AIRDRIE, Alta (Canadian OH&S News)
A couple millimetres was all that was needed to free a worker whose fingers were pinched between the jaws of a machine made to fold steel, but gaining that extra space became quite the operation for the firefighters tasked with the job.
On March 23, an operator and an assistant were using a brake press, a mechanical or hydraulic industrial machine used to put bends in plate or sheet metals, at Westman Steel in Airdrie, Alberta, says Barrie Harrison, a spokesman for Alberta Human Services. Shortly before 12:30 pm, the assistant’s fingers became pinched between the jaws of the press, causing “flattening,” but not enough clamping to sever them, says Kevin Weinberger, chief of the Airdrie Fire Department, located about 30 kilometres north of Calgary.
With the machine locked up tight, “we had to get hold of a technician in Kansas City and start dismantling the machine,” says Weinberger. “We dismantled three of the motors and then started removing bolts to loosen the machine enough to get her hand freed. With two sets of our jaws and about eight pry bars and some other tools, we pried it about two millimetres, enough to get her fingers released.”
The whole operation took about an hour, Weinberger says, adding that the worker had already been trapped for an hour before the fire department arrived.
The worker was taken to hospital with damage to the tips of two of her fingers, Harrison says.
No stop-use or stop-work orders were issued and the company has been ordered to investigate the incident, with Alberta Human Services expected to follow up in mid-April, Harrison reports.
“Safe Use of Machinery Factsheets: Press Brake Machine Guarding,” a publication from the New Zealand Department of Labour, says the most frequent causes of accidents involving the machines are:
— Activating the foot pedal while the operator’s hand is in the danger area;
— The operator being caught by the pinch points created between the work piece and the press brake frame during the bending process;
— Failure to lock-out the machine during cleaning, maintenance, installing or aligning dies; and,
— Small work pieces that increase the closeness of the operator’s hands to the danger area.
The guide recommends guarding, presence-sensing devices such as cameras or a light beam/safety laser that stops the machine when the beam is disrupted, or automatic feeding and robot usage to limit hazards and prevent injuries.
In addition to engineering controls, the Occupational Safety and Health Association in the United States recommends a combination of administrative controls and proper work practices to protect against press brake accidents.
This includes using foot pedals only when guards are in place, not riding the foot pedal, using hand-feeding tools when hands come close to the point of operation, conducting periodic inspections of the machines and ensuring all operators have appropriate training from experienced operators and are supervised until they can work safely on their own.