According to an online article by The Fabricator, “The best way to make sure that machine operators can do their jobs effectively with proper safeguarding is to design machine systems around those safety devices in the first place.” (1) One way to easily avoid this problem is to integrate safeguards during the early design stages rather than after production processes have already been put into place. This is particularly true because most systems must be safeguarded eventually, and designing effective safeguards that don’t hinder the production process is very difficult after-the-fact.
Safety standards must be considered throughout the entire design process or workers are much less likely to use them. Designing a productive system with adequate safeguards will not only result in a more efficient workforce, it will also encourage workers to use these systems properly.
When system designers introduce a new production process without giving much thought to safety, operators and machinists tend to bypass safety measures to maintain a steady production pace. According to OSHA, this type of circumvention has become a frequent and ongoing cause of machine and crane-related accidents. Although there are other measures companies can take to help protect their workers—such as proper training—the safest bet is to implement and prioritize system safeguards and production processes simultaneously.
Safe and Effective System Design
- Risk Assessment: Designing systems that are properly safeguarded requires a comprehensive understanding of each system’s fundamental hazards. The first step to understanding these hazards is to conduct a thorough risk assessment, which identifies all hazards associated with production tasks. Identified hazards must then be classified and documented based on their severity and frequency, along with best practices to avoid them. Assessing risk factors during the design phase will help to reduce or even eliminate hazards before processes are put into place, and ensure that no new hazards arise during the integration process.
- Applying Safeguards: After conducting a thorough risk assessment to identify all hazards associated with your production tasks, safeguards must be applied properly. The safe and effective application of safeguards includes measures like safety distance calculations, which tell us how far a safeguard should be installed from a potential hazard to ensure that the hazard ceases before a worker can reach it. Safe-distance calculations should be made as soon as a system is ordered and inspected periodically thereafter. Over time, mechanical system wear can cause the hazard’s stopping time to increase, which then increases the required safety distance.
Current Safeguarding Technologies & Best Practices
- Access: Before implementing physical safeguards to reduce hazards, it’s important to assess whether or not workers will have to use equipment for production, maintenance, or any other task. If access to equipment is infrequent, or you need to secure loose or flying parts, barriers with safety interlocks on access gates may be necessary. If frequent access is required and/or there is no risk of loose or flying parts, the use of a presence-sensing safeguard may be your best bet. Presence-sensing safeguards include technology such as safety-area scanning devices, safety mats, and grids that can detect body parts fingers, hands, and other limbs.
- Muting: muting a safeguard in a controlled way can greatly improve productivity and safety. Manufacturers usually provide ways to help operators detect materials and allow them to pass through the safeguard field without coming into contact with the hazard itself. However, muting can be difficult for safety equipment users to accomplish alone.
- Blanking: some of the best safeguarding devices on the market today include features that are designed to enhance productivity AND safety. Blanking, for instance, allows material to flow through a part of the protected field while guarding the rest of the field from hazards. Blanking can impact a device’s proper safe mounting-distance from a hazard, but if used correctly, it will also provide a flexible way to safeguard against certain hazards.
- Multiple Devices: the safest solutions available often combine multiple safeguarding devices. This can also include proper training and awareness procedures, which help keep workers out of hazardous areas. These include simple safeguard methods such as warning signs, alarms, and flashing lights. Although they are an excellent way to supplement automatic detection, training and awareness devices should not be the only safeguarding methods used.
Over the past fifteen years, many safeguarding technology advances have been made to allow for more flexibility in safety design and implementation. Safety and production process designers should be experts in the productivity and safety-enhancing aspects of safeguarding—functionality, flexibility, and efficiency in design. There are a variety of functional technologies that use multiple devices to safeguard against hazards in the workplace. Presence-sensing device initiation, for instance, allows the safeguard to perform two jobs at once by protecting operators and initiating the machine cycle at the same time. This double-duty technology can improve productivity significantly, while also reducing the ergonomic repetitive stress associated with a separate cycle-start button.
It is always recommended to select safety components that have been certified by an accredited third-party agency to ensure their intended functionality. While all companies should be implementing productive safeguarding measures into their production processes, many aren’t able to develop this expertise internally. For those organizations, there are outside safety consultants and safeguarding manufacturers available to provide their expertise and help companies navigate rapidly changing technologies and industry standards.