In an industry that employs more than one million people in the U.S. alone¹, it’s important to get safety right.
Go ahead: ask anyone whose job it is to care about health and safety in the plastics industry. What’s Job #1? Most will immediately give you an answer like this: proper machinery operation. Here’s a short roundup of the most important issues at hand for EHS professionals who work in plastics.
Machine Guarding in Plastics Machinery
Inadequate machine guarding is important in any industry, but perhaps even more so in plastics processing, where machinery is especially complex. The combination of high temperatures, high voltage and a multitude of moving parts can potentially cause serious safety concerns.
Horizontal Injection Molding Machines
- From time to time, operators may need to remove plastic parts or loosen parts, which is scenario #1 for potential hazards. To prevent injuries, make sure there’s an operator’s gate. This will keep operators from accessing moving parts while the machine is in production mode.
- Feeding materials into production machines is another scenario where workplace injuries often occur. Heated barrels can cause burns, as can drops from splattering, hot plastic. Vapors from the production process can also cause steam burns and/or inhalation hazards. To reduce incidents, the area where injection takes place should be insulated. There should also be warning signs placed in high thermal activity. Finally, the hopper feed area should have a physical guard in place to keep workers at a safe distance.
- According to OSHA², most hazards from thermoforming machines occur when the extra-large and heavy sheets of plastic are being fed into the machine itself (roll handling). In this case, safety measures are focused on the material handling equipment, not the thermoforming machines themselves.
- Once the humongous rolls have been loaded onto the machines, the main hazard stems from “pinch points”. Solutions here include guarding devices that can sense the presence of employees near and stop production when necessary.
Of course, this is only an introduction to safety along the production line in plastics. For more information, consult the OSHA websites referenced below.
1. Safety and Health Topics: Plastics Industry. U.S. Department of Labor. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/plastics/index.html
2. Machine Guarding: Thermoforming Machines. U.S. Department of Labor. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/machineguarding/plastics/thermoform_machine.html