Safety Guarding 101

Guarding the Past: Ensuring Safety in Older Machinery


Jason Kerkhof

Calendar icon

March 20, 2024

In the realm of industrial safety, the protection of workers is paramount, especially when it comes to operating older machinery that may not have been originally designed with modern safety standards in mind. Retrofitting these machines with appropriate guards is essential not only for compliance with regulations but also for ensuring a safe working environment. This blog post delves into the comprehensive process of assessing older machines for guard design, considering the entire operational process, maintenance needs, processes, and ergonomics, followed by insights into the effective design of these guards.


Assessment Phase

1. Understanding the Machine and Its Operation:

The first step is a thorough understanding of the machine—its purpose, operation, and the potential hazards it presents. This involves reviewing the manufacturer’s documentation, observing the machine in operation, and consulting with operators and maintenance personnel. Identifying all points of operation, pinch points, and any moving parts that could pose a risk is crucial.


2. Identifying the Risks:

Once you have a clear understanding of the machine's operation, the next step is to identify the specific risks associated with it. This includes points of entanglement, crushing, shearing, cutting, or any other hazards that could harm the operator or maintenance personnel.


3. Considering the Entire Process:

Assessing the machine's safety needs requires a holistic view of the entire process surrounding the machine. This includes material handling to and from the machine, the machine's role in the production line, and how operators interact with the machine during normal operation and maintenance. Understanding the workflow and operator movements is essential in designing guards that do not hinder productivity or create additional hazards.


4. Maintenance Needs:

Guards should be designed with maintenance in mind, ensuring that they can be easily removed or opened for access, when necessary, without compromising safety. Consideration should be given to the frequency of maintenance and any tools required to remove the guards.


5. Ergonomics and Operator Interaction:

The design of guards must also consider ergonomics and how operators interact with the machine. Guards should not obstruct the operator’s view or impede their ability to operate the machine safely and efficiently. Additionally, the placement and operation of guards should not cause undue strain or stress on the operator.


Design Phase

1. Compliance with Standards:

The design of guards must comply with relevant safety standards and regulations. This includes ensuring that the guards prevent access to hazardous areas and do not introduce new hazards.


2. Materials and Durability:

Selecting the right materials for guards is essential for durability and effectiveness. Materials should be chosen based on the environment (e.g., wet, dusty, corrosive) and the nature of the hazards (e.g., cutting, crushing). The guards should also be robust enough to withstand impacts and the wear and tear of daily operation.


3. Interlocking and Safety Systems:

For some hazards, interlocking guards with the machine’s control system may be necessary to ensure that the machine cannot operate when the guards are not in place. Additionally, emergency stop mechanisms should be easily accessible.


4. Visibility and Access:

Wherever possible, guards should be designed to allow visibility to the point of operation. This can be achieved through the use of black mesh as well as strategic placement. Access points for maintenance should be clearly marked and designed to ensure that they can only be opened with specific tools or keys.


5. Testing and Evaluation:

Once designed and installed, the effectiveness of the guards should be tested and evaluated. This includes verifying that all hazardous areas are adequately protected, that the guards do not interfere with operation or productivity, and that they are durable and maintenance-friendly.



The assessment and design of guards for older machines are critical to workplace safety, requiring a detailed understanding of the machinery, the processes it is involved in, and the interactions between the machine and its operators. By thoroughly assessing the risks and designing guards that meet safety standards while considering maintenance needs, processes, and ergonomics, businesses can ensure the safety of their workers and the efficiency of their operations. Retrofitting older machinery with well-designed guards is not just a regulatory requirement but a fundamental aspect of fostering a culture of safety and responsibility in the industrial workplace.