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How to safely operate a lathe

Used in metal and woodworking applications, lathes may be manually operated or semi-automatic. There are small lathes suitable for DIY projects and huge machines used in industrial environments. The one thing all lathes have in common is that they have the potential to cause serious injuries at work, even death, if not handled correctly or defective in some manner.

Lathe accidents at work

While safely operating a lathe depends partially on the type and size of the tool employed and the setting where it is used, there are some steps all operators can and should take to prevent working accidents. These steps include:

  • Wearing eye protection
  • Wearing tight fitting clothing (sleeves in particular must fit tightly)
  • Tying long hair back
  • Removing jewellery, ties, scarves, and so forth

If lathes have to be moved, it is important to follow safe manual handling procedures in order to prevent manual handling accidents causing potentially serious back injuries.

Preventing work accidents

Some lathe-related accidents are caused by operators slipping or tripping near working machines. It is therefore vital to keep work areas clean, tidy and free of potential trip and slip hazards. When operating lathes, it is necessary to follow manufacturer instructions, training, and safety procedures. In addition, workers can prevent work-related injuries by:

  • Never leaving chuck keys in lathe chucks
  • Keeping lathes free of dust and debris to prevent chattering
  • Allowing lathes to ‘warm up’ before commencing work
  • Keeping clear of moving parts
  • Keeping clear of turnings
  • Keeping lathes in good working order

Emery cloth and workplace injuries

Some operations (especially those in metal working) may involve the use of emery cloth. To prevent accidental injuries, long, loose strips of emery board should not be used for this purpose. Instead, strips of emery board should be attached to tool posts, high quality wooden backing boards, or nutcracker-like tools lined with emery board. Another alternative is to use abrasive-impregnated hand-held wire brushes. More detailed information on the safe use of lathes can be found at and in the Health & Safety Executive’s:

Industrial injury claims

If you were injured by lathe accident through someone else’s fault within the past three years, there is a good chance that you are entitled to work injury compensation. Visit Accident Advice Helpline’s website or call their freephone number to find out if and how to claim for compensation.