Since the Industrial Revolution we’ve depended more and more on machinery and mechanized factories to bolster our production and efficiency. From power companies, to construction sites, to merchandise assembly lines, we use machines every single day to keep our economy moving. While machines aren’t taking over and rebelling against their human masters just yet (sci-fi movie, anyone?), there are a plethora of work related injuries every single year due to machine malfunction or improper usage.
To combat these types of injuries, OSHA has extensive rules on how to safeguard machines with various fail-safes. In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at good machine guard behavior and maintenance, and how you can help best keep your workers safe when operating equipment.
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Different Types of Safeguards
Depending on the type of equipment you use, the following can all be safety guards that are in place:
– Emergency shutoffs are common on just about every kind of machine, from table saws to public escalators. In the event that a body part or piece of equipment becomes caught in a machine, or in the case of any other malfunction, the machine can shut down to halt any moving parts immediately. These types of shutoffs can be both automatic (detected and engaged by the equipment itself) or manual (requiring an employee to hit a button of flip a switch).
– Physical guards are usually pieces of plastic, metal cages, or another materials that keep employees or their clothing from getting caught in moving parts – much in the same way many chainsaws have a guard that covers all but the bottom of the blade surface while cutting. In assembly lines, gear teeth, blades, and transition points between stages of production often have physical guards over them.
– Area guards are a type of physical guard but they are used on larger machinery. These are usually a gated enclosure that keeps workers from entering the inner workings of a machine, which are only to be accessed by trained professionals to make repairs or modifications. In the past, accidents have occurred when employees have unlocked such enclosures themselves in an attempt to self-diagnose and repair machinery problems. Keys to such enclosures should only be accessible by those properly trained.
Avoiding Injuries with Safeguards
All employees should be trained on the different types of guards being used in your workplace. Much in the same way you would require certain training before allowing an employee to drive large delivery trucks or work a sales counter, you should require specific training on every machine and piece of equipment before they are allowed to work with it.
Much of the compliance issues with guarding procedures that employers face comes down to attitude and priorities; if efficiency is viewed as more important than safety, sometimes employees will be tempted to remove or bypass guards in order to get more produced in a shorter amount of time. Remedy this by leading by example: if you make it clear that worker safety is really a priority, and not just a talking point, and that slowing things down for the sake of staying safe isn’t any sort of punishable offense, they will be in a better mindset to follow safety protocols.
Old, out of date, or damaged guards should be replaced immediately before a machine or piece of equipment is used further. A professional mechanic who knows the machine should always perform modifications and replacements. Additionally, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure guards are maintained and inspected regularly. If it’s too much for you to be on the floor personally, hire a full-time safety manager or add this to the responsibilities of your shift managers if applicable.