SAFETY SOLUTIONS: A Fresh Look at Machine Safeguarding
The Occupational Safety of Health Act of 1970 gives the Secretary of Labor the authority to promulgate standards relating to occupational safety and health on the basis of information provided him / her by concerned and qualified organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, National Electrical Code (NEC) or individuals. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) is authorized under Section 22C of the Act to develop and establish recommended occupational safety & health standards.
An extremely important area of occupational safety & health is that which protects an operator from hazards associated with machinery and its operations. However, too frequently, the purpose of machine safeguarding is misunderstood in that it is thought to concern itself with the point of operation hazards only. The definition of Point of Operation is "The area on a machine at which work is performed on the material being processed". Too often, the positioning of electrical controls, separate and properly installed emergency stops, guarding of belts and pulleys, non-slip walking surfaces, and proper color-coding of machine guards and parts, are often neglected when manufactures are building equipment or when safety professionals are conducting inspections of machinery.
Specifically, machine safeguarding protects against and prevents injury from the following sources:
- Direct contact with the moving parts of a machine.
- Splashing of chemicals and chips from machine tool operations.
- Mechanical and electrical failures (Power outage protection).
- Human failure, resulting from human traits such as curiosity, distraction, fatigue, worry, anger, illness, as well as deliberate chance taking.
Guarding of machinery is used to indicate that which is required to prevent injury to the operator and other people in the machine area. It is presumed that machine designers strive to produce machinery, which will perform the intended function without damage to itself and without causing injury to the operator.
Today, many machines are still manufactured and used in the United States, and throughout the world, without the proper safety devices necessary to protect people from hazards not associated with the point of operation.
Some of these other protective guarding devices are mandatory not only by Federal OSHA, but also State OSHA's and various state electrical codes to protect people. These hazards are well known and have been ignored by most manufacturers or overlooked by most inspectors today. A good example of this statement is that according to most safety regulations, machinery must not be able to restart by itself after a power failure. Federal OSHA states in 29CFR 1910.213 (b)(3) "On applications where injury to the operator might result if motors were to restart after power failures, provision shall be made to prevent machines from automatically restarting upon restoration of power".
Today, you can still attend new machinery shows like the International Woodworking Show (one of the largest exhibits of industrial machinery today) and find machinery that does not meet the intent of the OSHA standards. Most machinery in the $100 to $400 range, although required to be protected from restarting, is missing this important safety device. Many unsuspecting employers purchase machinery like grinders, drill presses, bandsaws, scroll saws and other types of machinery, where the manufacturer or the employer has never installed these electrical safety controls, even though safety standards have been in place for the last 30 years.
A simple test to see if your machine has power outage protection is to start the machine and let it come to operating speed. Shut down the machine by unplugging it or turning it off at the main breaker. When the machine comes to a stop, turn the breaker back on or plug the machine back into the wall. Chances are the machine will restart.
Another good example of what I am talking about is the proper color-coding of emergency stops. Many ANSI standards require that the emergency stop be colored red, while the National Fire Protection Association for machinery (NFPA79) requires emergency stops to be red in color with a yellow background. Confusing ... you bet.
A Fresh Approach
If we are ever going to change behavior and culture when working with machinery we must concentrate our efforts in our schools. Recently, a new focus was placed on the operation of machinery in schools in the State of Minnesota. Many students, in this state and other states, are being seriously injured on equipment that was either purchased by the school district or donated to them. These machines are the same type of industrial machines used in general industry, but are now used in Middle Schools (Jr. High), High Schools, and Technical Colleges where young adults and inexperienced operators are allowed to operate them.
In the State of Minnesota a group of concerned citizens formed a machine guarding technical committee for the Minneapolis area schools. The members of this group are the Metro ECSU (Educational Cooperative Service Unit), Children, Families & Learning, Minnesota Safety Council, Minnesota OSHA, area Industrial Technology Instructors, and private companies. This committee started meeting monthly in June 2000 and is in the process of establishing safety standards that will prevent machines from being sold or used in schools if they are unsafe. In fact, every school in this state was required by the Department of Children, Families & Learning to inspect every machine in every school under their jurisdiction. After the surveys were conducted, the committee learned that even the inspectors may not have had the necessary training to inspect the machinery, and hazards were missed.
This committee, the first of its kind in the United States, is now in the process of developing guidelines to ensure the safety of teachers and students. The committee is developing the following:
- Proper bid specifications with a safety warranty attached. This warranty states that if a machine does not meet the intent of all recognized standards the machine manufacturer will bring the machine into compliance, at no cost to the school district.
- Development of a safety inspection guidebook that can be used in the classroom for teachers and students to inspect their machinery.
- Preventive maintenance programs and addendums so proper maintenance can be performed.
- A training course that every instructor must attend to remain competent. This training will be conducted during the first quarter of 2001. Each instructor completing the training will be certified for his/her district and the certification will allow that district to apply for safety and health funding through the Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning.
- Establish a statistical tracking program to track all injuries in schools.
What can you do?
Do you know anyone who has children in school? Well, get involved in your community as a professional. Help at the schools where they may not have the required knowledge to inspect this machinery. Establish a committee at the Department of Education level to ensure that young adults are educated on safe machinery and with proper curriculum that stresses safe work habits. Work with the manufactures to ensure that only safe equipment is manufactured and sold to the school districts.
In 1941, the grandfather of the safety movement H.W. Heinrich, Assistant Superintendent Engineering and Inspection for the Travelers Insurance Company wrote in his book entitled Industrial Accident Prevention, "Although man (human) failure in its several specific forms is justifiably indicated as the major cause of industrial accidents, it is nevertheless axiomatic that a reasonably safe mechanical and physical environment is a prerequisite and continuing function in accident prevention. In these days of advanced engineering practice there are few machines or mechanical processes that cannot be made almost wholly safe."
Practicality and common sense can be relied on to govern decisions, especially when these are tempered by a sincere desire to protect human life and limb. As a safety professional, please take the following statement along with you.
"In every school classroom, a student should be able to look around and see a model classroom, where there are no safety or health hazards, and where skilled instructors are protecting their safety and health by teaching a professional skill on safe equipment and in a safe environment".
For more information, click on the Author Biography at the top of this page.