Machine Shop Safety for Managers

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“Building a Strong Foundation: Machine Shop Safety for Managers, Supervisors, and Safety Engineers”

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

A photo of presses where machine shop safety would be important.

Thousands of machine shops are spread nationwide and play a vital role in manufacturing.  However, ensuring these shops meet safety standards can be challenging, especially for those not directly involved in machine operations.  This article on machine shop safety is not just for managers, supervisors, and safety engineers who may be new to this field but also for machine operators who would like a safety refresher.  Join us as we dive right in to help you establish and maintain a safe working environment.

Operator Training

I believe that a comprehensive training plan for machine operators is of utmost importance.  Operators should undergo machine-specific training, enabling them to become familiar with the mechanical components, safe work procedures, and safety hazards during operation.  Moreover, they should adhere to safe work practices, such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and following established safety protocols. At the end of this article, I will provide some links to articles that go into specific machine safety and guarding.

Ensuring that machinery in the shop is operated solely by qualified individuals who have received proper training on the specific machines is very important.  This requirement cannot be overstated.  Allowing untrained personnel or unauthorized individuals to operate the machinery can have severe consequences, as exemplified by a real-life incident involving a janitor who utilized a company’s machines for personal projects after hours.  Tragically, the lack of training and experience necessary to safely operate the equipment resulted in the amputation of the janitor’s finger.  This incident is a stark reminder of the importance of strictly enforcing the rule that only qualified and trained personnel should handle machinery in a machine shop setting. If you’re in a big company with many employees, consider installing a key system to limit who can use specific machines, such as the EKS from Euchner.

Understanding Risks in Machine Shops

Machine shops house conventional types of machinery like milling machines and drill presses. Each of these machines has specific risks and safety considerations you must address.  Mechanical hazards, such as rotating parts and pinch points, should be mitigated with proper machine guarding.  Electrical safety measures, including lockout/tagout procedures, must be followed to prevent electrical hazards.  Caution is essential to prevent cutting and piercing injuries related to cutting and tooling hazards. Material handling risks, such as heavy lifting and repetitive motions, should be minimized to avoid musculoskeletal problems.

Never Work Alone (Two-Man Rule)

One of the fundamental principles in workplace safety is never to work alone. A two-man rule can be used as a control mechanism to ensure that at least two people are present in the immediate area of operation. The two-man rule is a standard safety practice in machine shops and ensures that someone is available to call for help if a worker is injured.

Operator Safety Rules

As a manager or supervisor responsible for overseeing machine shop operations and ensuring the safety of your employees, you may have never personally operated any of the machinery under your management.  While your role may not require hands-on use of the equipment, your understanding of the machines and shop safety is important to managing and mitigating potential risks effectively.  By familiarizing yourself with the machinery, grasping the associated hazards, and promoting a safety culture, you can confidently guide your team toward a secure and productive working environment.  Look closely at how the machine operators work and see if you can spot any of these unsafe work habits:

  1. Hazardous: Someone is walking behind a machine while the machine is in use.
  2. Distraction: An operator is talking to a coworker or friend while operating his machine.
  3. Awareness: A worker is using earbuds or earphones to listen to music.
  4. Hazardous: More than one person is operating the machine at the same time.  Example: A helper cleans the machine while the operator makes adjustments.
  5. Hazardous: A machine is running without anyone present.
  6. Entanglement hazard: A machinist takes measurements on a workpiece while the machine is on and running.
  7. Amputation hazard: A machine operator uses his hand to slow down and stop a spindle or chuck.

Maintaining Cleanliness

A clean and organized machine shop is essential for safety and efficiency. Regular housekeeping is necessary to remove debris, oil, and other hazards from floors, workstations, and machinery. Proper tool, material, and equipment storage in designated areas prevents tripping hazards and ensures easy access. Spills, especially oils and coolants, must be cleaned up quickly to avoid slips and falls.

Promoting Ergonomics: Consider ergonomic factors to minimize strain and injuries.  Ensure workstations are designed with adjustable heights, proper lighting, and sufficient space for operators.

Train employees in safe lifting and material handling techniques, including using mechanical aids and maintaining a neutral posture. Encourage regular breaks and job rotation to reduce repetitive tasks, overexertion, and fatigue.


Creating a safe machine shop environment is crucial for personnel well-being and accident prevention. Managers, supervisors, and safety engineers can establish a safety culture by focusing on comprehensive operator training, understanding the risks associated with conventional machinery, maintaining cleanliness, and promoting ergonomic practices. Continuous monitoring, regular safety audits, and open communication channels are essential to preserving and improving machine shop safety.

Want Help?

If you’re unsure of specific machine safety requirements, call Ferndale Safety. Ferndale Safety’s machine safety experts have seen almost every kind of machine in thousands of machine shops across the continent. They can help you audit your machine shop and determine if any safety upgrades should be made to comply with OSHA and corporate safety guidelines.

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