Machine Guarding: Find the Risk, Find Results

By Liz Cuneo, Contributing Writer

In the workplace, there are few things more likely to cause worker injury than improper interaction with a running machine. Whether it’s a grinder, drill bit, welder or press—these machines run fast and deliver a lot of power to perform the task at hand.

When a worker comes into contact with a machine’s moving parts, serious injury can occur. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is much that can be done to prevent these injuries, including proper training and signage, as well as proper machine guarding.

Before we talk about the solutions, let’s dive into the problems. As you may know, machine guarding forms a physical barrier to both guard machinery and protect employees. They also give visual signals to the operator to stay on task.

Seems simple enough, yet OSHA named the lack of machine safeguarding as part of the “Top Ten List” of frequently cited employee safety violations of 2019. And, according to Colleen Halle, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, Rockford Systems, LLC, there are a number of reasons for this, and it’s not as simple as you might think. In fact, according to Halle, there are three common myths that prevent managers from safeguarding their machines.

Myth vs. Reality

According to Halle, the following are the myths/realities of machine safeguarding:

Myth One: New machines are safe, because their manufacturers built them to meet up-to-date safety standards and regulations. Reality: This depends on the country where the machines were built and the safety standards the machine manufacturer used as a guideline for control systems, electrical components and safeguarding. It’s important for the buyer of new machines to specify the Safety Related Parts of Machine Controls SRP/CS that this equipment must comply with. The buyer should not hesitate to spell out the clause numbers from either ANSI standards or from European standards where applicable.

Myth Two: Older machines are “grandfathered in,” because they were manufactured before safety standards and regulations existed. Reality: Up until the late 1970s, OSHA did have a small number of grandfather clauses in its regulations, but these have long since expired. In order to be in compliance today, all young and old machines must meet minimum OSHA regulations.

Myth Three: OSHA regulations only act as safety guidelines for manufacturers and are not the law. Reality: By law, employers are legally required to follow OSHA regulations, “meaning that an OSHA inspector will issue citations for compliance to the Code of Federal Regulations,” explained Halle.

Navigating the Issues

For some, this can be a complex issue with a lot of questions and potential grey area that can leave companies and employees vulnerable to not only citations, but serious injury.

“OSHA goes further to define their top ten list into categories of ‘serious’ and ‘willful’ violations. A ‘serious’ violation is one which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard. A ‘willful’ violation is one committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and requirements. Machine Guarding falls into both of these categories annually,” said John Ritter, Product Manager, Rite Hite Doors.

Whether the violation is deemed willful or not, the problem is still a serious one, and it requires proper education for plant managers. Luckily, as companies seek to remedy this growing (and serious) problem, there is a lot they can do. First things first:  be aware of the regulations in place.

“Become familiar with the OSHA and Robotic Industries Association (RIA) regulations/standards and how they pertain to your company. OSHA also has General Duty Clauses that states… ‘Every employer shall (MUST) provide their employees with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm. They shall (MUST) also comply with all occupational safety and health standards,’” stressed Ritter.

Solutions to Improve Safety

Many companies are coming up with solutions to minimize injury and improve safety surrounding running machines. For instance, Rockford Systems has launched the next generation of its Detect-A-Finger® drop-probe device to better safeguard riveting and welding machinery to help operators avoid finger and hand injuries. The Detect-A-Finger Gen II supports new safety-enhancing features and ensures that operators can meet production needs with various upgrades. Also, this enhanced design will meet compliance requirements for a Category 2 guarding device and reduce the potential for operators bypassing their guarding.

In addition, Rite-Hite Machine Guarding has introduced what the company says is the industry’s most sophisticated automated barrier door, the Defender. The Defender is a high-speed, high-cycle, automated door designed to guard machinery, contain processes and protect employees from robotic/machine movement zones.

Adopting These Solutions and More

So, are you wondering how to adopt these solutions? Ritter suggests that you begin by knowing your risk.

“The best way to determine which safeguarding devices to use is to follow RIA regulation R15.06 and perform a risk assessment of the facility. All areas of the facility must be assessed. It is important to identify all potential hazards; evaluate the risks; and devise methods for reducing and eliminating those risks with the best solutions available,” said Ritter.

Work with your machine safeguarding supplier of choice to determine the best solution for your company. Safeguarding is not a one-size-fits all kind of solution. Let’s get machine guarding off OSHA’s top list of frequently cited employee safety violations for 2020.  WMHS