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April 05, 2010
Watch Your Fingers--And Other Important Warnings for Press Operators

On Nov. 7, 2007, a 27-year-old machine operator at Plastic Display Products in Vista died when he was crushed by a hydraulic molding press. He was installing dies, and the press was powered on to test the die settings. When he placed a sheet of plastic into the flat bottom table of the machine, it fell into the machine. As he reached into the press to retrieve it, the press cycled, catching the worker between the top and bottom tables.

Every year, thousands of California workers suffer broken bones, crushing injuries, and amputations—and a handful of them die—when they tangle with power-operated presses.

Background on Power-Operated Press Safety

Who has to be trained? General Industry Safety Orders Sections 4203(a) and (b) require that anyone inspecting or maintaining a power-operated press, press operators, and supervisors receive instruction and training to maintain their competence.

Why train workers in power-operated press safety? Workers have caught their fingers, hands, arms, heads, and upper bodies in the point of operation of presses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 60 percent of all work-related amputations involve a worker's finger or arm getting caught or compressed by a piece of machinery such as a press or conveyor. Federal OSHA's injury statistics indicate that 49 percent of injuries from mechanical power presses result in an amputation.

Power-Operated Press Safety:
The Basics

Instructions to Trainer: The do's and don'ts in the list below are adapted from the "minimum training requirements for power-press operators" found in Appendix I of federal OSHA's power-operated press eTool, available here. When going over the do's and don'ts in the list below, make sure that you point out specifics on the press being discussed.

Power-operated presses are used in a wide variety of industries. A mechanical power press uses tools or dies attached to slides or rams to shear, punch, form, or assemble metal or other materials. Hydraulic power presses do the same but typically function at lower operating speeds and are not normally fully automated. The level of operator involvement in a hydraulic press increases the number of safety hazards. According to Cal/OSHA, power-operated presses account for more accidents in the California fabricated structural metal products industry than any other kind of machinery—and the injuries tend to be serious.

To keep yourself safe around power-operated presses:

  • Don't bypass press guards and interlocks.

  • Don't reach in a press to clear a part while the press is running.

  • Don't operate a press with missing, defective, or nonfunctional guards.

  • Don't operate the press until it has been checked and tested several times before production operations.

  • Do learn all phases of operating the equipment and its capabilities and limitations.

  • Do understand all press controls and how to use them.

  • Do familiarize yourself with all safety guards and devices and the correct use of each.

  • Do know how to use tools to safely remove stuck work.

  • Do know how to use swabs, brushes, or oil cans for lubricating dies and stock.

  • Do know why, when, and how to use personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, gloves, safety shoes, and hearing protection.

  • Do know when to use lockout/tagout procedures and understand how to neutralize all of the press's energy sources.

  • Do know how to safely store parts, tools, or other objects on dies, die sets, bolster plates, or press components not designed to retain them.

  • Do understand the potential hazards of falling objects.

  • Do know where pinch points are located.

  • Do observe basic housekeeping requirements that apply around the press areas.

  • Do report any problems with the press.


We use presses to do things that would be difficult to do barehanded, but power-operated presses bring risks along with benefits. Know how to keep yourself safe when using a power-operated press.

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