Safety First – Making Sure the Daily Grind Doesn’t Kill You

Although often the subject of ridicule in the national press – we won’t focus on conker banning or the dangers of pancake tossing. Our focus is the serious issues – the dangers that will blind you, cripple you or kill you.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any locksmiths are self employed, almost always work alone and can work in confrontational situations such as repossessions. Or they may be using equipment or systems ‘in the field’ that are hazardous by their nature. Locksmiths don’t have a health and safety representative looking over their shoulder and offering advice – so they pretty well have to look out for themselves – and that can be hazardous in itself…accidents invariably occur because people miss the obvious. It only takes a second for an accident to change someone’s life.

The angle grinder and broken disc that killed a welder

We’ll tackle the issues mentioned above in forthcoming articles. But first I want to look at the dangers surrounding the use of grinders – and especially angle grinders.

Specialist training

I attended a specialist training course arranged by John Harding for MLA members at Abtec in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. ( – t. 01945 585500). Abtec is a supplier of all things grinding and smoothing (you should see the piles of sanding sheets and grinding wheels). The Trainer, Mike Ring was very laid back and informative, answering questions and feeding off the comments made by the ever helpful MLA members. This article is not intended to replace proper training just to make you aware that you need to do something about it – NOW – and attending a training course is a very sensible option.

Abrasive wheel regulations have now been replaced by PUWER or the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, which actually applies to everyone except DIY’ers in their own home.

All grinders, either fixed or portable come within the scope of this act and as such operators are required to be trained in their correct and safe use. This training should be recorded, and in my case, a certificate of attendance issued.

The risks

Spinning cutting wheels, by their very nature, pose a specific risk to the operator and to anyone within shrapnel range. Specifically:

  • Lack of proper training. Obvious really but in the wrong and untrained hands, grinders can, and have, caused fatal accidents. . These include the loss of fingers and eyes – clearly serious, crippling injuries.
  • Wrong wheel for the job in hand i.e. steel cutting for brick.
  • Poor machine maintenance i.e. worn or damaged parts and worn bearings.
  • Overspeeding of the wheel. Wheels have a maximum, ‘never exceed speed’, and should be clearly marked on the wheel – although with some makes, this may be ground down with the reduction in blade size. A 4.5 inch wheel can have an edge speed in excess of 180mph.
  • underspeeding. Worn down blades are travelling slower at the cutting edge. This then requires more pressure to cut at the same rate, which generates an increase in heat. The combination of undue strain on the blade and heat stress could lead to a failure of the bonding material.
  • Grinding wheels that do not conform to EN 12413 or have the OSA quality mark should be avoided. As in many markets, cheap imports are not up to standard.
  • Have exceeded their shelf life. Each wheel will have a use by date. This is because the resin bonding will break down over time, especially if kept in the back of vans, on top of heaters, in the sun or in the bottom of the tool box. Check and discard out of date wheels.
  • Wrong machine for the type of wheel or job. Using an angle grinder to sharpen chisels, using a bench grinder to cut a steel bar in half. Using a 9” blade in a 4.5inch grinder etc., all have the ability to cause catastrophic failures.
  • Incorrect wheel mounting and over-tightening of the fixing; using the wrong bore size for the spindle; or reversing the fixing hubs to get a better fit are all potentially dangerous. Over-tightening the spindle nut can and will cause micro fractures and early wheel failure
  • Finally, negligence. I don’t have enough time to make a list here – use your imagination.


Hazards break down in to the following:

Immediate Hazards

  1. Contact, either with skin or body parts, clothing or electric cables etc.
  2. Impact, from a wheel breaking-up or material being worked on flung far and wide.
  3. Fire. From sparks hitting flammable material in the work area or the accumulation of material in the machine guard or surrounding area. These can smoulder for hours and start a fire long after the machine has been stopped. (Ask me how I know sometime.)
  4. Electrics. Cutting through the machine’s cable or electrical installations while cutting floors, walls etc.

Other Hazards

  1. Dust, from both the wheel and the materials being worked can affect the operator and surrounding people and also foodstuffs etc.
  2. Vibration. Continual use has its own specific industrial injury – Vibration White Finger. It is now law that exposure to vibration should be monitored and controlled.
  3. Noise. To the operator and adjacent people.
  4. Environmental factors such as cutting open an oil drum, or working near fuel sources. Sparks can ignite waste materials very easily – and daft as it may seem, people have been seriously injured cutting open oil containers.

Other Factors

The above do not include factors such as a chipped or damaged wheel; micro fractures not visible to the eye; contamination of the wheel causing resin break down or wheel imbalance; the warping of the wheel; or poor storage.

Eye protection

The correct type of eye protection should always be worn – it is imperative that employers set a good example and insist that workers always wear suitable goggles or masks. Standard eye protection such as safety glasses may simply not be sufficient. Specifying the correct personal protective equipment for the job has to be a serious consideration… but more on that in another article.

Consequences of failure

This is only a fraction of the information that I gleaned at my brief training course. As I said, what I’ve written here is not intended to teach or make you a qualified person, but just to show you how little you know and how much you need to address this training issue. If you use an angle grinder to cut chain, padlocks, bolts on outward doors etc., you need training and certification. If it all goes to pooh you may find your insurance is null and void, you have the Health & Safety Executive prosecuting you and the courts selling off your home, van and stock to pay out compensation.

Anything spinning at speed has the potential to cause personal injury

Learning by mistakes

I once in my youth tried to cut the socket for a bolt keep in a steel door frame. Having cut the required chain drilled shape, I thought a quick short cut would be to use an angle grinder. All went well until the blade snatched, chipped, hit hard, broke up – and a piece of it struck my face above the eye. Shaking, I put down the grinder down to see a splatter of blood on the floor. One inch lower and I would have lost the eye – and who knows what else? I looked at the still spinning cutter as my hands began to shake and thought ‘I’m never gonna take stupid shortcuts and risks ever again’.

Value of training

Was this training worthwhile and value for money? Oh yes! I ditched three wheels because they were four years out of date and ordered a new pair of the appropriate eye protection.

Some useful information is available on the Abtec website and on

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.