Safe use of metal cutting guillotines

Guidance for employers on how to use guards and systems of work to eliminate and reduce workplace health and safety risks when using metal cutting guillotines.



Unguarded metal cutting guillotines or those with ineffective guards can present serious workplace health and safety risks.

Unguarded guillotines allow employees to access the danger areas on the guillotine. This can happen when trying to remove stuck or off-cut pieces of metal sheet from the machine or during maintenance, repair, inspection, service or cleaning (MRISC) activities.

Ineffective guards may only prevent access to some danger areas of the guillotine, for example the cutting blade, while not preventing access to other danger areas, such as the clamp. Ineffective guards may also allow for adjustment or repositioning of the guard to allow access to the hazard zone, for example a hinged front guard without an interlock.

Danger areas


Metal cutting guillotines have many moving parts that can create risks to health and safety for operators, cleaners and service technicians interacting with the plant.

The clamp creates a crushing hazard as it lowers to the work-piece which creates a risk of serious injury to the operator’s hands or fingers as they insert and position the work-piece.

Injuries are often due to fingers being crushed under the clamps or the work-piece. Typically the operator is focusing on aligning the work-piece with the guillotine blade (Figures 2 and 3) and not the movement of the clamp (Figure 4).

Figure 1: Operator feeding metal work-piece into guillotine.
Figure 2: Operator manually aligning metal workpiece with the cutting blade.

Figure 2 shows operator focus is on the position of the work piece shown in Figure 3, not the position of their hands with relation to the clamp shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3: The operator's field of view when manually aligning the scribed reference line on the metal workpiece with the cutting blade.
Figure 4: A guillotine with an unguarded clamp, allows the operator to unexpectedly place their hands in the crushing zone while they are focusing on aligning the metal workpiece with the cutting blade.
Figure 5: A guillotine with a physical barrier guarding the clamp.

A guillotine with a physical barrier guarding the clamp, shown in Figure 3 prevents the operator from physically accessing the crushing zone of the clamp.

The permanently fitted physical barrier provides clear visibility of the cutting blade and clamps. The contoured physical barrier allows the operator to insert and position the work piece so hands cannot physically access the clamps or blade.

Cutting blade

The cutting blade is the most obvious hazard due to the sharp cutting edge creating a serious risk of laceration or amputation to operators, cleaners and service technicians. In addition to the sharp edge, the weight of the blade may cause it to unexpectedly move due to gravity even when the machine is switched off.

The weight of the blade and smooth surfaces can increase the risk of the service technician slipping or dropping the blade when handling, installing or removing the blade.


Many guillotines have a programmable powered backstop which can move unexpectedly creating a striking or crushing hazard to bystanders, cleaners or service technicians.

Powered supports and ejection devices

Some guillotines include programmable powered supports and ejection devices which support and eject the work-piece. These can move unexpectedly creating a striking or crushing hazard to bystanders, cleaners or service technicians.

Figure 6: Removable front hopper. Front hopper eliminates need to access rear of machine for daily operation.
Figure 7: Front of guillotine including covered operator pedal.

The covered operator pedal prevents accidental activation of the clamp and blade. Slotted front guard prevents operator physically accessing the clamp and blade while providing visibility of the metal workpiece and cutting blade.

Figure 8: Back of guillotine depicting rear side guards with interlocked sensing system (light curtain) with sensing system reset button on the back of the plant.

In figure 8, hazard zones on the back of the guillotine include the work piece supports/ejectors which automatically retract into the body creating a crushing or shearing hazard as well as the backstop which can unexpectedly move during programming, setting and adjustments creating a striking or crushing hazard.

Figure 9: An unguarded metal cutting guillotine puts employees at risk of serious injuries. No foot pedal covering allows an accidental start-up.

Controlling risks


The hazard zones of a metal cutting guillotine must be guarded.

The following guards, or a combination of these, may be used to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury associated with metal cutting guillotines.

Permanently fixed physical barriers

If access is not required to a hazard zone, use a permanently fixed physical barrier to physically prevent access to the area. Examples of these hazard zones include the clamp, cutting blade, back stop, and outfeed support and ejectors.

Consider installing a discharge chute to allow cut metal sheets to be retrieved without accessing hazardous zones. Also, consider if the discharge chute can be accessed from the front of the machine (Figure 6) eliminating the need to access the rear of the machine during operation. Any amendments should be made by persons with the relevant expertise.

Interlocked guards

Where access to a hazard is required for operation, maintenance or cleaning, fit an interlocked guard to only allow access to the area at times when that area does not present a risk. The interlocked guard stops the machine operating when the guard is not in position.

This is a type of interlock guard which prevents the guard from being opened until the machine is no longer operating.

Machines that use parts that require rundown time to come to a stop, will need to be fitted with a guard locking interlock guard.

Rundown time includes:

  • deceleration
  • rundown sequences
  • movement due to gravity
  • programmed safe stop locations

Presence-sensing system

Presence-sensing systems use invisible infrared beams of light called light curtains (Figure 8). Light curtains identify when a person comes near the hazard zone of the guillotine and shuts down the machine operation. In addition to shutting down the machine, a breaking system can be automatically activated to immediately stop the movement of the clamps and cutting blade.

The presence-sensing system does not prevent the operator or other persons accessing the hazard zone and should be used in conjunction with permanent barriers or interlocking guards.

The presence-sensing system should be regularly tested to ensure correct operation is observed and appropriate adjustments and/ or repairs are made if the system fails to operate correctly.

Guards should be considered for the following areas:

Front of metal cutting guillotine

Hazard zone on the front of the metal cutting guillotine includes the:

  • clamp
  • cutting blade

A guard placed on the front of the guillotine (Figure 5) can prevent access to the clamp and cutting blade. An interlocked guard provides access for the maintenance, cleaning and repair of the clamp and work surface but prevents operation of the machine while the guard is open or removed.

Back of metal cutting guillotine

Hazard zone on the back of the metal cutting guillotine includes the:

  • cutting blade
  • backstop, work piece support
  • ejection mechanism

An interlocked guard provides a physical barrier to the back of the metal cutting guillotine and can collectively isolate the cutting blade, backstop, work piece support and ejection mechanism (figure 8). The interlock guard should provide access for maintenance, cleaning and repair only when the machine is not operating. Consider eliminating the need for the operator to access the hazard zone to retrieve work pieces by providing a discharge chute for ejected pieces.

If it is not reasonably practicable to use an interlocked guard, then an interlocked presence sensing system. For example a light curtain.

Safe use of metal cutting guillotines

As well as guarding, consider if the operator can be removed from the hazard zone by placing the activation controls in a fixed location away from the hazard. Consider if a 2 hand hold-to-run control can be used to ensure both hands are removed from the hazard zone? Ensure the activation controls are positioned to prevent accidental activation.

When using a foot pedal control, ensure the pedal is shrouded to prevent an accidental start-up (Figure 7). This applies to both fixed and floating foot pedals.

Some guillotines have large blind spots behind the machine which can obstruct the operator's vision of other employees in the space.

Ensure all guards and safety systems, including physical barriers, interlocked guards and presence-sensing systems are correctly installed and operating before using the machine.

No employee should operate the metal cutting guillotine unless they are properly trained, supervised — when necessary — and can demonstrate safe operation of the guillotine.

Keep records of training provided as verification.

Access to and operation of the guillotine can be managed by the use of electronic or mechanical encoded keys. Keys should never be left in the machine when the machine is not attended by a competent employee.

Maintenance, Repair, Inspection, Servicing and Cleaning (MRISC)

Metal cutting guillotines require regular inspection, adjustment and maintenance to ensure correct and safe operation. This includes:

  • adjusting the cutting clearance
  • lubricating vertical moving parts
  • cleaning/removing scrap and off-cut material
  • sharpening or removing and replacing the cutting blade

It is important that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when changing the guillotine blade. The process usually involves blade handles or slides and supports for safe removal.

Carry out regular maintenance in accordance with manufacturer specifications.

Keep a record of all inspections and maintenance, including the testing of presence-sensing guards by a competent person such as an electrician.

Keep a history of maintenance records for the duration the plant is available for use in your workplace.

Figure 10: Permanently fixed physical barrier prevents access to the guillotine clamps and cutting blade. An emergency stop button should be within close reach of operator and a shrouded foot pedal reduces the risk of an accidental start-up.

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors. Where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate or reduce any risks associated with plant including metal cutting guillotines

Further, employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, an employer or self-employed person must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable that guarding used to control risk associated with plant will prevent access to the danger area of the plant.

The employer or self-employed person must also ensure that bypassing or disabling the guarding, whether deliberately or by accident, is as difficult as is reasonably possible.

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