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Injuries Common to Metal Fabrication

medical kitDue to a variety of hazards found in the workplace environment, metal fabrication can be a potentially dangerous industry if employees do not closely adhere to safety regulations. Fortunately, in recent years, the rate of non-fatal injuries in the industry has significantly dropped, indicating that safer equipment and effective safety regulations are successfully helping prevent common injuries. However, a careless worker can still cause great harm to himself or to others in a trade that is unforgiving of negligence.

The Dangers of Metal Fabrication

One reason why metal fabrication can be hazardous is the potential harm stemming from inattentiveness or misunderstanding of safety regulations. Noise or other distractions may result in a loss of concentration, so maintaining caution and remaining mindful of one’s surroundings is important.

In some shops, workers may risk inhalation of welding fumes and other emissions from lubricants or chemicals. If there is a lack of adequate exhaust and ventilation systems, these fumes and odors can cause disorientation.

Since metal is the main component of most operations, workers may be required to lift heavy material. If the proper lifting methods are not followed, injuries may occur. Additionally, excess metal pieces can lead to accidents involving cuts or scrapes. As the metal is being worked, it can produce hazards such as flying shards or sparks.

Common Metal Fabrication Injuries

A number of injuries can occur in a fabrication shop due to carelessness or inattention. The following is a list of some common areas of concern:

Injuries from Handling Materials

Material handling is a relatively frequent cause of injury in the workplace. Most handling injuries tend to be musculoskeletal-related, and can range from minor sprains to more serious ailments like invertebral disc injury. These impairments typically result from disobeying proper lifting protocol, but can sometimes be caused by sustained exposure to vibrations, prolonged awkward posture, or continual repetitive motions.

The most common injuries from handling materials occur in the joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons and nerves of the neck, back, arms, legs, and abdomen. Eventually, long-term damage may develop in the form of a repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), or cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).

Injuries from Hand Tool Usage

A hand tool can be another source of injury in metal fabrication processes. The majority of these injuries are also musculoskeletal related. The most common afflictions caused by hand tool usage are carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist tendonitis, and chronic disorders of the hand, wrist and forearm.

Reasons for these injuries include improper tool selection, excessive tool use, poor tool maintenance, and inappropriate workstation design.

Grinders and other powered hand tools can cause eye damage from material being kicked back from the grinding wheel. Plus, the prolonged use of a powered instrument can cause musculoskeletal disorders of the arm and hand due to the tool’s vibration or the user’s posture.

In welding, poor ventilation may become a concern. A welder can come into contact with carbon monoxide, ozone or other toxic substances while performing his work. Other potentially harmful aspects of welding include working with extremely heavy objects, being exposed to flash, welding in awkward postures, and experiencing extreme noise.

Injuries from Poor Guarding

Access is prohibited to many areas and equipment in a metal fabrication shop. In these locations, guardrails or other barriers can be used to prevent accidental entry. The types of safety barriers found in machine shops usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Permanently-fixed barrier - surrounds equipment that requires minimal maintenance or cleaning of parts.
  • Interlocked physical barrier - usually has one moveable segment that, if triggered,, automatically shuts the system down to prevent injury.
  • Physical barrier - covers the dangerous components of a working piece of machinery. Only a qualified person with special access should remove this guard.
  • Presence sensing system - features a photoelectric sensor that can electronically detect someone’s proximity to a dangerous area or machine.

Poorly maintained or non-existent guards are among the most common causes of barrier-related injuries. For example, guarding mechanisms are important in preventing a worker's fingers from entering the metal trapping space of a cutting guillotine. If these safety guards are improperly installed, there is an increased chance of hand injury or finger loss.

How to Reduce the Likelihood of Injury

The best way to prevent workplace accidents is to adhere to strict safety protocols. It is helpful for plant supervisors to hold routine safety seminars stressing the importance of following safety guidelines. In addition, certain procedures will help reduce the risk of injury in each area with a high number of potential hazards. The general principles of workplace safety include:

  • Adjustable workstations that can accommodate different tasks and employees
  • Limited or controlled exposure to harmful materials.
  • Adaptable and uncluttered workplace layout that reduces contact with dangerous areas or equipment
  • Attentive focus on personal surroundings and physical exertions

Some straightforward ways to reduce injuries in metal fabrication include proper use of forklifts or cranes to unload heavy raw materials, appropriate training and use of effective lifting methods, and employment of trolleys to transport materials between stages of the fabrication process. Shop managers should ensure that the ventilation system works properly and, if necessary, provide personal protection gear such as respirators, eye and ear guards, and gloves. In addition, any potentially hazardous piece of machinery should be routinely inspected to make certain the necessary safety measures are in place and working properly. Hand tools should be chosen for the suitability of their design, and the correct tool should be verified before being put into use.
It may also be helpful to maintain a brightly lit workplace, avoid extreme temperatures in the shop, and wear clothing suitable for the assigned tasks.

By closely following safety protocols, a metal fabrication shop can further reduce the rate of injuries, and provide a safer and more efficient environment for its workers.

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