Guards for Drill Presses & Drill Press Safety

in Machine Safety Blog by

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Updated: 2024-05-23

Are you looking to guard your drill press or learn how to ensure you or your employees can use it safely? In this article, I will discuss everything related to drill press safety, including what guarding upgrades you can make and drill press safety tips.

What are Drill Presses & How are they used

Drill presses are versatile machines commonly used in metalworking, woodworking, and other manufacturing industries. Because they are so common, you probably even have one in your shop.

With a drill press, you can create holes in various materials, such as metal and wood. A drill press makes holes by rotating a drill bit while applying pressure to the workpiece. It offers advantages over handheld drills, including greater accuracy, precision, and consistency. If you’ve ever tried to drill a straight hole with a handheld drill, you will know what I mean!

Drill press parts with drill press guard

The Drill Press

Drill presses (aka drilling machines) can vary in size, from small hobby machines to some of the biggest, which are called radial drills.  They consist of a base, a column, a table, a spindle, and a motor.

The drill in the image is a typical machine with additional safety features, such as a safety shield and an emergency stop button.

Hazards of Operating a Drill Press

Each time that you use a drill press, these main hazards could be present:

  • Cuts and puncturesThere is a possibility of injury if a user’s hand or clothing comes into contact with the rotating drill bit.  Scratches, punctures, and cuts are possible from sharp chips or burs.
  • Burns—The heat generated by the drill bit’s cutting operation can cause burns if a user’s skin comes in contact with hot chips or material.
  • Fractures and amputationsImproperly clamped workpieces are dangerous because they could become dislodged and ride up the drill bit.  A workpiece could get caught, pinch onto a drill bit, and start spinning with it, causing an unexpected and sudden hazard to the operator.  Likewise, clothing, jewelry, or gloves could get caught, twisting around the drill bit and causing injury.
  • Eye injuriesFlying debris and metal or wood shavings may cause eye injury if the user does not wear proper eye protection.
  • CrushingTall column drill presses are top-heavy, especially if they have a gearbox instead of a belt drive. It is easy to tip them over, especially if something falls on them or a person trips and tries to balance themselves by grabbing the top of the drill press. An easy solution to prevent any crushing injuries is to securely fasten the drill press to the floor using anchors, bolts, or screws.

Guards for Drill Presses

There are a variety of guards and guarding solutions for drill presses.  They are important for protecting operators from potential hazards associated with operating these machines.  There are several safety guarding solutions available for drill presses:

  1. Fixed Guards: Fixed guards are permanent barriers covering the drill press’s moving parts.  They cover the pulleys and drive belts on a small bench or pedestal drill and cover rotating shafts and lead screws on larger machines, such as radial drills.
  2. Adjustable Guards: Adjustable guards are similar to fixed guards, but you can move them to accommodate different sizes of workpieces.  They can be adjusted to the height of the workpiece, allowing the operator to see and access the drill bit while still providing protection.
  3. Interlocked Guarding: These safety devices prevent the drill press from operating when a guard or shield is not in place.  They also automatically shut off the machine when the safety guard or shield is opened or removed.  You can find interlocked guarding on drill presses around the chuck area and where the drive belt and pulleys are.
  4. Self-Retracting Guarding: These guards for drill presses are common and inexpensive. They are self-retracting devices that automatically cover the drill bit and automatically retract when the drill press is in operation. We do not recommend these as they frequently jam up with drilled-out material and do not last long in an industrial environment.

Do You Need Guards for Drill Presses?

According to OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.212 – General requirements for all machines, (a) states that “One or more methods of machine guarding shall be provided to protect the operator and other employees in the machine area from hazards such as those created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks.” Also, OSHA 1910.212(a)(3)(ii) states that “The point of operation of machines whose operation exposes an employee to injury shall be guarded.”

A drill press guard

The Drill Press Shield

A typical heavy-duty adjustable drill press shield is shown. This shield includes an electrical interlock switch that prevents the machine from running while the shield is open.

In this case, the point of operation is the chuck and drill bit; they need some guarding to protect the operator. Placing a shield between the point of operation and the operator is an excellent safeguarding choice. 

A popular safeguarding choice for the point of operation on a drill press would be an adjustable shield bolted directly to the drill press. Ferndale Safety’s model TR-2 safety shield for drill presses is an example of this kind of shield.  This shield also has an electrical safety interlock system that prevents the drill press from starting or running with the shield open.

Safeguard the Belt & Pully Cover

The belt and pulley system transfers power from the motor to the drill bit on a drill press.  We often see these systems on the highest point or top of a regular drill press and have covers to access the manual speed change mechanism.  Noteworthy, not all drill presses have this kind of system.  Gearhead or geared head drill presses have a closed power transmission gearbox that doesn’t have an access cover.  Operators change the speed on gearhead drill presses using controls attached to the gearbox.

You will find a cover on the drive belt and pulleys on standard drill presses to shield the operator from moving parts.  The belt and pulley cover must use a fastener or safety interlock switch that cannot be easily undone by hand to prevent access while in operation.

For a fastener, we recommend installing a socket head cap screw to fasten the cover closed.  A socket head screw will force a user to open it using a tool such as an Allen key.  From experience, many safety inspectors find this an acceptable way to secure it.

Rather than a fastener, you can install an interlock switch on the cover.  This interlocked guarding will disable the machine operating when the lid is open.  You may choose this method if the spindle speed must be changed often by an operator.  A safety engineer may sometimes require a solenoid latching interlock that locks the cover shut until the spindle has completely stopped.

Use a Self-Ejecting Chuck Key

The chuck is part of the drill spindle that holds the bit in place and allows it to rotate. A chuck key is a specialized tool to tighten or loosen the chuck on a drill press. A safety issue with chuck keys is that they can be left inside when unused. From personal experience, I can say that forgetting to remove the key turns it into a projectile! 

A solution to this safety hazard is to use a self-ejecting key.  The self-ejecting key is constructed with a pilot pin on a spring to prevent leaving the key inside the chuck.  If you decide to let go of the key after using it, it harmlessly gets pushed out of the chuck and falls.

Anti-Restart Protection

Anti-restart protection refers to the feature that prevents a machine from starting automatically without human intervention.  Without this safeguard, a drill press that experiences a power outage will restart immediately once the power is restored unless manually turned off during the blackout.  Likewise, suppose you have interlocked guarding installed.  In that case, you don’t want the drill press to restart automatically when a guard is closed.

Installing a motor starter on your drill press is highly recommended to avoid this potential safety hazard.  Ferndale Safety offers effective motor starters that retrofit your drill press with anti-restart protection.

Drill Press Safety Checklist

Although your drill press has safety guards and shields, using a drill press correctly and following safe work procedures is crucial to ensure maximum safety.  You may not think of a drill press as a hazardous machine.  You may have even used a drill press thousands of times without injuries.  However, a quick search on OSHA IMIS Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries Database using the keyword “drill press” will come up with hundreds of accidents, such as amputations and fatalities.

Here are some important safety rules:

  • Read the drill press owner’s manual and understand your machine’s operation properly.
  • Wear the appropriate PPE, which includes safety glasses, ear protection, and safety boots or shoes.
  • Ensure you properly clamp your workpiece to prevent the object from spinning with the drill bit.  Do not hold the workpiece down with only your hands.
  • Bolt the drill press to the floor to prevent it from tipping.  Drill presses with long bases are notorious for being top-heavy!
  • Do not wear any gloves, rings, watches, or bracelets.  Do not wear any loose-fitting clothing, hoodies, or ties, and tie back long hair.
  • Please don’t use your hands to clean sharp chips, as they can be a cutting hazard. Use a brush instead!
  • Do not adjust the drill press or workpiece while the drill bit rotates.  Turn off the machine when changing out workpieces.


Drill press safety is important to prevent accidents and injuries.  When using a drill press, it is essential to follow safety guidelines to ensure the machine operates safely.  Taking the necessary safety precautions and using a safeguarded drill press will help you drill those holes safely!

Want help safeguarding your drill press?  Do you have any questions?

Ferndale Safety can help!  In business for over 50 years, we have seen almost every kind of drill press in existence!

Click here to find out how to contact a drill press guarding safety expert.

Click here to purchase guards and shields for drill presses.

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with us today.

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    Further Reading

    OSHA has a great publication titled “Safeguarding Equipment and Protecting Employees from Amputations.” On page 41 of this document, you can find more information about drill press safety. Click here to download it.


    ANSI O1.1-2013, Woodworking Machinery – Safety Requirements
    ANSI B11.8-2021, Safety Requirements for Milling, Drilling, and Boring Machines with or without Automatic Control
    OSHA 29 CFR 1910.213, Woodworking machinery requirements
    OSHA 29 CFR 1910.212, General requirements for all machines
    OSHA 29 CFR 1910.219 – Mechanical power-transmission apparatus.  Specifically, 1910.219(d)(1) deals with guarding pulleys.
    CSA Z432-2004 (R2014), Safeguarding of Machinery
    BS EN 12717:2001+A1:2009, The safety of machine tools – Drilling machines