Five Steps To Better Machine Safety
Jane Alexander | December 17, 2015
Whether it’s a new corporate push or a continuation of existing practices, actively identifying areas to improve safety and implementing corrective measures is a never-ending, yet necessary, process. This includes machine safety.
As Cumming, GA-based AutomationDirect (automationdirect.com) reminds us, safety is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone in a plant has a responsibility to work carefully and report unsafe conditions. For example, personnel working around machines must be aware of and protected from hazards created by point-of-operation, pinch points, rotating machinery, flying debris, and sparks. How do your operations measure up?
If safety upgrade projects are in order, they must be carefully identified, defined, and scheduled to be successful. Involving operators and maintenance-team members every step of the way is also crucial, as these individuals are on the front lines where hazards are most pronounced. The right plant culture—one that creates awareness and prioritizes safety over production—is key to these efforts.
AutomationDirect’s technical experts emphasize the following steps for improving machine safety at a site.
Review and document plant-safety requirements.
If your facility doesn’t have them, the first step is to create them. In most cases, they do exist and just need to be reviewed, updated, and disseminated to all plant personnel. Proper plant policy, standards, and requirements go a long way in growing vigilant workers.
Perform a risk assessment on all machines.
From a machine-safety and related electrical standpoint, plant operations present countless potentially hazardous situations, i.e., boom, crush, zap, burn, and cut. A proper risk assessment involves three questions:
• What are the hazards?
• How can the hazard hurt personnel?
• How can the hazard be removed or controlled?
Answering these questions for all machines in your facility will likely identify many safety-improvement opportunities. Make a list, harvest the low-hanging fruit, and then continue until the tree is picked clean.
Install signs to identify hazards.
It’s important to denote specific hazards with signage. Not only do signs remind workers to regularly think about safety, they point out hazards that may go unnoticed. All hazards—chemical, electrical, personal-protection, personal-awareness, and machine-safety—must be identified. While hundreds, if not thousands, of signs are available for purchase (including those associated with OSHA and ANSI Z535-2011 standards), don’t go overboard. Too much of a good thing will overwhelm plant personnel.
Identify and install new safety components.
The risk assessment may identify machines that have had their safety systems modified, adjusted, bypassed, disabled, even removed. It will also probably show areas requiring new capabilities. In both cases, safety systems must be updated, either by restoring the original equipment, or adding new components. Typical projects include:
• improving point-of-access control with light curtains
• installing two-hand control on assembly equipment
• upgrading/replacing guard safety switches
• enhancing guard mechanical design and monitoring
• adding emergency-stop pushbuttons.
(Note: The poor design of some safety systems leads operators to disable them. In such cases, rather than restore a machine to its original state, it’s better to improve upon the design.)
Train operators and maintenance teams on new requirements and designs.
If individuals have been involved from the start, training on a new safety regimen should generally be a matter of review. Make sure everyone in the plant is fully aware of and on board with all changes and upgrades. Untrained or careless workers can make even the best-designed facilities unsafe. Be sure to also include emergency-response training in these review sessions.
For more information on machine safety and other important plant-floor issues, visit AutomationDirect’s Online Library at library.automationdirect.com.