Safety Guarding 101

Risk Assessments: The Ins and Outs


Jason Kerkhof

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May 15, 2024

In the industrial sector, where machinery is the backbone of production, ensuring the safety of those who operate and interact with this equipment is paramount. Machine guarding plays a crucial role in this context, acting as a preventive barrier between the user and the hazardous parts of machinery.

However, the effectiveness of machine guarding isn't just about installing barriers or protective devices; it begins with a comprehensive risk assessment. This essential process helps identify potential hazards, evaluate risks, and implement safety solutions tailored to specific needs. Let's delve into the purpose, types, and benefits of machine guarding risk assessments, shedding light on their importance in fostering a safer work environment.


The Purpose and Reason for Doing a Risk Assessment

A risk assessment serves as the foundation for any effective safety management system. Its primary purpose is to systematically identify all potential hazards associated with machinery and evaluate the risk of harm they pose to operators and other employees.

This proactive approach not only helps in preventing accidents and injuries but also ensures compliance with safety regulations and standards, such as those set by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the United States. By understanding the "what" and "how" something might go wrong, businesses can implement targeted measures to mitigate these risks, ultimately protecting their workforce and assets.


Types and Applications of Machine Guarding Assessments

Machine guarding risk assessments can vary widely depending on the type of machinery, the nature of the operation, and the environment in which the machinery is used. However, they generally fall into two main categories:

1.       Machine-Specific Guarding Assessments

Machine-specific guarding assessments focus on evaluating the risks and safety measures associated with individual types of machinery. This approach recognizes that each machine has unique operational characteristics, hazards, and interaction points with operators. Machine-specific assessments delve into the manufacturer's safety guidelines, the history of the machine's operation(including any incidents), and the specific tasks it performs. This thorough analysis aims to identify all potential hazards, such as mechanical motions, points of operation, and energy releases, to determine the appropriate guarding solutions. The solutions might range from fixed guards that provide a permanent barrier to adjustable and interlocking guards that offer flexibility while ensuring safety. This type of assessment ensures that the safety measures are perfectly tailored to the machine's specific risks, significantly reducing the likelihood of accidents and enhancing overall safety.

2.       Application-Specific Guarding Assessments

Application-specific guarding assessments, on the other hand, extend beyond the machinery itself to consider the context in which the machine is used, including the environment, the processes it is part of, and the interactions between different machines and operators. This type of assessment is particularly crucial in complex manufacturing settings where multiple machines work in conjunction or where machines are repurposed for tasks they weren't originally designed for. Application-specific assessments evaluate how machines integrate with one another, potential hazards from environmental factors (like chemical exposure or noise), and how human factors influence safety. For example, in an automated assembly line, the assessment would look at how the safety measures of individual machines interact and ensure they don't create new, unforeseen hazards when integrated. This holistic view helps identify safety solutions that not only protect operators but also improve the efficiency and reliability of the manufacturing process. By considering the broader application and context, these assessments can implement comprehensive safety strategies that encompass engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of personal protective equipment to mitigate risks effectively.

Applications of machine guarding assessments are broad and varied, encompassing everything from simple mechanical guards on lathes and milling machines to more complex safety systems integrated into automated manufacturing lines. The key is to tailor the assessment to the specific machinery and operation, taking into account factors such as the machine's lifecycle, the types of hazards(mechanical, electrical, thermal, etc.), and the interactions between operators and the machine.


Importance of Selecting the Right Company for a Risk Assessment

When looking into companies that do risk assessments, it is important to ask a few questions in order to find the right choice, and not have to pay additional for other companies to come in later on and double up on the work.

- Is there a report provided?
- Does the report include itemized list of non-compliant guards and the specific guarding deficiencies?
- Are risk ratings provided for prioritizing projects?
- Do they provide guarding solutions?
- Is pricing for those solutions included?
- Is installation or installation support provided?

All of these are important in a complete risk assessment as it will allow for prioritization, have actual guarding quotes, so there’s no need to then get another company into measure and design guards. And reports with pertinent information and pricing makes it easier when applying for capital funding.


Implementing Safety Solutions Post-Assessment

Following a thorough risk assessment, the next step is to implement safety solutions to control or eliminate the identified risks. This may involve a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).  

Engineering controls, such as physical guards, interlocks, and safety sensors, are often the most effective as they physically prevent access to hazardous areas. Administrative controls, including training, standard operating procedures, and signage, help to inform and guide workers about safe practices. Lastly, PPE serves as a final line of defense, protecting workers from residual risks that cannot be fully eliminated through other means.


The Lasting Benefits of a Machine Guarding Assessment

The benefits of conducting a machine guarding risk assessment extend far beyond compliance and immediate safety improvements. These assessments lead to:

- Enhanced Operational Efficiency: By identifying and mitigating hazards, businesses can reduce downtime caused by accidents and equipment damage.

- Improved Worker Morale: A safe working environment boosts employee morale and confidence, which in turn can enhance productivity and quality of work.

- Long-Term Cost Savings: Investing in safety through risk assessments can lead to significant long-term savings by avoiding the costs associated with accidents, such as medical expenses, legal fees, and increases in insurance premiums. Not to mention the downtime that comes with injuries for reports and investigations.


In conclusion, machine guarding risk assessments are a vital component of workplace safety, offering a structured approach to identifying, evaluating, and controlling risks associated with machinery. By understanding the purpose, types, and applications of these assessments, and by implementing effective safety solutions, businesses can not only ensure compliance with safety regulations but also create a culture of safety that benefits everyone involved. The lasting benefits, including enhanced operational efficiency, improved worker morale, and long-term cost savings, make machine guarding risk assessments an indispensable tool in the pursuit of a safer and more productive work environment.