A punch press is used in factories and industrial settings to punch holes in materials. The press must be strong enough to punch holes through metal and iron.
The machine operates with an incredible amount of force and, as a result can be dangerous for operators and those in the vicinity.
Unfortunately, punch press injuries are common, resulting in injuries such as amputations when workers get body parts trapped in a punch press at the point of operation.
Why Safety Standards Are Necessary
Even though punch presses are becoming much more automated, the job still requires specialized training and extensive safety procedures. When an employee is working with this machine that has the power to cut through hard materials, there is always a certain amount of danger involved.
The main danger is to their hands and fingers as those are the limbs that can become caught in the punch press. When that happens, the force of the press will crush limbs or sever them.
While punch press injuries are seldom fatal, they can result in life-altering injuries for workers. In fact, the last time that a worker was reported killed by a punch press was back in 2009, when the employee was caught in the punch press.
When employees suffer punch press injuries, it can keep them from being able to work again or fully enjoy life. While some employees are able to recover from their punch press injuries, they will, at a minimum, miss some work time.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration Rules
There are three different types of punch presses: mechanical, hydraulic press, and pneumatic. OSHA has different regulations depending on the type of punch press that is at issue.
Here are some common OSHA safety regulations that apply to press machines:
Many of the OSHA regulations involve guards and housings to keep the employee from being able to place their hand in a place where it is endangered. (e.g. 1910.217(b)(2)). There are also OSHA standards that govern the operation of the foot pedal and provide for braking.
Workers must be provided with the proper safety training before they can operate a punch press. The proper training depends on the circumstances of the workplace and the individual employee. Each worker must know the proper use of the press before they can operate it.
There are also regulations that aim to prevent unintentional operation of the punch press (e.g., 1910.217(b)(7)(xii)) Further, the work area must remain free of hazards that can make operation more dangerous.
In general, the employer must have a safety program aimed at keeping punch press operators from sustaining serious injuries from this hazardous piece of equipment.
This includes operating procedures designed to enhance workplace safety and prevent workplace injury.
The major danger point of the punch press is called the ram. This is what the die is attached to before it is pressed down on the stationary bed. All of the force of the punch press is in the ram. It operates with enough force that makes it very dangerous equipment.
Here are some common ways that punch press operators can be injured:
- The most common type of injury from press operation is when then punch press operator puts a finger or hand in the area where the machine is working
- Pieces can fall off of the punch press and can injure an employee
- Employees can be struck by pieces that fly up from the metal or plastic pieces being pressed.
United States Punch Press Injury Statistics
2018 was the last full year for which injury statistics are available of accidents reported to OSHA . None of these 15 accidents were fatal. 11 of these 15 accidents involved fingers being amputated or crushed. Other accidents happened when the worker was struck by the punch press.
In 2017, there were 25 punch press accident investigations. All but three of these accidents were amputations or crush injuries to one or more fingers. As OSHA accident investigations below reveal, many of these injuries are preventable when employers follow the safety rules.
OSHA Punch Press Accident Investigations
Below are descriptions of several actual punch press injuries suffered on the job and the results of the ensuing OSHA investigations:
- June 2018 (Puncture Injury) An employee was operating a punch press when a piston came loose from the machine and struck him in the stomach. The piston caused lacerations and puncture injuries to the employee’s stomach and he was hospitalized. The employee received an initial fine of $12,934.
- November 2018 (fingers crushed) An employee was setting up a punch press, which consisted of the press, feeder system and coil stands. He was feeding the coil into the rollers when his fingers got caught in a pinch point. He had four of his fingers crushed and needed hospitalization. The employer received an initial penalty of $12,934.
- April 2018 (finger amputated) The employee reached into the punch press to clear out some scrap metal. His finger got caught in the punch press and was amputated. The employer received an initial penalty of $11,408.
OSHA violations will usually center on the fact that the workers were using punch presses that did not have adequate safeguards to keep their fingers safe. Alternatively, the employer may be cited for the failure to properly train employees on the use of the machine or to provide them with the correct personal protective equipment.
Some OSHA investigations in this area can result in severe fines for employers who break these rules.
For example, in 2018, a Florida window and door manufacturer was given a whopping fine of almost $400,000 when a worker lost part of a finger working on a machine.
While this injury does not seem severe at first glance, the employer was cited for a wide range of violations of rules regarding punch presses, including:
Common OSHA Violations
- Lack of machine guarding on several pieces of equipment
- Failing to implement a program to inspect mechanical power presses and correct unsafe conditions
- Failure to anchor a drill press
Where OSHA safety violations are important is that they help determine whether an injured employee can file a lawsuit for their punch press injury or needs to file a workers’ compensation claim. If the employer broke an OSHA safety rule and was not grossly negligent, the employer will need to file a workers’ compensation claim.
If the punch press itself was defective and failed, the injured employee may sue the manufacturer of the press in a product liability lawsuit when the machine malfunctions. In many cases, the scenario that will bring the most compensation is when injured workers can file a lawsuit.