This article was written by Josh Hancey, Safety Director at Helpside.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employers must use one or more methods of machine guarding to protect operators and other employees from hazards 

These hazards include point of operation dangers, in-running nip points, rotating parts, and the risks posed by flying chips and sparks. Additionally, other hazardous motions such as rotating, reciprocating, cutting, punching, shearing, and bending must be safeguarded.  

Here is everything you need to know about machine guard safety for your employees.  

Why Machine Guarding Matters 

Machine guarding is crucial because it helps prevent serious injuries and fatalities. Statistics reveal the alarming impact of inadequate machine guarding: 

– Over 700 fatalities annually from contact with objects and equipment. 

– More than 120,000 hand injuries each year. 

– Over 6,000 non-fatal amputations annually. 

– Over 200,000 lost workdays due to machine guarding deficiencies. 

– Machine guarding ranks among the top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety violations. 

General Requirements for Safeguards 

To ensure effective protection, safeguards must meet the following criteria: 

  1. Prevent Contact: Safeguards must prevent workers’ hands, arms, or any other body parts from contacting dangerous moving parts.
  2. Secure Attachment: Safeguards should be designed so that workers cannot easily remove or tamper with them.
  3. Object Protection: Safeguards must ensure that no objects can fall into moving parts.
  4. Operational Efficiency: Safeguards should not impede workers from performing their jobs quickly and comfortably. Proper safeguarding can enhance efficiency by relieving workers’ injury apprehensions.

Types of Safeguards 

There are various types of safeguards, each designed to address specific hazards and operational needs: 

Guards 

  – Fixed Guards: Permanent parts of a machine that provide a barrier. 

  – Interlocked Guards: Automatically shut off a machine when the guard is opened or removed. 

  – Adjustable Guards: Can be adjusted to accommodate different operations. 

  – Self-Adjusting Guards: Automatically adjust to the size of the stock entering the danger area. 

Devices 

  – Presence-Sensing Devices: Use sensors and controls to interrupt the machine if a hand or body part is detected in the danger zone. 

  – Pull Back Devices: Use cables attached to the operator’s hands to pull them back from the danger zone. 

  – Restraint Devices: Restrict the operator’s hand travel to a predetermined safe area. 

Safety Controls 

  – Two-Hand Controls: The machine operates only if the operator maintains constant pressure on two separate controls. 

  – Safety Trip Controls: Use pressure-sensitive body bars or similar devices to stop the machine. 

Gates  

Moveable barriers that protect the operator at the point of operation. 

Location/Distance 

Placing machines in a location or at a distance to ensure safety, although not actual guards, can be effective. 

Emergency Stop Devices and Foot Controls 

Emergency stop devices are designed to be used in reaction to an incident or hazardous situation and should not be considered a primary method of machine guarding. Similarly, foot controls, if not securely fixed at a safe distance, do not provide effective machine safeguarding. 

Administrative Controls 

In addition to physical safeguards, administrative controls can further reduce the risk of serious injury or death. Key administrative measures include: 

– Eliminate Slip, Trip, and Fall Hazards: Keep areas around machines clear. 

– Maintain Good Housekeeping: Ensure cleanliness around points of operation and machines. 

– Strategic Placement: Place machines away from high traffic areas. 

– Employee Training: Regularly train employees on machine safety. 

– Clothing and Jewelry Policies: Implement specific policies to prevent clothing or jewelry from getting caught in machines. 

Lockout/Tagout Procedures 

When performing maintenance, cleaning, or removing objects from a machine, follow OSHA’s lockout/tagout standard to ensure the machine is properly shut down and cannot be restarted until the work is complete. This is a critical step in preventing accidental injuries. 

By adhering to these guidelines and ensuring proper machine guarding, employers can significantly enhance workplace safety, protect their employees, and avoid costly penalties.