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.
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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?
- provision of fixed guards that prevent access to any dangerous parts;
- provision of interlocking guards that prevent the press blade descending unless the guards are closed;
- provision of non-contact guards, e.g. light guards, to prevent the press operating if someone is in the danger zone. Note: Generally non-contact guards may ONLY be fitted to hydraulic brake presses; and/or
- there is a trapping space that does not exceed 6-7 mm at all times of operation. (This is considered too small an opening to be a nip point).
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:
- the press is operated with the maximum opening between the blade and the press block always being 6mm or less;
- the press is operated in the pulse mode and ALL of the following apply:
- the blade descends in steps of 10 mm or less; and
- the blade stops not less than 6 mm, nor more than 7 mm, above the work piece before the closing movement; and
- there is a delay of at least 0.3 seconds between each step; and
- the press is operated in the slow descent mode and ALL of the following apply:
- the blade descent speed shall be constant and not exceed 10 mm/second; and
- pressure has to be maintained on the "deadman" foot pedal to keep the blade descending; and
- the blade stops not less than 6 mm, nor more than 7 mm, above the work piece before the closing movement can be made.
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.
- The person with management or control of the plant must ensure that (R.208.2) —
- if access to the area of the plant requiring guarding is not necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning of the plant, the guarding is a permanently fixed physical barrier; or
- if access to the area of the plant requiring guarding is necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning of the plant, the guarding is an interlocked physical barrier that allows access to the area being guarded at times when that area does not present a risk and prevents access to that area at any other time; or
- if it is not reasonably practicable to use guarding referred to in paragraph (a) or (b), the guarding used is a physical barrier that can only be altered or removed by the use of tools; or
- if it is not reasonably practicable to use guarding referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c), the guarding includes a presence-sensing safeguarding system that eliminates any risk arising from the area of the plant requiring guarding while a person or any part of a person is in the area being guarded
- The person with management or control of the plant must ensure that the guarding (r.208.3)—
- is of solid construction and securely mounted so as to resist impact or shock; and
- makes bypassing or disabling of the guarding, whether deliberately or by accident, as difficult as is reasonably practicable; and
- does not create a risk in itself; and
- is properly maintained
- If the plant to be guarded contains moving parts that may break or cause workpieces to be ejected from the plant, the person with management or control of the plant must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the guarding will control any risk from those broken or ejected parts and workpieces (R.208.4)
- Despite anything to the contrary in R.208, the person with management or control of the plant must ensure (R.208.5) —
- that the guarding is of a kind that can be removed to allow maintenance and cleaning of the plant at any time that the plant is not in normal operation; and
- if guarding is removed, that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the plant cannot be restarted unless the guarding is replaced.
Safe work procedures
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?
- the machine is switched off and the isolation or tag out system is followed;
- if the blade or top tool is heavy, some form of mechanical handling device is used to prevent strain injury; and
- all guards are in place before a trial stroke is made.
Do safe work procedures ensure that when lifting, lowering or turning the block or bottom tool of a brake press, the following always happen?
- the block is disconnected from the bed of the brake press before lifting;
- the lifting hooks are located properly at each end of the block;
- any alignment (including rough alignment), shimming or bolting is done with the machine electrically isolated and the machine tagged out;
- during lifting and lowering, the block is never steadied by hand - this has resulted in serious injury in the past; and
- even when the machine is electrically isolated, a wooden block (at least 50 mm thick) is placed between the top and bottom tool to prevent unwanted closure of the blade.
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.
Instruction, training and supervision
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:
- about the types of fault likely to arise?
- to immediately inform the person in charge if any faults or defects arise?
- of the dangers in attempting to correct any faults themselves?
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:
- DO NOT press the foot pedal as this may complete the stroke and amputate the operator's fingers.
- move the foot pedal to a safe position.
- place wood blocks between the bed and the beam before isolating the electrical power.
- isolate the electrical power before attempting to release the trapped person.
- irrespective of the trapped persons discomfort do not panic, if in doubt wait for competent assistance.
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 that information, training and instruction provided to a worker is suitable and adequate having regard to (R.39.2) —
- the nature of the work carried out by the worker; and
- the nature of the risks associated with the work at the time the information, training or instruction is provided; and
- the control measures implemented.
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.
Plant with presence sensing safeguarding system records
Regulation 226 of Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 mentions the following :
- The person with management or control of plant with a presence-sensing safeguarding system at a workplace must keep a record of safety integrity tests, inspections, maintenance, commissioning, decommissioning, dismantling and alterations of the plant for the period set out in subregulation (2).
- The record must be kept for —
- 5 years unless paragraph (b) applies; or
- the life of the plant or until the person relinquishes control of the plant if the plant is registered plant or has been altered.
- The person must keep the record available for inspection under the Act.
- The person must make the record available to any person to whom the person relinquishes control of the plant.
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