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Brake presses (also known as press brakes and beam presses) are powered equipment used for linear bending and forming of metal products, including heavy gauge materials. These machines are a type of power press and as such have the potential to cause instantaneous and serious injury if not set up and operated correctly.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2020, all persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their workers while they are at work. This duty means the PCBU must eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable, and if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks to health and safety, they must minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
Most brake press injuries result in several fingers being amputated or badly crushed. Hands are trapped between the descending blade and the press block, or between the press bed and the sheet of metal being shaped. In most cases of injury the machine is unguarded, or the guard installed to protect the operator is not active.
Any form of tool setting, such as setting the press block or blade in position, is particularly hazardous.
The following questions are to help toolbox meetings to identify workplace hazards and take action to reduce the risks.
To prevent fingers entering the danger zone, have one or more of the following measures (listed in priority order) been taken?
Fixed guards and fences are cheaper than light guards and can be equally effective. Only when none of the physical guard options are practicable should light guards or other 'presence sensing' guards be used. The sides and rear of the brake press must ALWAYS be guarded or fenced.
Sometimes it may be necessary for the operator's hands to be close to the blade while the brake press is in operation. Access to the hazardous area via the front of the machine, by removal of a physical guard or the muting of a light guard, is only then permitted where it cannot be avoided and the press is set so that it will only operate in the following modes of operation:
These options for working with guards removed or muted are only applicable where it is impracticable to operate the press with the guards in place. They are not to be considered as a substitute for the provision of effective guards.
Visual indication of the muted condition of a press equipped with non-contact guards shall be provided by means of a clearly visible light or other clearly identifiable and distinguishable signal. In such cases a risk assessment must be completed prior to starting work and a safe system of work documented and supervised by a competent person.
Regulation 208 of Work Health and Safety (General) Regulation 2022 applies if guarding is used as a control measure in relation to plant at workplace.
Has a safe system of work for operating each brake press been documented and displayed on the machine?
When a light guard is muted, i.e. the sensing device is switched off because the operator is working close to the blade, is there in place some indication such as a flashing light or other clearly distinguishable signal?
Where more than one person is operating a brake press, or brake presses are working in tandem, does each person have an interlocked foot pedal to activate the descent of the blade?
Injuries happen if each operator does not have control over the movement of the blade. This applies to all brake presses regardless of what type of guard they have. The foot pedals must be electrically connected so that the blade(s) does not descend unless all operators have activated their foot pedal.
With a segmented blade, have the unnecessary segments been removed to avoid creating unnecessary trapping spaces?
Is there a safe work procedure for tool setting? Tool setting is potentially the most dangerous operation that can be performed on a press. Only trained and authorised persons should carry out this work. Safe work procedures should be drawn up and clearly understood by all people concerned.
Do safe work procedures ensure that when changing the blade or top tool of a brake press, the following always happen?
Do safe work procedures ensure that when lifting, lowering or turning the block or bottom tool of a brake press, the following always happen?
Many brake press injuries are due to failure to set the mute switch correctly after tool setting. It should be set to operate when the top tool is 6 mm or less above the workpiece.
Lack of training is a common cause of injury to brake press operators. Many have been seriously injured within the first days, or even hours, of starting work on an unfamiliar brake press.
No person should be permitted to operate a brake press unless properly trained.
Have manufacturers and suppliers provided adequate information on the safe operation and maintenance of the machinery?
Have all operators been provided with clear instructions on the safe operation of the brake press from "start up" to "close down", including all possible sequences of control and operation?
Have operators been instructed in the hazards of the machines they operate?
Make sure that each operator understands and can demonstrate the safe operation of the brake press.
Are all operators instructed:
Clear instructions must be given that guards or safety devices are not to be removed or altered in any way, and the setting up of light guards must be done only by a competent person.
Is the operator's knowledge on the use of the brake press and the precautions to be taken regularly assessed?
Are trainee operators supervised by somebody familiar with operating brake presses?
In the event of a person being trapped between the blade and press block, are all operators trained to release the trapped operator without further injury? Emergency procedures will differ from machine to machine. The following are general points only:
Regulation 39 of Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 is about the provision of information, training and instructions. This regulation applies for the purposes of section 19 of Work Health and Safety act 2020 to a person conducting a business or undertaking.
The person must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the information, training and instruction provided under this regulation is provided in a way that is readily understandable by any person to whom it is provided.(R.39.3)
Is there a safety inspection and maintenance program drawn up for each brake press in your workplace?
Are all guards and safety devices regularly inspected by a competent person?
Are written records kept of inspections and maintenance carried out, including the testing of presence sensing guards?
Do inspection and maintenance programs include written instruction on complete routines for lubrication and maintenance?
Have safe work procedures been developed for maintenance work that ensure the brake press is locked out and tagged to prevent it being accidentally switched on while someone is working on it?
Removable guards should be clearly labelled 'DANGER - Isolate power supply before removing guard'
The person with management or control of plant at a workplace must ensure that the maintenance, inspection and, if necessary, testing of the plant is carried out by a competent person (r. 213).
The maintenance, inspection and testing must be carried out —:
a. in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, if any; or
b. if there are no manufacturer’s recommendations, in accordance with the recommendations of a competent person; or
c. in relation to inspection, if it is not reasonably practicable to comply with paragraph (a) or (b), annually.
Regulation 226 of Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 mentions the following :