Abrasive wheels are a wide range of tools used for performing operations like cutting, grinding, and sanding at the workplace. A standard form of the abrasive wheel is the rotating abrasive wheel, which is used for both handheld and bench-mounted operations.
Despite being a commonly used piece of equipment worldwide, abrasive wheels are known for posing threats and health hazards to those using them, making abrasive wheels one of the leading causes of workplace injury in the UK.
In the UK, according to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were approximately 350 reported non-fatal injuries involving abrasive wheels in the workplace in the latest available reporting year.
Due to the health hazards abrasive wheels pose, there are regulations regarding abrasive wheels that place legal duties on employers. Failure to comply with the abrasive wheel regulation would be accounted as a breach of the law.
Any employer that requires their workers to use tools like abrasive wheels in the workplace should be aware of the regulations and legal duties surrounding their use. This blog will thoroughly provide you with information regarding abrasive wheel regulations and the following topic.
Characteristics of abrasive wheels
An abrasive tool is a “wheel made up of abrasive particles that are bonded together by various substances”, as per the definition provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Abrasive particles that make up an abrasive wheel can be bonded with inorganic or organic substances.
Inorganic bonding takes place with the firing of the wheel in a furnace to shape it into a strong and hard form. An inorganic abrasive wheel is usually used for precision grinding work.
Organic bonds comprise bonding agents such as resin, rubber, and shellac. Organic-made abrasive wheels are highly durable and shock resistant. Therefore, they are commonly used in cutting operations.
In conclusion, abrasive wheels are used for work operations that include grinding, polishing, cutting, and sanding materials such as wood, tile, metal, and concrete.
The risk associated with abrasive wheels
According to the reports mentioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than half of all workplace accidents related to abrasive wheels occur due to operator error or unsafe working conditions.
Due to the high rotating speed of abrasive wheels and their power, they can be hazardous to operators and people in their vicinity.
Some of the common causes of abrasive wheel breakages are:
- Improper storage methods
- Wrong wheel choice
- Undue speed
- Equipment defects
- Improper mounting
- Out of balance conditions
- Incorrect grinding or cutting procedures
Abrasive wheel hazards
Abrasive wheels can cause multiple health hazards, some of which include:
- Eye injuries: Flying debris, dust, sparks, or abrasive particles fly into the operator’s eye and cause injury.
- Inhalation of dust and particles: Abrasive wheels generate dust and fine particles that can become airborne. Upon inhalation of these particles, it can cause respiratory issues.
- Hearing loss: Abrasive wheel operations normally generate a high volume of noise. Prolonged exposure to such noise volumes can cause temporary or even permanent hearing loss.
- Vibration-related disorders: The use of handheld or portable abrasive tools can expose workers to excessive vibrations. Prolonged exposure to vibrations can result in hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), which can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and arms.
- Cuts and amputation: Mishandling or improper use of abrasive wheels can lead to accidents resulting in cuts or even amputation of fingers or limbs.
Abrasive wheel legislation
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations Act 1998 (PUWER)
PUWER regulates the use of abrasive wheels in the UK. These regulations replace the outdated 1992 PUWER regulations.
PUWER places a legal duty on employers to supply their workers with appropriate work equipment, such as abrasive wheels, within the requirements and purpose. Employers should take certain measures to ensure that all tools and machinery are properly installed and not in a downgraded condition.
The PUWER dictates that abrasive wheels should be kept in good condition and safe for work operations. Furthermore, employers should hire designated employees or third-party services and assign them to maintain and inspect all the machinery and tools that contain abrasive wheels.
PUWER primarily emphasizes the training of all the workers that operate abrasive wheels. The workers performing operations related to abrasive wheels must be adequately trained in abrasive wheel training and must contain a proper certification that showcases their competency and skills regarding abrasive wheel operations. Personal protective equipment such as safety clothing, goggles, gloves, hearing protection, and boots should be provided to the employees working with abrasive wheels.
Additionally, the workplace must have adequate health and safety policies, including health and safety measures, guarding, emergency stop mechanisms, warning devices, and visible markings.
Other abrasive wheel regulations
- Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 – This regulation emphasizes the health and safety of employees in the workplace.
- The Personal Protective Equipment Regulation 1992 – This regulation makes it a legal requirement for employers to provide their staff with appropriate safety equipment and tools for workplace operations.
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) – COSHH outlines the responsibilities of employers regarding the handling and disposal of hazardous substances in the workplace.
- Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2022 – This legislation ensures safety related to high noise-producing work operations, ensuring that workers are protected from such high noise volumes.
Employer duties under the abrasive wheel regulations
Many regulations place legal duties regarding health and safety in the workplace on the shoulders of employers. As they are legally bound to comply with the regulations, employers must take proactive measures in the workplace to ensure compliance with the laws.
Employers are responsible for supplying safe and suitable work equipment to their workers. Inspecting and checking abrasive wheel tools, ensuring that they are safely designed, appropriately marked, and come with a declaration of conformity.
But more is needed; the health and safety regulations want more actions from the employers. Employers are responsible for training their staff on how to maintain their well-being while conducting abrasive wheel operations. For that, the employers must provide multiple training such as abrasive safety training, IOSH working safely training, risk assessment training, and PPE training.
Under the health and safety regulations, employers are also accountable for conducting risk assessments in their workplace. A risk assessment for abrasive wheels would allow the employer to analyze and identify hazards related to them and evaluate effective control measures to reduce exposure to such hazards.
The legal requirement for abrasive wheels manufacturers
The abrasive leave regulations do not leave the manufacturers alone and place some legal duties on them under the Health and Safety Act 1974. The HSE 1974 requires that the manufacturer only supply equipment once it has been tested and marked as safe under specific conditions.
- Fibre reinforcement
- Steel rings
- Safety inserts
- Tape winding
- Fine grit centres
The markings on an abrasive wheel must include information such as:
- Maximum speed to which the wheel can go
- Restrictions of use
- Shelf life of the abrasive wheel
- Traceable manufacturing numbers
- Dimensions of the wheel
- Test record number of the wheel
- ISO type number
- Mounting instructions
- Manufacturer’s trademark
Abrasive wheel regulations are in place to safeguard workers and prevent accidents in industries where these wheels are commonly used. Understanding and complying with these regulations is essential for maintaining a safe working environment. By following proper storage practices, conducting regular inspections, providing training, and using appropriate PPE, businesses can ensure the responsible use of abrasive wheels. Let us prioritize workplace safety and prioritize compliance with abrasive wheel regulations. Together, we can create safer and more secure work environments for everyone involved.
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