Waterjet cutting is commonly used in the manufacturing world to cut a wide range of materials. Waterjet cutting involves a stream of highly pressurized water that is capable of cutting everything from ceramics to titanium. Sometimes, the jet is combined with abrasive materials for a cleaner cut, although this is not required. Waterjet cutting is an excellent tool for cutting materials that cannot be cut with blades and lasers, and when used properly, it is an excellent addition to the manufacturing process.
There are a number of risks associated with waterjet cutting, like most industrial processes designed to cut through materials much denser than the human body. Extreme care and proper training on the part of the operator are required to prevent injuries. Waterjet cutting should never be undertaken by someone who is intoxicated, taking judgment impairing prescription medications, tired or sick, or under the influence of other controlled substances.
A common danger associated with waterjet cutting is eye damage. Should the human eye be exposed to a high pressure jet of water, it may suffer corneal scratches, detachment of the retina, or complete dislocation. Damage to the cornea can heal, but detachment of the retina or displacement of the eye can lead to blindness. While fast healing, the eye is a delicate organ when subjected to intense forces, and it is advisable to wear solid eye protection while using a waterjet cutter.
Waterjet cutting is also associated with a high volume of noise, which can damage hearing at sustained levels. Ear protection should be worn at all times when operating a waterjet, and the user should try to remain aware of the decibel level. Prolonged exposure to high volumes of sound can lead to tinnitus, difficulty in hearing, and ultimately deafness. Most noise exposure damage is cumulative and slow, which means that the user may not be aware of the extent of damage to his or her hearing until it is too late. Regular hearing tests are highly recommended for waterjet cutting operators.
The materials used in waterjet cutting can also pose a danger to operators, especially if the jet is mixed with abrasives. If operators are cutting through toxic materials, they may be exposed to particles and fragments of the material as the waterjet works through it. Small particles of metal may also penetrate the skin, causing discomfort and infection if not addressed. It is important to keep the workspace clean in order to avoid exposure.
Another major risk associated with waterjet cutting is severe damage, especially to extremities, associated with inadvertent contact with the jet. Waterjet cutting is used to cut through extremely hard materials and is fully capable of removing a limb from an inattentive operator. More commonly, exposure to the jet results in deep puncture wounds and internal bruising or bleeding. Prompt medical attention should be received after any waterjet injury, even if there is no external damage.
To avoid injury while practicing waterjet cutting, wear eye and face protection, gloves, ear protection, and heavy garments that will protect the body from glancing contact with the waterjet.