Safety Guarding 101

The Critical Need for Machine Guarding in Building Mechanical Rooms


Jason Kerkhof

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April 3, 2024

Mechanical rooms are the operational heartbeats of buildings, silently pumping life through the veins of the structure with a network of HVAC units, pumps, fans, elevators, and other essential machinery. These spaces, though crucial, host several hidden dangers, especially from rotating equipment that requires guarding. The importance of machine guarding stretches far beyond the world of bulk material handling; it is equally critical in the everyday environments in the buildings we see daily.


The Overlooked Hazards

In mechanical rooms, the risks associated with unguarded machinery can be easily underestimated. Rotating parts of equipment such as belts, fans, and pumps present significant entanglement hazards. Without adequate guarding, these components can become unwitting traps for clothing, tools, limbs, or hair, leading to severe injuries, or in extreme cases, fatalities.

Electrical hazards are also prevalent, with the potential for shock or electrocution heightened by the proximity to high-powered machinery. Moreover, the confined spaces often characteristic of mechanical rooms exacerbate the risks, limiting maneuverability and escape routes in case of emergencies.


A Case for Comprehensive Machine Guarding

Machine guarding is not merely a recommendation; it is a necessity for ensuring safety within mechanical rooms, and is required by OSHA. Proper guarding serves as a physical barrier between the moving parts of machinery and the personnel required to operate, maintain, or navigate these spaces. Here are compelling reasons to prioritize machine guarding in mechanical rooms:

1.      Preventing Entrapment and Amputation
Rotating equipment can grab loose clothing or extremities in a fraction of a second. Guards prevent direct contact with moving parts, significantly reducing the risk of entrapment, amputation, or other catastrophic injuries.
2.      Mitigating Electrical Risks
Guarding can also help in creating safe zones away from electrical components, reducing the likelihood of electrical shocks and promoting safer intervention strategies for maintenance personnel.
3.      Enhancing Overall Safety Culture
Implementing stringent guarding measures reflects a commitment to safety. It fosters a culture of vigilance and respect for the inherent dangers posed by mechanical systems, encouraging safer operational practices.


Strategies for Effective Machine Guarding

Ensuring the safety of those who work in and around mechanical rooms demands a proactive approach to machine guarding. Here are strategies to implement effective guarding measures:

1.      Comprehensive Risk Assessments
Conduct thorough risk assessments to identify potential hazards associated with rotating machinery and electrical components. Use these assessments to tailor guarding solutions that address specific risks.
2.      Utilization of Standardized Guards
Wherever possible, utilize standardized guards that are designed to fit the machinery in question. These guards are often engineered to provide protection without compromising the functionality of the equipment.
3.      Custom Guarding Solutions
For bespoke or unique machinery, custom guarding solutions may be necessary. Collaborate with safety engineers to design and install guards that meet the specific safety requirements of each piece of equipment.
4.      Regular Inspections and Maintenance
Guarding systems themselves require regular inspection and maintenance to ensure they remain effective. Include guard checks as part of routine maintenance schedules for all mechanical room equipment.
5.      Training and Awareness
Educate all personnel about the dangers of unguarded machinery and the proper use of guards. Training should cover not only how to safely work around guarded equipment but also the risks of bypassing or removing guards.



The mechanical rooms within our buildings, often out of sight and mind, harbor significant dangers that must be addressed with diligence and care. Machine guarding represents a critical layer of defense against the risks posed by rotating equipment. By embracing comprehensive guarding strategies, we can protect the individuals who maintain the lifelines of our buildings, ensuring that these hidden chambers of operation remain safe and efficient. Let's commit to elevating the standards of safety in every corner of our built environment, starting with the vigilant guarding of machinery in mechanical rooms.