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Working with Scrap Metal Safely

Posted on 10/10/2017

We all love a bit of scrap metal art, and it's become a really popular style over the years.

Scrap metal soldier (image from BBC)

Creating something intricate and powerful out of recycled scrap seems to just push a lot of the right buttons – and it's been the form of some high-profile projects, such as the scrap metal soldier built at the beginning of 2017 to mark the end of the first world war (image from BBC).

Elsewhere, artists, crafters and makers are using scrap to bring some amazing sculptures to life – such as the artists at Metalmodelhouse, who have created these amazing sci-fi statues, including loads of Star Wars characters!

But with more and more people giving working with scrap a go, we thought it would be a good idea to share some of our expertise on how to do it safely, all of which comes from handling scrap metal day-in and day-out for over 30 years.


Manual handling basics

As well as the specific possibility for injuries that you can have when working with scrap metal, there's also the risk of working with heavy things that come from just about any industrial activity. And scrap metal can be very heavy!

Sprains, strains, back injuries, and even broken bones can occur when you don't lift heavy things correctly. Make sure you bend at the knees when bending to lift things, avoid storing heavy items on platforms that are too high or too low, and get some help if something is too big to grasp properly on your own.

Breaking up heavier items is a good way to avoid injuring yourself – but we'll come to that later.


The safety gear you'll need for working with scrap metal

There's a big potential for even more serious injuries than those that come from bad manual handling when working with scrap metal. Heavy objects with sharp edges can cause all sorts of cuts and puncture wounds, from the minor to the fatal.

We recommend, as a minimum precaution, always wearing:

  • Gloves – preferably something study, like Kevlar or leather.
  • Sleeves – your forearms should definitely be covered.
  • Sturdy footwear – steel toecaps and reinforced soles are both ideal.
  • Eye protection – even just simple goggles.
  • Headgear – if you're in an environment where something could fall from above, a helmet is essential.

This safety gear is important if you're going to be working with scrap metal extensively – if you're just loading up a van to bring your scrap to us, then boots and a good, sturdy pair of gloves to avoid cuts and scratches should be enough. Once you're here, we have plenty of health and safety procedures in place to keep our staff and visitors safe.


How to cut scrap metal

There are a number of ways to break up scrap metal, and the easiest for artists wanting to work with scrap would probably be torch or saw cutting.

When using saws, it's important to wear all the right PPE as mentioned above. When using a hot torch, there are a lot of risks to address – not just flying sparks, but also ultraviolet and infrared radiation from the tools. Dark goggles with UV and IR protection are essential – and a full-face shield may be preferable. Lenses have different shield strengths, and cutting metal in this way will usually need a higher one.

Most importantly, cut metal will be hot – don't touch it until it's cooled down.

When working with scrap, just be careful – and if you have any questions about any aspect of recycling metals then don't hesitate to give us a call.

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