Steel channel is an extremely versatile material that can be used to create anything from utility trailers to tool sheds to shelving units. It comes in a variety of sizes, thicknesses and grades, from lightweight channel that can be used for non-critical applications like corner braces to high-straighten versions that are perfect for load-bearing structures such as trailer frames or purlins.
In order to cut, shape and assemble structures that include steel channel, a number of tools will be necessary including potentially dangerous power tools, torches and welding machines. To avoid injuries and expensive medical treatments, care must be taken when working with steel channel.
Here are a few tips that can help you stay safe while working with steel channel and other metals:
1) Be sure Your Tetanus Shots are Up to Date
Tetanus is a medical condition that includes symptoms such as muscle rigidity or spasms, and in severe cases it can cause the jaw to clench tightly closed and prevent normal functions such as eating. This is caused by clostridium tetani bacteria which are readily found in the natural environment and the soil and can easily be transferred into your bloodstream through cuts caused by handling metal. Tetanus boosters are required every 7 to 10 years to minimize the risk of infection. Before working in any area where rusty or dirty metal is present, it is a good idea to make sure you have received a tetanus booster within the last several years.
2) Wear Gloves
When you are loading steel channel onto or into a vehicle, moving it around the project site or installing it, you should always wear a good set of leather work gloves. Steel channel can often have sharp edges especially if it has been recently cut or shaped with a grinder. These edges can approach razor-like sharpness, leading to serious injuries quickly. It is also important to wear long pants and not shorts and to avoid short-sleeved shirts when you are planning to handle large quantifiers of steel channel. This will help minimize exposed skin and prevent injuries.
3) Wear Steel-Toe Boots
Steel channel and other metal products can be extremely heavy and cumbersome, and it is not uncommon to drop a piece while lifting, moving or installing it. Naturally, your feet will likely be in the path of the falling steel, and a good set of steel-toe work boots can protect your toes from harm including minor lacerations and – if the piece is heavy and sharp enough – major injuries.
4) Use Eye Protection
Eyesight is one of the most important senses; when working with steel channel and other metals, your eyesight is especially vulnerable. Tools like drills, grinders and saws can send metal shards flying at high enough velocities to lodge into the tissue of your eyes. Often these shards cannot be removed, and even if they can, they can cause permanent vision changes and pain. Tools like sanders, hammers and wrenches can cause metal dust to fall, which can scratch the eyes or cause more serious injuries, while tools like welders and torches can sens sparks flying that will burn your eyes. Be sure to wear full safety goggles when working with such tools and wear safety glasses with good coverage when handling or moving metals. When welding or using a torch, use the appropriate mask or and goggles to avoid permanent vision damage. Even a few seconds of looking at an unshielded arc can cause permanent damage and is similar to staring at the sun.
5) Wear Ear Protection
Even short exposure to loud noises (especially at higher pitches) can cause irreparable harm to your hearing. When cutting steel channel with a grinder or a saw, use ear protection (such as ear plugs) to prevent damage from the loud screeching noises that will be created.
6) Use Welding Gloves
When welding pieces of steel together or using a torch to cut through the material, extremely hot shards of metal and sparks will be thrown everywhere which often cannot be easily avoided. To prevent burns, wear welding gloves and fire-resistant clothing as well as a full mask when welding or using a torch.
7) Wear a Respirator
Sanding, grinding, welding, cutting or using a torch on steel channel or other metals can release dangerous fumes which can lead to serious respiratory illnesses with enough exposure. Galvanized steel is especially dangerous. Use a full respirator when welding, using the torch or anything else that may heat the metal.
8) Check the Ground
Welding machines put out significant amounts of current in order to generate the arc necessary to melt steel pieces together, and if you are not careful, that current is strong enough to cause severe injuries or even death. When welding, always make sure that you have a good ground connection and that you never place yourself in the path of the current.
9) Keep a Fire Extinguisher Handy
Welding, cutting, grinding or using a torch on steel or other metals will produce extremely hot sparks. Keep all flammable materials such as paper or volatile chemicals away from the work area while also keeping a fire extinguisher handy in case of emergencies. If welding outdoors, beware of dry conditions or high winds and have plenty of water available in case of a brush fire. Follow all local ordinances when welding outdoors to avoid fines.
10) Use Tools Safely
Power tools such as saws, grinders and drills can be extremely dangerous if not used properly. Always read and follow the owner’s manual and applicable operating procedures when using power tools. Avoid awkward working angles or tight spaces and relocate if necessary to find a more comfortable position. Make sure that any moving parts have fully stopped before setting down portable power tools and be sure that all cords, hoses and other equipment is in good condition to avoid injuries. Route power cords and hoses through areas with less traffic to avoid trip hazards and repair or replace faulty equipment immediately.
By taking these simple steps you can increase your safety and avoid serious injuries while working with steel channel and other metals. While some of these steps may seem cumbersome or inconvenient, trips to a doctor or a hospital will likely be a far greater inconvenience and can be quite expensive.