Hydraulic presses are important pieces of machinery in many different industries. With a broad variety of specialized and general uses, presses are a necessity for any industrial machine shop. But they also pose a high injury risk for operators. How can you be sure you're being as safe as possible around this heavy, potentially dangerous equipment?

As an owner or operator, you should already require workers to pay close attention to proper practices and equipment safeguards. However, machines aren't guaranteed safe on their own. Human error and mechanical failures can occur. Without safety measures in place, your machine shop can't work to its full potential. Using our hydraulic press safety tips can help you and your employees stay out of harm's way.

What Are Hydraulic Presses Used For And How Do They Work?

Hydraulic presses are large machines designed specifically to compress objects with a ram. They may also be used to cut or punch, drill, straighten and mold — any way you need to transform or manipulate large pieces of metal or strong material.

While presses are capable of a variety of functions, not many other machines can do what a press does — or, at least, not nearly as effectively or on such a large scale. Pneumatic and hydraulic presses work similarly but have a few large differences that set them apart.

Pneumatic actuators rely on air compression for their motion. Hydraulic actuators use compressed oils. The oils don't delay movement and offer a far higher pounds-per-square-inch (psi) capability, making hydraulics more effective at tackling heavy-duty jobs.

There are several different types of hydraulic press systems, all with unique capabilities and uses. The most typical machines you'll see in industrial settings include:

  • H Frame presses: Also called a four-column, H frames are the most typical and versatile type of hydraulic press. They can be used with different dies for straightening, bending, forming, molding, punching or cutting metal objects.
  • C Frame presses: These save a lot of space compared to the larger H frames but maintain similar functionality and versatility on a smaller scale.
  • Arbor presses: Used for a slightly more narrow range, these are primarily for bearing removal, seating stamping, assembly and repairing equipment.
  • Press brakes: Designed specifically for sheet metal and plate material, press brakes clamp material and bend it in predetermined areas. They are used for both large and small sheets.
  • Custom presses: For specialized uses, businesses can order a custom press for their individual needs, designed to their specs.

Like any machine shop necessity, hydraulic presses make work more efficient and complete tasks no other piece of equipment can carry out. However, presses can be highly dangerous machines due to their sheer power and number of moving parts.

How Hydraulic Press Systems Can Fail

leaking oil is typically the result of equipment damage

Unfortunately, hydraulic presses aren't foolproof. Over time and with heavy use, presses can become damaged or worn in crucial areas. They need regular maintenance and care if you expect top performance and years of functionality.

There are several common issues with hydraulic presses, potentially resulting in a broken machine or bodily injury. These include:

  • Oil leaks: This is the most commonly reported problem. Oil can leak from hose fittings, hydraulic lines and even around the ram. Leaking is typically the result of equipment damage, loose fittings, fluid contamination and using the incorrect oil type. Continued leaking puts the machine at high risk for catastrophic failure and chemical hazard, endangering workers.
  • Overheating: A wide array of machine inefficiencies can cause a press to overheat. Hydraulic fluid needs to remain under 180 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature. Any hotter than that, the oil can degrade quickly and cause seal damage, leading to leaks.
  • Loss of pressure: This may sound like more of an inconvenience than anything, but improperly working equipment always has the potential for danger. Slow pressure build can be the result of a pump, relief valve or motor issue. Pressure issues can cause the ram to drop unexpectedly and without being activated.
  • Neglect: A machine is only as good as its weakest part. Without proper care and regular inspection, machines can fail for any number of reasons. Any issue left unrepaired or part left unreplaced can worsen with further use, creating risk for full press failure.

If not correctly cared for, presses can experience any of these failures and more. Daily inspection and regular maintenance can prevent them. Simple repair and safety measures cost far less than the potential damage that comes with leaving issues to worsen.

In many cases, full machine failure can cause your press to become permanently inoperable. More seriously, it can severely injure workers. Accidents caused by faulty machinery — especially a hydraulic press — can result in minor to fatal injury.

The Most Common Hydraulic Press Workplace Accidents

Hydraulic presses are tools, not toys. And like any tool, if improperly used, they can cause accidents — sometimes even if you think you're being safe.

Due to the nature of the hydraulic press and its functions, the most common workplace injuries involve hands and fingers. Pinching and crushing incidents are common. Using a press requires workers to place and shift metal in the area under the ram or near the bending point, exposing them directly to a high-risk scenario. Approximately 49% of power press injuries result in amputation.

Press machines have so much room for failure if not cared for or operated properly, or if a preparation step is skipped. With a heavy ram under a high amount of pressure and no failsafe, the chance of catching a body part in the press may be higher than you'd assume.

So, what are the hazards of a hydraulic press? Catastrophic failures can cause unexpected dangers like:

  • Pressure failure can result in the ram dropping, crushing whatever sits under it at the time.
  • Cracked or loose fittings can rupture, causing hoses to detach.
  • Metal can fracture under pressure and fly in jagged pieces.
  • Under severe conditions, workers can suffer lacerations and puncture wounds from sharp metal, pressurized hydraulic fluid and other projectiles.

Press brakes, in particular, have one of the highest rates of injury, causing more than 350 reported incidents of amputations per year. The press brakes' complicated configuration often requires operators to reach around the machine's safety device. When bending metal sheets with small surface areas, the operator must position their fingers within very close proximity to the point of bending. Even when the device is used properly, the risk of injury is high.

The Best Hydraulic Press Precaution & Safety Tips

hydraulic press training

As a business owner or machinist, you care about the safety of your hydraulic press operators. In order to lower the occupational risks for workers, you need to follow our hydraulic press safety rules and keep up with:

  1. Maintenance: One of the best ways of avoiding potential failure and injury is through preventative machine maintenance. Hydraulic presses are consistently under a lot of stress from high pressure, high temperatures and natural wear. Over time and with heavy use, parts and fluids require regular cleaning and replacement.
  2. Inspection: Give your machines a thorough inspection on a regular basis. You'll want to check any hoses and seals for damage, fittings for cracks and tight fit, fluids for dirt or degradation, and the general body of the machine for any cracks. Pay close attention to any excessive vibrations or strange noises when the machine is running, as they may indicate a need for urgent repair.
  3. Cleanliness: Keeping your hydraulics adequately lubricated and the surrounding area clean is essential not only for the machine to operate correctly but also for the safety of those using it. Lubrication is necessary for a clean stroke, reduced friction and smooth user experience. Clutter, dirt and slick oil can create dangerous circumstances. Make sure there is no potential for slipping or catching clothing on discarded materials.
  4. Training: Any worker using a hydraulic press machine should be knowledgeable in all areas of operation to take proper safety precautions, including how to identify problems and maintain overall safety. Using a press is a specialized job, and knowing how to safely operate a hydraulic press takes experience and skill. Undertrained users have a much higher risk of injury than those who received proper training.

How to Prevent Injury for Your Hydraulic Press Operators

But even when you use precautions, accidents can happen at any time. You need to be sure your workers stay safe under any circumstance, including machine failure and human error. For the best possible protection, make sure to follow our hydraulic press safety requirements listed above and outfit your machines with failsafe locking systems. Not all machines are required to have a failsafe system installed by the original manufacturer. While there are machine guarding standards, they don't guarantee safety. Locking actuators address this gap.

Hydraulic locking actuators and lock systems perform as secondary safety units, in addition to those that may be provided on a press machine. The highest-quality locking systems work by creating an interference fit with the outside diameter of the rod in order to lock it in place — similar to a clamp.

Upon applying hydraulic pressure, the sleeve expands, providing just enough clearance for the rod to complete its stroke. Note that many options on the market won't work in the case of pressure loss, rendering the locking system useless in an emergency need. Your actuator or system should be a guaranteed failsafe. For absolute assurance, it needs to include:

  • Automatic locking: An automatic cylinder response, locking in the case of unexpected pressure release or power failure.
  • Infinite-position locking: The ability to engage the lock at any point in the ram's stroke.
  • Design simplicity: Added moving parts only add complications. Simple design allows for lower risk and less room for mechanical error.

The Importance of Safety & Precaution With Hydraulic Presses

hydraulic press safety

Because hydraulic presses involve heavyweight, high-pressure and dangerous moving elements, hydraulic press safety standards are of the utmost importance. Machinists and press operators already face a risk of workplace accidents within close proximity of the ram stroke. Because they must hold metal objects near the area of impact, operators will suffer most from improper use or inadequate precautions.

Lack of safety precautions can also lead to a failure causing the ram to drop suddenly. Depending on the use and timing, this can mean injury by way of crushing or projectile. The ram can shatter objects completely, sending sharp pieces flying.

Even if a seal is deteriorating or a fitting is loose, it means potential loss of life for anyone near the machine. The numerous possibilities for accident are enough to create serious concern and anxiety for operators. If they aren't guaranteed safety, they won't be able to work efficiently or without high levels of stress.

Less severe but also important, failure and misuse damages the machine. The level of damage ranges from requiring repairs to rendering it useless, which means replacing the unit entirely.

While maintenance and acquiring safety devices for your hydraulic machines can be costly and time-consuming, it is a welcome tradeoff for protecting your workers. With regular practices and failsafe systems in place, your machinists can be efficient and happy knowing they are using a safe device.

Top Qualities to Look for in Hydraulic Press Locking Devices

Like the presses they fit on, not all locking devices are created equal. You want to purchase the best-fitting, most reliable device for your hydraulic press.

Custom building allows you to safeguard just about any of your hydraulic machines, even in restricted spaces and for specialized units. In order to request a custom build, you need to know a number of specifics:

  • Quantity: How many locks do you require?
  • Cylinder information: What are the sizes of the machine's bore and rod? What is the mounting style?
  • Unlock pressure: Is your machine's unlock pressure 2000, 3000 or 5000 psi?
  • Lock: What is the length of your machine's lock?
  • Capacity: What is your machine's required locking capacity?
  • Stroke length: How far does the piston of your hydraulic machine travel in the cylinder?
  • Cushioning: What type of cushioning does your machine have? Is it non-cushioned? Does it have a cushioned rod end, blind end or both?

With this information, you'll be ready to find the right lock system and locking actuator. You need to feel confident you are looking out for your workers' safety. Accidents happen, but you can prepare for them.

Find Failsafe Locking Systems for Hydraulic Presses

hydraulic press safety lock

Bear-Loc® by York Precision Machining and Hydraulics was created for hydraulics operators everywhere. Our system creates a safer, lower-risk environment for you and your workers. With Bear-Loc®, you don't have to choose the closest fitting option. We custom build tailor-fit devices for your machines.

Our responsive team makes the ordering process hassle-free, so you can benefit from a custom Bear-Loc® without any stress. We also offer cost-effective repairs and replacement, just in case you need them.

There is no other hydraulic locking device with all of these features on the market. The complex and proprietary design is privately owned and cannot be reproduced by any other company. Bear-Loc® hydraulic cylinder lockout devices are one-of-a-kind, providing the safest and most reliable option for your business.

Our locking devices will benefit your business for decades of use. Choose to make your systems failsafe with a Bear-Loc® hydraulic actuator or independent locking device. Contact us through our online form to request more information or get started with a no-obligation quote.

What Safety Items Must Be Used When Using a Hydraulic Press?

One of the best ways to keep your workers safe is to mandate the use of safety equipment when operating the hydraulic press.

Personal Protective Equipment

All operators must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent unnecessary hydraulic press injury. Items include:

  • Safety glasses or face masks to protect against flying debris.
  • Ear muffs that meet regulatory agency requirements for noise exposure.
  • Close-fitting clothing, sturdy aprons or vests to reduce the chance of the machine catching apparel.
  • Protective footwear with additional safety features, such as steel toe inserts and tall uppers.
  • Gloves and arm coverings.
  • Protective headgear.

Team members should also remove any jewelry to enhance safety during machine operation.

Guards and Stopping Devices

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires specific safety measures for hydraulic presses. Examples of these requirements include:

  • Point-of-operation guards: OSHA mandates general guards like two-hand tripping devices, physical barriers and electronic safety devices. The agency also requires guards for foot pedals and enclosed pump and motor assemblies.
  • Emergency stopping devices: Standards call for accessible stop buttons and power disconnection methods. OSHA rules also permit presence-sensing devices to automatically stop operation when a person or object disrupts the light beam transmitting between sensors.

York Precision Machining and Hydraulics helps you meet safety requirements with Bear-Loc®, an innovative positive locking device for hydraulic presses. Bear-Loc® automatically engages when hydraulic pressure unexpectedly drops, or when power is lost, to stop operation at any stroke point. Doing so locks in the load and prevents unintentional movement to increase your work site safety.

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Last Updated: December 15th, 2019