Safety Guarding 101

Importance of Ergonomics in Machine Guarding


Jason Kerkhof

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April 17, 2024

In the world, fixed machine guarding is the last layer of protection, shielding workers from the many hazards of moving machinery. Yet, the design of these critical safety barriers often overlooks two essential factors: ergonomics and maintenance needs. This oversight not only jeopardizes worker safety but also hampers operational efficiency. This blog delves into the importance of incorporating ergonomic and maintenance-friendly principles into the design of machine guarding, highlighting how this approach can significantly enhance workplace safety and productivity.


The Overlooked Ergonomics of Safety

Ergonomics— the study of people's efficiency in their working environment — is a cornerstone of modern workplace safety that ensures tools and environments fit the user, reducing the risk of injury. Traditional fixed machine guarding, while effective in preventing direct contact with hazardous moving parts, often fails to consider the ergonomic needs of those who interact with them, especially maintenance personnel. Guards that are cumbersome to remove or replace can lead to musculoskeletal strains, particularly in the back, shoulders, and knees, due to awkward lifting, holding, and maneuvering. This ergonomic oversight not only risks the well-being of workers but also contradicts the very principle of safety that these guards are meant to uphold.


Maintenance-Friendliness: A Matter of Efficiency

Maintenance is a vital activity that ensures machinery operates smoothly, safely, and efficiently. However, when fixed guards are designed without considering ease of access for maintenance tasks, they can transform routine procedures into cumbersome and hazardous chores. Workers may be forced to use inappropriate tools or methods to remove or bypass guards, inadvertently increasing the risk of accidents and machinery damage. Furthermore, time-consuming disassembly and reassembly of poorly designed guarding systems can lead to prolonged machine downtime, negatively impacting productivity and operational costs. That is if they are actually put back in place after the maintenance.


The Dual Path to Enhanced Safety and Efficiency

Embracing Sectional and Modular Designs

One of the most effective strategies for integrating ergonomic and maintenance-friendly features into fixed guarding is adopting sectional and modular designs. These designs allow guards to be dismantled in smaller, manageable pieces, significantly reducing the physical effort required for removal and reinstallation, and can typically be handled by a single person. Furthermore, modular systems can be easily adapted or reconfigured to accommodate changes in machinery or processes, enhancing their long-term utility and efficiency.

Incorporating Ergonomic Handles and Fasteners

Adding ergonomic handles and easy-to-use fasteners, like SMART wedge clamps, to guard designs can transform the maintenance experience. Handles designed for a comfortable grip can significantly reduce the risk of hand and finger injuries, as well as make the handling of guards more manageable, minimizing the risk of musculoskeletal strain. Quick-release fasteners, guard seats, and hinges enable maintenance personnel to access machinery without fumbling with nuts and bolts, streamlining the maintenance process and reducing downtime. Then there is always a place for the guard to back onto.

Prioritizing Visibility and Access

Designing fixed guarding with visibility and access in mind is crucial. Guards equipped with black mesh panels allow operators and maintenance personnel to monitor machine operation without the need to remove the guards. Additionally, incorporating inspection doors or gates that securely close can provide safe and convenient access to routine maintenance areas, reducing the need to remove multiple sections of guarding.



The integration of ergonomics and maintenance-friendly design principles into fixed machine guarding is not merely an enhancement; it is a necessity for advancing workplace safety and operational efficiency. By rethinking the design of fixed guards to accommodate the needs of those who interact with them daily, we can create a safer, more productive industrial environment. This approach champions a holistic view of safety, recognizing that the well-being of workers and the smooth operation of machinery are intertwined. As industries continue to evolve, let us not forget that the best safety solutions are those that consider the entire process, ensuring that protection does not come at the cost of well-being or efficiency.