Safety in metal fabrication: Protecting workers and machineries

metal fabrication

In fabricated metal manufacturing, ensuring the safety and well-being of workers is paramount. The industry involves a wide array of activities, from handling raw materials to transporting finished products, each carrying its unique set of risks.

In this article, we delve into the essential safety practices in metal fabrication, specifically focusing on manual handling and the usage of hand tools. We will explore key guidelines and precautions to mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), injuries, and accidents in this demanding sector.

1. Manual Handling

Unloading Raw Materials

When it comes to unloading raw materials, the process of “barring off,” which involves using metal bars to manually lever steel and other metal products off delivery vehicles, has been a common practice. However, this method poses serious risks. To ensure safety:

  • Utilize purpose-built vehicles for small loads with certified operators.
  • Employ suitable mobile or overhead cranes for bundled loads.
  • Embrace magnetic lifters for efficient handling.
  • Opt for forklifts with correct attachments and certified operators for bundled loads.

Transport of Materials on the Shop Floor – Heavy

The movement of heavy metal products weighing 20 kg or more and exceeding 2 meters in length is a common scenario in metal fabrication. These materials are impossible to handle manually and present significant risks. To minimize these risks:

  • Implement bridge and gantry cranes with remote control, ensuring proper testing and maintenance.
  • Never suspend a load over or allow it to travel over a person.
  • Ensure crane operators hold the necessary certificates.
  • Additional competency certificates may be required for crane operators dealing with load calculations or chain/sling selection.

Transport of Materials on the Shop Floor – Light

Handling lighter metal products weighing less than 20 kg and shorter than 2 meters presents its challenges, mainly due to the forces involved. To enhance safety:

  • Utilize electric walkie stackers for retrieving and moving metal from racks.
  • Leverage mechanical aids such as overhead cranes, vacuum, and magnetic lifters to minimize manual handling.
  • Implement electric pallet movers for efficient material transport.

Manufacturing at Workstations

Manufacturing activities often involve stamping, pressing, assembling, and drilling components, putting workers at risk due to layout and force-related factors. To enhance workstation safety:

  • Incorporate mechanical aids or automation in tasks.
  • Utilize adjustable height scissor lift workbenches to reduce excessive bending.
  • Consider powered rotators or devices to position items optimally.

Die Handling

Die handling encompasses tasks like setting, moving, and maintaining heavy dies, often leading to awkward postures and prolonged work periods. To mitigate MSD risks:

  • Use manually operated lifting aids for transporting heavy dies.
  • Employ ergonomically designed, well-maintained trolleys or roller racks.
  • Embrace powered mechanical lifting aids, such as mobile plant, overhead crane, hoist, or manipulator.
  • Incorporate winching/lifting points on dies/tools for mechanical aid use.
  • Implement die/tool positioning guides for loading/unloading into machines.
  • Opt for power tools to reduce awkward postures when securing dies.

Packing Stillages

Stillages are commonly used for product transportation, but their design can pose ergonomic challenges. To reduce risks:

  • Utilize height-adjustable pallet/stillage lifters manually.
  • Employ stands to raise stillages to a comfortable height, with drop-down or removable sides.
  • Consider bin inserts, scissor inserts, or false bottoms to maintain product height.
  • Explore fully automated packing solutions or conveyor systems.
  • Leverage mechanical aids like cranes and hoists for handling heavier components.

Loading and Handling Finished Products

Transporting finished fabricated metal products from the manufacturing site to customers by truck involves diverse sizes and weights. To ensure safety:

  • Implement mechanical aids like pallet lifters and vacuum lifters for palletizing.
  • Consider industrial robots for automated palletizing.
  • Utilize hydraulic tailgate lifters to raise loads.
  • Ensure loading docks are at truck deck height for mechanical aid use.
  • Employ forklifts and cranes for efficient loading.

2. Hand Tool Usage

Angle Grinding

Grinding poses significant injury risks in metal fabrication, from foreign materials in the eye to kickbacks and noise-related issues. Preventative measures include:

  • Minimize the need for grinding through improved welding processes.
  • Assess whether grinding is necessary and consult with clients.
  • Utilize adjustable workstations to raise the work task.
  • Ensure workpieces are securely held in place.
  • Use screens to separate grinding tasks from other workers.
  • Equip workers with safety gear, including goggles, safety glasses, and face shields.
  • Implement anti-kickback safety clutches and vibration-reducing handles.
  • Use grinders with braking systems and the correct type of disc.


Welding exposes workers to various hazards, including metal fumes, radiation, hot metals, and noise. Safety precautions for welding include:

  • Implement respiratory protection measures like standard respirators and extraction systems.
  • Ensure well-ventilated work areas, using portable fans if necessary.
  • Provide personal protective equipment, such as auto-darkening helmets and flip visors.
  • Use welding booths to separate welding tasks from others.
  • Establish standard operating procedures for safe welding practices.
  • Raise the work task using adjustable workstations.
  • Secure cylinders away from the work area to prevent tip-overs.

3. Guarding: Safeguarding Machinery and Workers

Machinery guarding is essential to prevent bodily access to dangerous parts of equipment. There are different types of guards available for this purpose.

Permanently fixed physical barriers are typically used when there is no need for access during machine operation, maintenance, or cleaning. These barriers provide a robust and unyielding shield against potential hazards.

Interlocked physical barriers offer a more flexible approach. These guards incorporate moveable parts that interact with the machine’s control system. They prevent the motion of hazardous machine parts when the guard is open. Importantly, the interlocking system is designed to resist tampering or disabling, ensuring continued safety.

Physical barriers with no moving parts are another option. These guards create an impenetrable shield that prevents access to dangerous machinery components. Only suitably qualified individuals with specialized tools can alter or remove them, adding an extra layer of security.

Presence-sensing systems represent a cutting-edge approach to guarding. These guards use electronic devices like photoelectric sensors to create an intangible barrier. They can electronically detect any intrusion into the hazardous area of a machine, instantly triggering safety measures.

Incorporating the appropriate guarding mechanism is crucial for ensuring the safety of both machinery and workers in the metal fabrication industry. Each type of guard serves a unique purpose, and their selection should align with specific operational requirements and safety considerations.


Safety is paramount in the metal fabrication industry. By adhering to these guidelines and precautions, workers and employers can significantly reduce the risk of injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, and accidents, fostering a safer and more productive workplace.