Photo courtesy of Empire Machinery and Tools Ltd.
Editor's note: The following is taken from the "Press Brake Safety Compliance Kit," employers reference manual, published by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association.

Because of the press brake's versatility, it is a vital piece of equipment to the operation of metal-fabrication shops all over the world. When the press brake is used by trained operators utilizing the proper operating procedures, work can be performed safely to fabricate a wide variety of custom metal pieces. However, it is very important to always remember that the press brake is a powerful piece of equipment and if it is operating improperly, this machine can pose the threat of injury to employees. And while statistics show that injuries are infrequent, when they do occur, they can be quite serious.

The press brake, like most of the other pieces of equipment you will find in your metal-fabrication shop, has specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for safe operation. The requirements for press brakes are located in the "OSHA Standards for General Industry," under subpart 0: "Machinery and Machinery Guarding."

The standards do not specifically address press brakes, but section 1910.212 gives general requirements for all machines. This section requires the installation of machine guards that will prevent an operator or other employees from having any part of the body in the danger zone or point of operation, during the operating cycle of the machine. OSHA currently recognizes several guarding methods and electronic safety devices that meet these requirements.

These guards and devices are covered by the American National Standards Institute in a national consensus standard - ANSI B11.3-1982. While consensus standards, such as those by ANSI, are not mandatory, OSHA recognizes such standards as being generally accepted industry practices.

Employer dilemmas

The dilemma that exists for many employers who are performing metal- fabrication operations is that they do not do very much work that is production-oriented. Most of the work is more custom in nature; that is to say that a wide variety of piece parts are fabricated using numerous dies and machine settings.

OSHA realized this as a problem, and taking it into consideration, developed compliance directive CPL 2-1.25, which establishes new enforcement guidelines on the issue of point-of-operation protection on press brakes.

In the document, OSHA states that it is understood in custom metal fabrication that there are constraints that are imposed by some of the manufacturing or fabricating processes, i.e. custom metal fabrication and piece-part work. In such instances, OSHA will allow safeguarding to be accomplished by maintaining a safe distance of 4 inches from the point of operation when the use of physical barriers or physical devices is not feasible to protect an employee operating a press brake. When safeguarding is achieved using the safe-distance method, each employer must do the following:

  • Establish a program of safe-distance procedures.

  • Have a comprehensive training program.

  • Provide supervision through regular inspections and evaluations of the procedures.

    Specific requirements

    brakes and at the same time provided options for safeguarding that previously did not exist. Under the OSHA policy, employers will have to address such issues as access to the machine area, minor servicing of the press brake, developing safe operating and exposure prevention procedures, establishing an effective employee-training program, supervision and inspection of the prescribed procedures, and the establishment of safety program to manage each of these elements.

    Employees who operate machinery are not the only ones who must be protected from point-of-operation hazards. Each employer must also address the safety of employees who work in the vicinity of the power press brake. A safe-distance method of protection for non-operating employees can be utilized by restricting machine-area access to only operators, helpers and minor serving employees. This can be achieved in several ways - posted signs, a painted line on the floor, a chain to restrict access, or any combination of these.

    The point of operation on all press brakes must be guarded by one or more physical barriers if a situation exists where the machine is energized as defined under 29 CFR 1910.147(b), and is not under the operating control of a trained operator or employee who has been authorized to perform minor serving which complies with a special note following paragraph 1910.147 (a)(2) (ii)(B) in the lockout/tag-out standard. An example of minor servicing would be changing of dies and making die adjustments.

    Employees who perform minor servicing on machines or equipment during normal production operations must be protected form any exposure to hazardous energy by physical barrier guards. If standard physical guarding is not feasible, alternative methods that provide effective protection must be used.

    When machines or equipment are not in normal production operations, any employee performing servicing or maintenance must perform under the control of OSHA's hazardous energy requirements of Z9CFR 1910.147 or 1910.333(b).

    The power-press brake operator must be protected by the use of physical barriers, guarding devices or by maintaining a safe distance from hazardous energy sources not at the point of operation. In addition, the operator must be protected from point-of-operation hazards. In order to implement safeguarding by "maintaining a safe distance," an employer must first establish a safety program that includes safe work procedures, training, and supervision to ensure that the work is performed using alternative methods that provide effective protection. In the absence of such a program, employees must be protected by physical barrier guards or guarding devices.

    (For information on ordering a copy of SMACNA's "Press Brake Safety Compliance Kit," which includes a training video and other materials, contact the group at 4201 Lafayette Center Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151-1209; call (703) 803-2989; fax (703) 803-3732; see on the Internet.)