Metal lathe safety rules

Updated February 21, 2017

Insurance companies, individual government and EU rulings and the Health and Safety Executive set forth rules regarding the safety of machine shop equipment and employees. One particular piece of equipment that poses safety hazards for the operator is the metal lathe. Because the machine rotates at high speeds and its operation requires sharp cutting devices, there are some general rules that apply to its safe operation. A metal lathe operator should be an individual thoroughly trained in operation and safety by a qualified instructor.


Before beginning a job, a metal lathe operator should make sure the area around the machine is unobstructed and there is a safety mat in place. All the lathe's guards should be properly set up, and metal being lathed must be secured and clamped in place. The chuck key needs to be removed and secured in its proper storage place; all other tools should be removed from the lathe's slides and bed. It is important to keep all of the lathe's cutting tools sharp and to keep the lathe's handbook stored in a safe place near the machine.


The lathe operator should never make adjustments while the machine is operating, and the drive cover must remain in place. The chuck must come to a stop by itself; trying to slow or stop it from spinning by hand is dangerous. If adjustments need to be made, the machine must first come to a complete stop. It is essential to keep swarf, the metallic particles that result from cutting, from building up on the machine; if necessary, the lathe should be stopped, and then the swarf can be removed.


Lathe operators should close guards when the machine is not in use. After each use, the lathes should be thoroughly cleaned and oiled to ensure safe future operation. All swarf on the floor should be disposed of and the floor cleaned and degreased after each use. The switch should be in the "off" position and the machine left unplugged when not in use.


A metal lathe operator must always wear gloves and safety glasses when operating the machine and should avoid loose-fitting clothing. Steel-toed shoes or work boots are the required footwear; operators should remove rings and other jewellery before operating the machine. A person wearing a tie should never come close to a metal lathe. Operators should wear their hair short or use a hairnet.


Machine maintenance presents potential safety hazards, so operators must take care while sharpening the cutting tools. Because swarf contains metal splinters, gloves should be worn even when cleaning and maintaining the lathe. Anytime a machine is rotating, there is a risk of objects flying off the machine or clothing becoming entangled. The operator, as well as everyone in the shop, should wear safety glasses while machinery is in operation.

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About the Author

Peggy Epstein is a freelance writer specializing in education and parenting. She has authored two books, "Great Ideas for Grandkids" and "Family Writes," and published more than 100 articles for various print and online publications. Epstein is also a former public school teacher with 25 years' experience. She received a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction from the University of Missouri.