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How to Implement Effective Protective Guarding

Create barriers between dangerous parts and people.

By: Jane Marsh, Contributor

Any machine part, function, or process that may cause injury must be safeguarded. © auremar –

Manufacturing decision-makers increasing their automation investments must also use the appropriate machine-guarding techniques to keep workers safe. Protective guarding options vary, but the goal is to create barriers between dangerous parts and people. Safety managers and other responsible parties should go through a practical process when deploying these devices for automated machines.

Here’s how to implement effective protective guarding systems to keep employees safe on the job:


Safety professionals should familiarize themselves with the potential threats posed by new automated equipment. They should categorize items according to severity and determine the best minimization options.

Machines with high temperatures, moving parts or sharp edges require a risk assessment. Evaluators can determine the likelihood of a threat[1] occurring, and work on eliminating it. Risk elimination is not always possible, but a thorough evaluation gets closer to that goal.


Machine guards come in four main types, each with particular characteristics. Fixed guards are permanent parts of the equipment that create physical barriers. They have simple designs and are available in various materials to suit specific applications. They’re also typically easy to maintain.

In contrast, interlocked guards disengage the machine and stop its moving parts. The main benefit of this type is that it prevents people from reaching into dangerous areas when the equipment is still operational.

Adjustable guards work similarly to fixed ones. The main difference is that people can change their sizes to suit multiple dimensions. Finally, self-adjusting guards adjust their size depending on the products passing through a machine. These accessories protect users from dangerous areas and are often available as off-the-shelf solutions.


Workers who are unaccustomed to machine guards may find them cumbersome at first. For example, adjustable and self-adjusting types can limit people’s visibility, which could lead some employees to attempt to disengage them. However, everyone must understand the consequences and learn how to verify the guards are working properly before using the machine.

One practical option is to have an on-site training location. Even creating a dedicated space may be easier than people expect. For example, modular construction can occur 75% faster[2] than traditional methods.

Allowing on-site training in a dedicated location removes workers from the noises, foot traffic and other distractions that make learning less effective. Training coordinators planning curriculum content will get the best results by making the material as engaging and relevant as possible. People who see how the lessons relate to their work will likely take them seriously and set good examples for colleagues.


Some companies use other safety measures along with protective guarding principles. In such cases, keeping people safe occurs as a layered approach. If one method fails, others will reduce injury risks. For example, light curtains and safety mats detect when people enter hazardous areas. Machines immediately slow down or turn off to keep them safer.

Some equipment also has two-handed operation measures so people cannot turn them on while keeping one hand free. Such features are beneficial if the machine’s design or operation increases the risks of getting fingers caught in the mechanisms.

Installing a single type of guard on a machine may not be enough to sufficiently reduce the risk. Supplemental products can increase safety, but most solutions cannot eliminate threats.


Many of today’s automated machines can significantly increase workflow, making people and their employers more productive and improving the bottom line. However, the equipment also tends to operate quickly, making protective measures essential. These tips can help companies maximize their automation results while keeping workers safe. WMHS

Jane Marsh covers topics in green technology and manufacturing. She also works as the Editor-in-Chief of, which takes complex climate science and green technology topics and breaks them down in a way the everyday person can understand and feel empowered to make better choices for themselves and the planet.




(Source: OSHA eTool: Machine Guarding[1])

Even the most elaborate safeguarding system cannot offer effective protection unless the worker knows how to use it and why. Specific and detailed training is therefore a crucial part of any effort to provide safeguarding against machine-related hazards. Thorough operator training should involve instruction or hands-on training in the following:

  1. A description and identification of the hazards associated with particular machines
  2. The safeguards themselves, how they provide protection and the hazards for which they are intended
  3. How to use the safeguards and why
  4. How and under what circumstances safeguards can be removed, and by whom (in most cases, repair or maintenance personnel only)
  5. When a lockout/tagout program is required
  6. What to do if a safeguard is damaged, missing, or unable to provide adequate protection (e.g., contact the supervisor)


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