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Abrasive Wheel Accidents: Common Causes and Prevention

Using abrasive wheels can be dangerous, especially if they are not used correctly. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are over 5,000 accidents each year related to angle grinders alone. An angle grinder is a type of handheld abrasive wheel, ranked by ROSPA as the third most dangerous tool due to its presence in so many reported accidents each year. 

Abrasive wheel accidents can cause extreme pain and shock and may result in life-changing injuries and, in some cases, fatalities. According to the HSE, nearly half of all abrasive wheel accidents are due to either unsafe working methods or operator error. 

Given the prevalence of accidents involving abrasive wheels and their potential to result in significant harm, it is important to know how to handle, use and store abrasive wheels and what steps need to be taken to reduce risks and protect users. 

Common Causes of Abrasive Wheel Accidents

Abrasive wheel accidents happen for a number of reasons, both in a working environment and at home. Accidents are common when an amateur decides to use an abrasive wheel whilst performing some DIY or home improvement task and makes a mistake. Accidents at work usually happen due to improper training or disorganised, unsafe working environments. 

Overspeeding is one of the main causes of abrasive wheel breakage. If a fragment breaks off from a wheel that is operating at 35 m/s the fragment will be travelling at 85 mph or 126 km/hr. It is no surprise that a sharp object travelling at these speeds meeting with soft tissue could result in serious injury.

Other common causes of abrasive wheel accidents are: 

  • Abrasive wheel breakage
  • Failing to use the correct PPE such as gloves or goggles
  • Improper mounting
  • Incorrect storage
  • Improper usage (especially in cases of DIY-related accidents)
  • Grinding machine defects
  • Selecting the wrong wheel for the job

Using abrasive wheels also carries the risk of being exposed to additional hazards such as dust, vibrations or excessive noise.

abrasive wheel accidents

Preventative Measures

The best way to prevent accidents involving abrasive wheels is to ensure that only competent people are able to work with them. If you are employing people who use abrasive wheels you should also conduct a risk assessment specifically for this activity. 

A risk assessment is a structured way to assess how dangerous a task might be and what measures need to be put in place to prevent or manage hazards. 

A risk assessment follows these basic steps:

  • Identify hazards
  • Assess the risks
  • Control the risks
  • Record your findings
  • Review your controls

Suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn if you are using an abrasive wheel. This includes:

  • Eye protection to protect the eyes against flying debris from abrasive and metallic particles
  • Face masks to avoid dust or particle inhalation
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing (such as ties, baggy sleeves etc) and wear suitable overalls if possible
  • Adequate head protection to protect the head from wheel fragments or debris
  • Protective gloves to minimise the severity of a hand or finger injury
  • Protective footwear to reduce the chance of injury to the feet or toes, or minimise the severity of the injury if injury occurs

Employers also need to ensure that all electrical equipment is inspected, fully operational and fit for purpose. Inadequate power at the grinding wheel (usually caused by belt slipping or an insufficient motor) will cause the wheel to slow down. Users are then often tempted to start applying greater pressure which can result in bumping and breakage of the wheel.

Grinding machines should also be clearly marked with their starting and stopping mechanisms with precautions in place for the ‘accidental’ starting of the machine.  

Accidents involving abrasive wheels can cause significant harm to the person who is injured including:

  • Cuts and gashes to the skin and soft tissue
  • Amputation of digits
  • Injuries to the eyes
  • Injuries to the feet
  • Injuries to the head
  • Impact injuries elsewhere on the body
  • Burns from flying sparks

People who experience these kinds of injuries may suffer from trauma, pain and long-term damage, including scarring.

Treating these kinds of impact injuries also puts a significant cost burden on the NHS, including costs relating to:

  • Surgery
  • Hospital stays
  • Medication
  • Follow-up appointments

Additional economic impacts stem from the time required off work to heal and recover.

Further preventative measures to minimise the chance of an accident involving an abrasive wheel include: 

  • Make sure that users are competent and have attended appropriate training
  • Provide a safe and organised storage area for the wheels, ideally a storage rack with separate compartments
  • To minimise deterioration, wheels should be stored in a dry, temperature controlled place
  • Take care to select the correct wheel for the job (they are not all interchangeable) and if in doubt ask someone competent
  • Always follow safe operating procedures and, if in doubt, ask for clarification rather than guessing

Safety Guidelines and Regulations 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation that relates to occupational health and safety. 

Key legislation that specifically covers abrasive wheel usage includes:

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)

PUWER regulations outline that workplace equipment should not pose an undue risk to workers and it sets out various statutes that should be followed in order to keep workers safe.

Additionally, employers have a duty to provide adequate protective equipment to workers under:

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992

Users of abrasive wheels may also be exposed to additional hazards from vibrations, noise and breathing in hazardous particles which are covered under the following legislation:

  • The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005
  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
causes of abrasive wheel accidents

If there is an accident and the employer is found to be at fault, there could be legal implications including large fines and sometimes a prison sentence. Additionally, there are reputational implications and loss of productivity and money whilst investigations are conducted. 

As an employer, it is important to show that you have been compliant and taken reasonable measures to keep workers and the general public safe. This includes:

  • Conducting risk assessments
  • Understanding legislation and legal requirements
  • Good record-keeping

Manufacturers of abrasive wheels should take all steps necessary to supply wheels that are fit for purpose and safe to use, which includes performing speed tests. It is also important for everyone in the supply chain to take responsibility for following any safety guidelines and regulations. All abrasive wheels are relatively fragile and must be handled, stacked and transported with care to ensure they reach their destination in optimum condition.

Reporting and Investigation

It is important that accidents at work involving abrasive wheels are reported and recorded through the designated channels. This allows accidents or incidents to be investigated properly and any relevant safeguards to be put in place to reduce the risk of anyone else getting hurt.

Certain accidents at work are required to be reported under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). 

RIDDOR is the law that dictates what employers (or people in charge of workplaces) need to report in terms of accidents, injuries and work-related illnesses, which includes:

  • Work-related accidents that result in death
  • Work-related accidents that cause certain serious injuries (reportable injuries)
  • Diagnosed cases of certain industrial diseases
  • Certain ‘dangerous occurrences’ (incidents with the potential to cause harm)

If a wheel breaks, even if it does not result in any injury, it is also important that this is followed by an investigation to establish the cause and minimise the chance of it happening again as the consequences could be more severe next time. 

Near misses are not as serious as accidents but they still need reporting. Understanding why a near miss occurred can provide important insight into workplace health and safety practices. You should investigate near misses to highlight any gaps in knowledge and find ways to prevent future incidents. 

Both minor accidents and near misses are opportunities to scrutinise existing health and safety measures, make improvements where necessary and conduct further education and training. 

Training and Education

It is vital that only people who have received comprehensive training use abrasive wheels. Emphasis should be on practical training and other aspects of the training course should minimally cover the following:

  • What hazards and risks can arise from using abrasive wheels
  • Precautions that should be taken
  • Methods of marking abrasive wheels (this should cover their size, type, restrictions of use, expiry date and maximum operating speed)
  • How abrasive wheels should be stored, handled and moved around
  • Methods for inspecting and testing abrasive wheels for damage
  • Explanation of any components that are used with abrasive wheels (such as flanges, blotters, wheel bushes, nuts)
  • How to assemble abrasive wheels correctly (ensuring they are properly balanced and fit for purpose)
  • Dressing an abrasive wheel (removing material from the cutting surface)
  • How to use personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Safe mounting of abrasive wheels

Training records should be kept that state the attendee’s name, signature and the date they received their training. It is a good idea to conduct refresher training on the subject periodically.

You may want to cover more than the basics in your training sessions, such as:

  • How to carefully unpack, clean and examine a new wheel
  • Performing a ‘ring test’ and which types of wheels this is not possible on
  • Statistics on abrasive wheel accidents and injuries
  • First aid

Anyone who is being instructed in the use of abrasive wheels should also be taught the potential risks and implications if they are not used correctly, including the types of injuries they may get, how to report accidents and how to get immediate medical help. 

Training on the safe use of abrasive wheels should only be delivered by someone who is sufficiently skilled and competent to do so. 

Our CPD-accredited Abrasive Wheels training course is made up of six units and provides an overview of how to assess and manage the risks of working with abrasive wheels, as well as tips for if an emergency situation arises. Our five-star rated course is available here.

abrasive wheel accident prevention


The consequences of an accident involving an abrasive wheel can be serious and all reasonable steps should be taken to minimise the chance of an accidental injury. Your employer should conduct a risk assessment prior to allowing the use of abrasive wheels. They are also required to comply with health and safety laws to protect you from harm. 

If you are working with abrasive wheels, it is also important that you take responsibility for your own safety and work carefully and sensibly. This means only performing tasks that you are trained to do, only using equipment that is fit for purpose, protecting yourself by wearing PPE, using the right tools for the job and not cutting corners. 

With the prevalence of abrasive wheel accidents being so high amongst amateurs, if you need to use an angle grinder or other handheld abrasive wheel device, you should ensure that you receive some training and instruction prior to using it. Alternatively, you may wish to consider calling in a professional to do the job for you.

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.

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