Machine guarding is a safety feature consisting of barriers or electronic devices used to bridge the gap between centuries of machines and the hazardous conditions they present to workers. Machines have traditionally been built for the purpose of producing, assembling, or packaging a product. Safety was either an afterthought or minimal focus by protecting against only the “highest” risk. Over the years, these machines have been modified for faster production rates or ease of routine maintenance by minimizing or removing the machine guards. This has created unsafe conditions for workers presenting such hazards as crush points, pinch points, shear points, and thrown objects resulting in injury or death.
Due to the lack of training, a decline in the skilled workforce, increased distractions, and unexpected machine failures have made it difficult to ensure safe work conditions with a human-controlled environment. The level of injuries and deaths from machines have increased exponentially over the years, putting machine safety in OSHA’s, a government regulations agency, top 10 most-cited violations.
Proper machine guarding is a must to be put in place in order to improve workplace safety regardless of the cost. You can’t put a price on saving lives. Machine operation and production capabilities need to be considered when designing this guarding using a general understanding of ANSI and ISO specifications, OSHA guidelines, and common sense derived from “real-world” application experience to fill the gray area void that exists from the standards. One of the most critical tasks, which is typically ignored or forgotten about, is to schedule a group meeting with the machine guarding company, safety personnel, a maintenance tech, and the operator. This discussion will be a brainstorming session discussing guarding scenarios as it relates to the operator and maintenance needs while staying focused on the goal of workplace safety. No one knows their job better than the one doing it.
Machine guarding consists of physical barriers and electronic devices in conjunction with proper training to protect workers from inherent hazards. Physical barriers are commonly built using t-slotted aluminum extrusions for modularity due to the complexity of custom machines and unique processes. Prefabricated steel posts and framing can be also be used as well for higher strength applications requiring minimal customization. Based on the type and location of the hazard, solid plastic panels or wire mesh panels would most commonly be used as the barrier material. Then to complete the physical barriers, personnel and/or material handling access doors and panels are added along with any other necessary accessories to complete the guarding.
Once the physical barrier is completed, then the proper electronic safety devices are required to create a “true” machine safety guard. These are devices that bring the physical barrier “to life” by telling a machine how to react based on the actions of the physical barrier brought on by personnel. These devices consist of safety interlock switches, safety light curtains, safety laser scanners, and safety mats used in conjunction with the proper safety relays and safety controllers to create the proper safety circuit. Each device provides different functionality and levels of safety related to the specific application. An e-safety device in itself isn’t safe, only the proper device and integration for the project makes it safe. Technology and guidelines are continually changing, requiring the need to stay relevant with cutting-edge technology.
The installation process is just as critical as the rest. The machine guarding requires proper fit, rigid mounting, and proper electrical integration between electronic safety devices and the customer’s machine. The rest is irrelevant if the guard presents itself with openings providing access to the inherent hazards or if the machine doesn’t react properly with the electronic safety devices.
Industrial facilities can greatly benefit from using machine safety companies that provide turnkey solutions consisting of custom design, fabrication, and nationwide installation. The qualification process of sufficient liability insurance coverage, OSHA log documentation, and properly documented safety programs can be streamlined and solidified through companies like ISNetworld and Avetta. The value of this service is immeasurable due to the overall skill level, “field-fit” capabilities, focused on customer’s needs, consistency throughout, and a single point of contact for efficiencies and better communication. The cost of doing nothing has proven catastrophic. Safety must always be top priority!
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Co-authored and published by Shawn Mantel, Owner / Operator at PowerSafe Automation and Professional Safety Journal (PSJ)
Shawn Mantel is the owner and author of the @powersafeautomation blog posts, where he helps to educate and spark ideas with workers on how to improve workplace safety through turnkey safety guarding solutions.
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