Metal polishing cleans, brightens, and restores solid or plated items made of gold, silver, stainless steel, brass, copper, aluminum, nickel, chrome, or other metals and alloys. Achieving a smooth and shiny finish requires tools like fixed, tabletop, or hand-held grinders, polishers, and buffers. Solvents, acids, and various abrasive materials are used to degrease, clean, buff, and polish metals. Metal polishing can create a variety of hazards including chemical exposure, entrapment/entanglement, noise exposure, and ergonomics.

For protection, workers should follow safety precautions and use personal protective equipment (PPE). Gloves, safety goggles, and face shields provide protection for the hands and eyes. Barrier creams can be used to protect exposed skin from absorption of chemicals or metals. Respiratory protection may be needed to prevent inhalation of chemical fumes and metal dusts that are created during polishing. Earplugs or earmuffs provide protection from noise hazards.

Machine guarding

Most of the tools to grind, polish, and buff metals have moving or rotating parts that can be entanglement and pinch point hazards. Fixed and table top machinery with exposed rotating spindles (or arbors) that hold polishing pads should be guarded to prevent entanglement. The ends of the spindles should be covered with “acorn nuts” or “cap nuts” with domed tops. Workers must secure their hair, jewelry, and clothing to ensure that it does not become entangled in moving machinery.

Tools with safety features are best. Variable direction exhausts point metal exhaust away from the worker. Insulated machinery housing helps to reduce noise. Hand-held tools with shock-resistant handles prevent vibration and hand fatigue for better ergonomics. Tools with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) prevent electric shock.

Chemical dangers

The chemicals used for metal polishing may be flammable or hazardous. The safety data sheet (SDS) for each chemical should be consulted prior to use. Chemicals should be used in well-ventilated areas away from smoking and sources of flame. Chemicals should never be mixed and chemical-soaked rags should be properly disposed.

Housekeeping is important – too much fine dust suspended in the air can create an explosion hazard. Work areas should be vacuumed and cleaned up frequently to reduce dust levels. Workers should change vacuums and cleaning materials when changing metals—mixing dusts from different metals can be explosive. Tools, buffers, and cloths should also be cleaned frequently and changed prior to switching metalwork.

Use metal polishing tools and chemicals properly and keep a bright shine on your safety.