Safety Guarding 101

To Guard, or Not to Guard


Jason Kerkhof

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February 7, 2024

In the fast-paced world of manufacturing and industrial production, the safety of workers is paramount. One crucial aspect that often stands between an employee and potential hazards is the humble machine guard. The decision of whether to guard or not can significantly impact workplace safety, raising questions about the balance between safety and risk management. This blog explores why companies need to guard machines, the debate surrounding safety versus risk management, the misconception of workers' compensation as a sufficient safety net, and the responsibility of employers in ensuring a safe working environment. Additionally, we'll delve into specific scenarios of missing or non-compliant machine guards and their consequences. 

Why Guarding Machines is Essential

Machine guards serve as the first line of defense against workplace injuries and fatalities. They act as physical barriers to prevent access to hazardous areas, such as moving parts, sharp edges, or high-temperature surfaces. The primary objectives of machine guarding are to protect workers from potential dangers, reduce the risk of accidents, and ensure the smooth operation of equipment.

Safety vs. Risk Management

The debate surrounding machine guarding often centers on finding the right balance between safety and risk management. While some argue that overly cautious measures can hinder productivity, the potential consequences of neglecting safety are far more severe. It is essential to recognize that investing in proper machine guarding is not just a safety measure but a smart risk management strategy.

Isn't Workers' Compensation Enough?

A common misconception is that workers' compensation is a sufficient safety net for workplace injuries. While workers' compensation provides financial support to employees injured on the job, it doesn't address the root cause of accidents. By relying solely on compensation, companies may overlook the importance of preventing injuries through proactive measures like machine guarding.

What Employers Should Do

Employers play a pivotal role in ensuring workplace safety, and their responsibilities extend beyond providing workers' compensation. To foster a safe working environment, employers should:

1.      Conduct Risk Assessments: Regularly assess workplace hazards and identify areas that require machine guarding to mitigate potential risks.

2.      Invest in Training: Provide comprehensive training to employees on the proper use of machines and the importance of adhering to safety protocols.

3.      Regular Maintenance: Ensure that machine guards are regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced if damaged to guarantee their effectiveness.

4.      Stay Compliant: Keep abreast of industry regulations and standards to ensure that machine guards are compliant with safety guidelines.


Specific Scenarios of Missing or Non-Compliant Guards

1.      Pinch Points: Failure to guard pinch points on machinery can result in severe injuries, including crushed or amputated limbs.

2.      Inadequate Enclosures: Machines that generate heat, sparks, or noise must be properly enclosed to prevent burns, fires, or hearing damage.

3.      Removable Guards: Instances of missing or removable guards expose workers to unnecessary risks, as they can easily be forgotten or intentionally omitted.

4.      Improperly Adjusted Guards: Guards that are not correctly adjusted or secured can be just as hazardous as missing guards, creating a false sense of security.


In the ongoing debate of "to guard or not to guard," the answer is clear: companies must prioritize machine guarding to ensure the safety of their workforce. Balancing safety and risk management is a delicate task, but the consequences of neglecting proper guarding measures can be severe. Employers must recognize their role in fostering a safe workplace, going beyond workers' compensation to proactively prevent accidents. By investing in machine guarding, companies not only protect their employees but also safeguard their reputation and long-term success in an increasingly safety-conscious world.