Compliance Equipment Safety Training

What’s Up With Machine-Safety Risk Assessments?

EP Editorial Staff | June 20, 2018

Answer: Strategies to minimize hazards start with this type of process.

A risk assessment is used in machine safety to identify, document, eliminate, or reduce hazards in a particular piece of equipment or process. While it’s always best to refer to relevant standards when planning a risk assessment, automation experts with Banner Engineering, Minneapolis (bannerengineering.com), offer answers to several commonly asked questions. As the company notes, however, this information is provided only for general educational purposes—and is accurate only as of the time of publication. Banner recommends consulting a safety professional about your specific application before implementing safety measures.

Q: What is a risk assessment?

Ultimately, a risk assessment is a process that helps identify:

• potential hazards
potential severity of hazards
frequency of exposure to hazards
strategies to implement to minimize hazards and avoid harm.

This process is not a quick cure for all safety issues, nor is it a guarantee of a 100% injury-free workplace. It is more of a risk
diagnosis and safety prescription used to document risk in a workplace, help determine an acceptable level of risk, and determine a course of action to mitigate risks.

Q: What steps must be taken in a risk assessment?

The four fundamental steps in the risk-assessment process are:

• Identify tasks and the associated hazards in the workplace.
Assess the probability and severity of harm.
Reduce the risk of harm by eliminating the hazard or using safeguarding methods.
Document the process and the results.

Through the risk-assessment process and the documentation it produces, a machine manufacturer and an employer can prove due diligence in providing a safe workplace and a quality product.

Q: What standards should be followed?

There are many standards. Among them:

• ANSI/RIA R15.06 -1999, Safety Requirements for Industrial Robots and Robot Systems
ANSI B11 TR3, Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction
ISO 14121(EN 1050), Principles of Risk Assessment
OSHA 3071 Job Hazard Analysis
IEC 812 FMEA.

Also refer to EN 1050 and ISO 13849-1, which outline the process of risk assessment and specific categories of safety equipment.

Standards help define a cohesive strategy or approach to the risk-assessment process, which, if followed, can lead to better decisions and more efficient utilization of resources.

Q: Does OSHA endorse any certain standard?

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington (osha.gov), does not provide a prescription, it does provide the objective. It is a general expectation that industry-recognized abatement methods will be applied whenever and wherever feasible.

Q: Who is responsible for conducting a risk assessment?

In the United States, ANSI standards (American National Standards Institute, Washington, ansi.org) that define Risk Assessment, such as B100.0 2010 and RIA 15.06 2012, assign safety responsibilities to the machine supplier and the user.

OSHA strongly recommends that a risk assessment be conducted, that it should include implementation of a risk-mitigation plan, and that the entire process should be thoroughly documented to demonstrate due diligence.

In the European Union, machine suppliers are primarily responsible for ensuring that a safe machine is shipped. They will typically be the parties that conduct basic risk assessments.

Q: Who should be involved in the risk-assessment process?

Choose a diverse and well-respected group of individuals. Operators, maintenance, electrical, mechanical engineers, shift leads, production supervisors, and health and safety professionals are all potential candidates. These individuals should be empowered by an officer of the company who is responsible for allocating resources. Management must provide visible leadership to make this process credible.

Q: Can a consultant be hired to carry out a risk assessment?

Competent consultants can greatly enhance the risk-assessment process, but the final responsibility for personnel safety is still that of the employer. Employees should also be trained to recognize hazards and act appropriately.

Q: When should a risk assessment be conducted?

Ideally, a risk assessment should be conducted whenever changes are made, especially when new machinery or systems are introduced, new tasks are added, or a new routine is devised. When adding new processes, evaluate what tasks may create the probability of a hazardous event.

Q: What needs to be assessed?

Everything should be assessed, not just the potential hazards. Among other things, look at the work environment, ergonomics, and noise. Keep all of that in mind, since, in case of a violation or litigation, an organization must be able to demonstrate that the risk assessment was sufficient for the given hazard.

Q: How should this process begin?

The first thing that should be done is to get buy-in from front-line employees by explaining that the goal of a risk assessment is to have a workplace free of hazards. It should be emphasized that each employee is responsible for his/her own safety. It is a responsibility of the employee to report any recognized hazards.

Q: What can be done to reduce the risk of injury on hard-to-guard hazardous machines?

Do what is feasible from a design standpoint. Implement safeguards, use personal protective equipment, raise the general level of awareness of the hazard, and develop safe work procedures for all tasks where the hazard cannot be eliminated or controlled. The end result should be to achieve a tolerable level of risk.

Q: How should risks be prioritized?

Priority should always be given to the highest risk hazard. An ergonomic workstation is less of a priority than an unguarded stamp press.

Q: How do you determine which hazards are worse than others?

Industry risk-assessment models are designed to assist with this process.

Q: What industries use risk assessments?

Risk assessments are conducted in many industries where workplace accidents must be minimized and product quality and performance are critical. Some of these industries have made an effort to standardize a process for evaluating risk, including:

• metal forming/cutting
medical devices
robotics
insurance
aerospace
semiconductor
transportation.

Q: Do small companies need to record the results of a risk assessment? 

It is strongly recommended that all companies, regardless of size, thoroughly document any risk assessments they conduct. If a safety-related incident should occur, this documentation can be used to demonstrate that a risk assessment was done properly and all necessary risk-mitigation strategies were put into place.

Q: Do OEMs need to perform risk assessments?

It is a minimum responsibility to consider risk associated with all reasonably foreseeable use and/or misuse of equipment and to design out or minimize these risks where feasible. OEMs have a duty to their customers to make them aware of any residual risk associated with equipment operation.

The end-user should reduce any further identified risk through additional safeguards and administrative measures, including supervision, warning signs, and training.

Q: How can risk-assessment accuracy be verified?

Generally, a risk assessment is considered accurate if it can be demonstrated that all the minimum requirements established by an industry have been met or exceeded and that results are periodically reviewed and confirmed.

Q: How can one be certain of compliance with standards in other countries?

Most countries have adopted ISO standards (International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, iso.org). If your site has conducted a good risk assessment, it will satisfy standards in most countries.

Q: Where does a risk assessment fit into the safety program?

A risk assessment is listed as the second of five core elements In OSHA’s proposed safety-program rule. It immediately follows management leadership and employee participation.

Q: What is an FMEA?

A Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) is one specific procedure used to conduct a risk analysis.

When identifying hazards, it is sometimes necessary to look systematically at the components that control the hazard or protect people from the hazards from countless sources, e.g., valves slowing down, brakes wearing out, mechanical-door switches failing. If components are relied upon for safety, the failure modes and their effect on safety must be analyzed. EP

For more information on a wide range of machine topics and solutions, including safety, visit bannerengineering.com.

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