Plasma cutter safety

Written by joshua benjamin
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Plasma cutter safety
Plasma cutters are highly efficient but highly dangerous if misused. (torch image by Guy Verville from Fotolia.com)

Plasma cutters are one of the metal-shaping industry's most potent tools, and also among the most dangerous if mishandled. Plasma cutters function by directing a stream of superheated plasma--superheated to 16649 degrees Celsius--moving at speeds in excess of 20,000 feet per second, so proper precautions are essential when working with one. Plasma cutters don't so much "cut" as they "vaporise."

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Fire hazards

When it comes to plasma cutter safety, it is vitally important that you not use a plasma cutter around anything flammable. Because the plasma stream reaches such high temperatures, it can ignite flammable materials with disturbing ease. Also, a plasma cutter produces a large amount of sparks whenever it cuts through metals or other materials. These sparks can travel a long distance from the actual cutting table, so all flammable materials must be at least 35 feet away from the cutter.

Holding the Material

Because plasma cutters can burn through just about anything that crosses in front of the cutting stream in a matter of seconds, never hold the material you are cutting near the cutting path. Even a near miss with the intensely hot cutting stream can cause severe burning and injury.

Protective Gear

Always wear the appropriate protective gear when working with any type of heavy or dangerous machinery. For the plasma cutter, this gear includes gloves to protect your hands from any errant sparks or bits of molten metal. Also, always wear protective goggles, much like a welder's mask. The plasma cutter emits large amounts of ultraviolet radiation that can severely damage your eyes--not to mention the intensely bright light where the cutting stream intersects the metal.

Fumes

Every metal cut by a plasma torch produces fumes and gases when it comes in contact with the cutting stream, and many of these fumes can cause severe health problems if inhaled. Make sure that your work area is properly ventilated, and never put your head directly over the plasma cutter. If you need to get a better look at the area you are cutting, look at the cutting area from the side. Wear a mask whenever you are cutting metal as an added layer of protection against the fumes.

Grounded

Plasma cutters use electricity to generate the spark needed to ignite the plasma. Because of this, ensure that you yourself are properly grounded whenever you are working with a plasma cutter. Never use a plasma cutter in a wet environment, and always inspect the cutter's wiring before attempting to do any work with it. If you spot any frayed or exposed wiring, do not use the cutter until you can it is fixed properly.

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