When it comes to industrial-strength cutting, nothing yet can hold up to the power of a CNC plasma cutter. Softer materials such as wood are easily cut to size through standard cutting tools like saws, but stronger materials like steel easily best such tools. As thicker steel began to be used more often in construction in the mid-1900s, workers needed a better way to cut it. Thus, in the 1950s, plasma cutting was born.
However, more powerful cutting naturally brings with it more dangers. Plasma cutters, while invaluable, are highly dangerous tools that require many safety precautions.
Let’s look at what dangers surround them and how you can safely use a plasma cutter.
What is Plasma Cutting?
Plasma is known as the “fourth state,” with the others being gas, liquid, and solid. It is the state of matter in-between gas and liquid states, and it is far less common than the other states. Plasma cutters create plasma by superheating gasses such as argon, nitrogen, or oxygen to temperatures over 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cut through almost any material.
A plasma cutter allows manufacturers to manipulate the plasma, allowing for very intricate cuts. This high versatility and control make plasma cutters a popular tool in various industries. And thanks to advancements in the mid-90s, plasma cutting tools have seen wide adoption across industries. Nowadays, they are accessible enough to be used by almost anyone, from builders and engineers to artists and small-business owners.
This increased availability has made it all the more important that anyone considering using a plasma cutter first be well aware of the risks. After all, a tool of this power brings with it many dangers. This is why anyone looking to use one must be first trained and qualified in its use.
The Dangers of Plasma Cutters
Physically, plasma cutters present four main hazards to any user. These are:
- Heat damage/burning
- Electric shock
- A bright light that can damage the eyes
- Potential for fire damage
It’s important to consider each risk as well as the threat of gas or metal inhalation. It takes awareness and common sense to keep yourself safe while using a plasma cutter. So if you ever intend to, think about the following.
Heat Damage and Fire Hazards
Plasma cutters can create plasma up to 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes a pure plasma arc about as hot as the sun’s surface. It should be of no surprise that exposure to these kinds of temperatures can cause serious harm to both the user and the surrounding area in which they work.
Anyone looking to use a plasma cutter must also have access to the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Many types are available, but the bare minimum requirement is:
- Heat-resistant Gloves – Gloves should provide plenty of freedom of movement and control. They must not restrict the movement of the hands, as complete control is needed at all times.
- Welding Mask or Shielded Visor – The face and eyes must be protected (more below) to prevent any loss or disruption of control during the tool’s use.
- Respirator – A respirator helps protect your mouth, nose, and face while ensuring your lungs get the necessary oxygen.
Other PPE, such as overalls, welder’s bibs, and armored shoes, are not strictly necessary but highly suggested. Any exposed skin should ideally be covered by heat-resistant clothing or PPE during use, as sparks or other debris could be dislodged and cause severe burns.
Additionally, you must properly shield the area where you intend to use the plasma cutter. Offcuts and sparks will hold their high temperatures after removal and pose a threat of burning or setting fire to the area.
Clear away all offcuts safely and keep fire extinguishers and water nearby in case a fire should catch. Only use the tool for brief periods to prevent the buildup of high temperatures.
Protecting Your Eyes
Cutting using plasma creates a bright light where the arc meets the metal, just like welding. As such, PPE must be worn to protect your eyes. Welding masks or goggles contain a filter over their lenses that greatly reduces the glare and allows for more control over the tool.
The tool should be used in short bursts so that the user can keep track of the tool’s path. Looking directly into the arc or contact point will still damage your eyes, even with a visor. Regular pauses are needed to ensure the cut line is still being followed.
Cutting Gasses and Debris
The last danger posed by plasma cutters comes from the waste created during cutting. This is not as visible as the abovementioned hazards, but it is just as present. The use of plasma will inevitably result in gasses and debris coming from the cutting point as the tool is used. Metallic dust will be cast from the cut, making it airborne and easy to breathe. Breathing this dust will damage the lungs if allowed to occur for a long time. A respirator should be part of your PPE and always used while cutting.
Respirators must be airtight while worn to prevent metal fume fever. As the name suggests, this is a flu-like condition that affects people who spend a lot of time using tools such as arc welders and plasma cutters. It is caused by breathing too much of the fumes created during the cutting process but can be easily avoided by ensuring that no fumes can get through the seals of a respirator.
Plasma cutters can cut their way through a variety of metals with unyielding strength. However, their use comes with several risks that need to be managed. By using the safety gear and tips mentioned above when using a CNC plasma cutter, you can reduce your exposure to potential hazards associated with plasma cutting and enjoy the benefits of using these amazing tools.
Plasma cutters are powerful. They can cut through strong metal and create intricate cuts. But with such power comes great danger. It is crucial to consider the risks and know about the safety precautions to lessen the hazards. How? Read about the main dangers of plasma cutters and how to deal with them.