Safety Guidelines For Using Abrasive Wheels

Using an abrasive-wheel safely and competently is the focus of this article. While using such equipment is, in theory, a simple process, it can also be lethal.

Using an abrasive wheel can be one of two things: a rewarding, powerful tool to get the job done quickly and correctly, or a fatal accident waiting to happen. A worker in the golfing industry, while working on a wrought-iron gate, was killed using an abrasive wheel - it's not something to take lightly. Too often corners are cut, or out-of-spec machinery is used in an effort to save time and money. Unfortunately, the result is often lethal.

The worker above was using a 10,000 RPM angle grinder, while the grinding stone was rated for 6,110 RPM. In addition to these important specification differences, the size of the 6,110 RPM stone was 5 inches, which would not allow the installation of the safety guard. The abrasive wheel broke, a piece of which severed a major artery in the worker's thigh; he did not survive. Could this horrifying, deadly accident have been prevented? Taking every precaution possible when working with potentially dangerous equipment is the only way to reduce the chance for something like this to happen again. In the following paragraphs we'll cover the most important facets of abrasive wheel safety.

The grinding machine should be as stable as possible. Bench-mounted machines should be well secured in any way available. In an industrial environment, safety signs and operational specifications must be clearly visible and easy to understand. The operational specs should include maximum speeds, tolerances and other important details. A way to start and stop the machinery should be within easy reach of the operator, clearly labeled and well maintained. It should also be quick to operate in case of an emergency where seconds are critical.

When a wheel is received, it must be examined carefully. After inspection, it should be cleaned with a soft brush and again scanned for surface damage. Provided that a visual examination proves the wheel to be in good condition, a "ring test" or "ring of truth" should be conducted. This test is simple, as you can simply use a non-metallic object (screwdriver handles are always nearby in any shop, making them the typical tool for this job) to strike the wheel. A clear ring should be heard. If the ring is very dull or dead, then the wheel is flawed and unsafe to use. All wheels should be stored in areas that are both cool and dry. It's common practice to fabricate special bins for them, well labeled and organized.

But how do you select a wheel? The process isn't complicated, but must be followed to ensure your tools remain reliable and safe. The speed rating of the wheel should never fall short of the speed rating of the spindle or grinder, and should be one of the first things you check. The material to be used by the machine is also a key point, going hand in hand with the machine type itself. The finish required, and the area of the wheel needed to make contact with the work item, must all be taken into account. By keeping all of these parameters in mind you can avoid a costly revision or, far worse, an injured person.

When mounting a wheel, it's important that the person doing the mounting is both competent and experienced. If such a person cannot be located, it's advised that you request training assistance from the manufacturer of the machine before attempting to operate it. Several industrial sites have a registry of their trained employees that may actually mount the abrasive wheels, a practice that is highly recommended. The guards should all be in place, double and triple checked, before operation.

When operation finally takes place, the operators themselves must be trained and well-versed in the safety practices of the company or site - this includes ways to get help quickly in an emergency. The work area must be clean and clear of debris and objects. One person should operate the machine at a time.

Never leave the machine running if it isn't actively being used by a competent operator.

© High Speed Ventures 2011