Shop Safety

Columbia University Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S), in conjunction with faculty and shop managers, have developed Shop Safety Policy for those who currently, or may in the future, use power tools and heavy machinery in laboratories and academic shops. This Policy DOES NOT replace the formal machine specific training provided by your supervisor. Only trained personnel are permitted to use shop equipment. Failure to follow safety rules can result in injury to yourself and /or others and will result in your removal from the shop and delay in finishing your work.

At least two trained persons (Buddy System) must be in the shop when power tools are being used unless permission from your supervisor is obtained. Before starting work, ALWAYS secure long hair and loose clothing and remove necklaces, ties, dangling ID badges, jewelry, watch or rings. Use the proper personal protection equipment for the task at hand.  Report any injury, broken or damaged tools and abnormal equipment to your supervisor. Always think safety and strictly follow shop safety rules. If you are unsure of how to operate equipment after training, stop and ask your supervisor for help.


Columbia University EH&S has developed these guidelines for those who currently, or might in the future, use power tools and heavy machinery in laboratories and shops. These guidelines DO NOT serve as a replacement for formal training in lab techniques or shop safety. Only trained personnel should use shop equipment after they have been trained by their supervisor. Failure to follow proper handling precautions can result in serious injury or death.

1. Never Use a Machine If You Are NOT Trained – Always Get Training Before Operating Any Machinery.
You must attend general safety training and specific training on the machine you intend to use.  If you are unfamiliar with a particular tool or instrument, do not use it until you are properly trained on its usage.

2. Never Work Alone – Always Use “Buddy System”.
At least two adults must be in the shop when power tools are being used. You must get permission from your Supervisor for off hours and weekend work if the shop permits off hour work.

3. Never Use Machine When Impaired - Be Sober and Smart.
This includes when you are sick, too tired, stressed or hurried to work carefully or on medication that could make you drowsy.

4. Never Start Work If You Cannot Do The Job Safely- Just Don’t Do It.
There are limits to what we can build here, and how safely you can do it in hurry.

5. Never Wear Open Toe Shoes -Use Closed-Toe Shoes in the Shop.
Tools, chips and fixtures are sharp, and often hot. Shoes will help protect your feet from injury. Leather shoes are preferred when welding.

6. Never Work Without Proper Eye Protection -Always Wear Appropriate Safety Glasses or Goggles When Working or Cleaning Tools.
Prescription glasses with plastic lenses must meet ANSI Standard Z87.1 for safety.

7. Never Work With Loose Hair, Jewelry, etc. –Always Remove or Secure Anything That Might Get Caught in Moving Machinery.
Long hair, necklaces, ties, dangling ID badge, jewelry, loose clothes, watch or Rings, may get caught in tools can drag you along resulting in serious injury or death. .

8. Never Bring Hands Close to Sharp Objects – Always Keep Your Hands At a Safe Distance From Sharp Tools.
Make sure that nothing that you do will cause you to be cut.

9. Never Create a Dusty and Smoky Environment - Dust, Chemicals and Smoke Can Be Dangerous to Your Health, so Work in Well-Ventilated Areas, Minimize Contamination and Use Appropriate Protective Equipment (PPE).
Ensure the shop is well ventilated and appropriate PPE is used when working with machines.

10. Never Be Shy To Seek Help –Always AskIf You’re Unsure About The Safe Operation of a Tool or Any Aspect of a Job – Have Shop Staff Check The Tool or Work With Which You Are Unfamiliar.
Exercise common sense and clarify before starting work

11. Never Leave Your Work Area in Mess – Always Clean Up After Yourself.
Before you leave your work site all tools must be returned to the toolbox, the machine cleaned and wiped down and the floor swept. Leave 10-15 minutes for cleanup at the end of your shift.

12. Never Remove Safety Guards – They are Present For Reason 
You must ensure that safety guards are in place on moving parts before you start working.

13. Never Use Gloves While Using Rotating Equipment – Remove Them Before Starting Work.
Gloves can get entangled in rotating machine parts resulting in serious injuries.

14. Never Leave Broken or Damaged Tools or Abnormal Equipment Unreported – Always Inform Your Supervisor to Remove That from Service and Get It Repaired.
Broken parts or equipment can result in serious injuries and delays. Make sure you tag the broken or damaged equipment and inform your supervisor or shop manager to get it repaired before next use.

15. Never Make any Adjustments to a Machine When it is in Operation. Before Making Adjustments Always Talk to Your Supervisor For Permission.
Make sure you are competent and have permission from your supervisor. Ensure power is off, equipment is properly locked out and safety devices are in place.

A tragic incident which occurred at Yale University recently serves as a powerful reminder that personal safety must be your top priority when working in laboratories or shops at Columbia. The incident involved a student who was reported to have been working alone in a machine shop when her hair was caught and pulled into a lathe; a machine that has rotating mechanical parts integral to its function of shaping metal or wood.  Tragically, the student died as a result of her injuries.
While further investigation into the specific circumstances of this incident is ongoing, please always remember power tools and machinery can be dangerous when not used properly.  Working safely is the first thing the user or operator must learn - the safe way is the correct and only way to work!  Always follow general safety measures (check EH&S website) when working with machine shop tools/equipment, for example:   

  • Always attend training and familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s hand book for the machine you are using.  Work safely or don’t work at all.
  • Never work alone.  Always use the “buddy system” when working in any machine shop.
  • Restrain hair & loose fitting clothing and secure or remove dangling ID badges & jewelry (watches, rings, bracelets). 
  • Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the task at hand, such as eye, ear, hand, & foot protection. 
  • Always use the equipment’s shields, machine guards, or other safeguards. Never remove or disable shields, machine guards, or safety devices.
  • Keep hands & body clear when operating or working near machines with moving parts.
  • Never power-up equipment that is not or may not be working properly. Check with the shop manager or your supervisor.

Equipment or machinery should never be used until the user is trained and knowledgeable about its safe operation.  Consult the shop or lab manager and manufacturer’s manual BEFORE working with unfamiliar equipment for specific operating and safety procedures.