall accidents occur in bars and restaurants! In CNC shops, slips & falls can be the result of wearing improper shoes, having wet or slick floors, or leaving debris on the floor. The ways to mitigate these risks are relatively easy. First, ensure employees are wearing appropriate footwear. Appropriate footwear can differ from company to company, but here at DC Automotive Tooling our employees where non-slip, steel toe shoes. 'Wet Floor' signs can be put up when the floor is wet or slick due to mopping or spills. Having a caution sign out will tell employees to be careful in the area. Lastly, remembering to remove debris such as boxes, chips, tools etc. from the floor will also help reduce the likelihood of a trip, slip, or fall.
Depending on the kind of CNC machines that are in use, fire can be a risk. Often, fires are caused by the accumulation of various oils on a machine or a lack of tidiness resulting in small potentially combustible particles remaining in the machining area. The best way to mitigate the risk of a fire is to ensure that equipment is cleaned thoroughly and inspected regularly. Some shops will go so far as to having fire suppression equipment installed on each CNC machine in addition to their buildings normal fire protection system.
How do I stay safe?
If an accident happens, and it's bound to at some point, the best thing you can do is be proactive. Yes, proactive, not reactive! If you're aware of what the potential hazards are for your employees, you can proactively create measure and protocols that will help keep them safe and also train them on what to do if something happens. This way when something occurs, they will already know exactly how to handle the situation!
While working as a CNC machinist isn't as dangerous as say being a logging worker, it does have some occupational hazards. As with any job, you want to make sure that you're following safety procedures to ensure the safety of you and everyone around you.