Losing a finger to a large fan

April 9, 2013
Cooling fans can cause amputations if they are not handled properly.

A worker was cleaning their work area by spraying it with water and mopping. To dry it quickly, they used a floor fan. As the fan turned on, it slowly began to roll backwards on its back two wheels until it hit a floor drain and started to tip over. The worker reached over to stop to the falling fan, at which point their hand entered the spinning fan blades through a missing center guard. The rotating blades caused an amputation of a finger.

I frequently see employees moving large floor fans by sticking their hands through holes in the guard, tilting it backwards and rolling it into position. This activity is a perfect storm for amputations when the fan is not unplugged. It also damages the fan guard and puts other employees at risk.

We have all been told about the dangers of rotating fan blades since childhood. I can remember my mother slapping my hand away as I played with the guard on the fan because it was, in her words, too dangerous. Despite all the warnings, it is common to find damaged guards on fans in industrial settings. From my experience, employees are complacent about the risks damaged guards pose. Right or wrong, fans get abused. Their guards must be robust and repaired quickly.

As you might suspect, there is an OSHA requirement for fan guards in industrial environments (OSHA 1910.212(a)(5)). It requires that fans have guards if they are less than 7 feet above floor level. Guards must not have openings larger than a half inch. This includes all areas of the fan where you could access spinning fan blades including the solid center guard.

When designing fan guards it is common to see a robust cage surrounding the fan that meets or exceeds the less-than-half-inch requirement. Where many fan guards seems to fail is in the center. The center guard is commonly designed with plastic that is easily damaged or which gets removed soon after purchase.

A robust fan guard design that meets or exceeds OSHA requirements is a good starting point for avoiding injuries from powerful fans. As we move into warmer weather months, it is also a good time to remind employees about how to properly move fans and to fix damaged guards. And lot of these problems can be avoided simply by always unplugging a fan before moving it.

— Joe Tavenner

Joe Tavenner, CSP, CFPS, is a long-time Certified Safety Professional who works in occupational safety and design for safety. Got a question about safety? You can reach Joe at [email protected].

Edited by Leland Teschler

© 2013 Penton Media, Inc.

About the Author

Leland Teschler

Lee Teschler served as Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design until 2014. He holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan; a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan; and an MBA from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, Lee worked as a Communications design engineer for the U.S. Government.

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