The Silver Lining in Machine Guarding Implementation
As a provider of multiple services to our clients in the manufacturing segment, delivering our product offerings, whether it be labor hours or machinery, necessitates an awareness of the inherent health and safety risks in all that we do. We must be able to assist our customers with support and machine solutions that are properly guarded, and preserve our own and our client personnel’s safety; we must also interact/interface with our client’s systems in a way that does not damage any of their existing machinery. In order to do this with certainty, a high level of rigor and effort must be applied around machine guarding. This can include but not necessarily be limited to construction safety plans, daily tool box talks, design reviews, job hazard analysis, potential problem analysis, and the list can go on.
In some cases, a manufacturer may question the adequacy of the level of protection around machine guarding being provided to his operations and maintenance staff while they interact with his or her existing production equipment. This need for protection may be evidenced by complaints, near misses or even reportable incidents. A second set of eyes, with a different point of view than those on staff that work with the equipment on a daily basis, can offer input and valuable recommendations that might otherwise be overlooked. As a process consultant to our customers who desire HSE support and input, we find that we can assist at both the tactical and strategic levels. Let me describe what these might look like.
When assisting in a safety assessment (and in particular a machine guarding review) on the tactical level, the understanding and application of such standards as those provided by ANSI, UL, and OSHA become the mechanisms with which the existing machinery can be examined. From this inspection, problem areas are identified, the applicable codes can be cited, and appropriate remedial actions recommended. When we use this approach of understanding and implementing the mandated safeguards, the solutions tend to be ancillary devices that are added on to the existing line, usually designed to create a physical barrier between the machinery and the affected personnel. With respect to automatic machinery, making sure that the controls provide appropriate sensing and fail safe interlocks is paramount.
We do however look for opportunities to offer more strategic solutions to potential safety problems and issues. What we try to provide in these situations is a more fundamental analysis of the work flow, seeking to separate the functions of the machinery from that of the operators that. We help our clients rethink what tasks in their manufacturing process should be performed by their personnel, and what other operations are more suited for machinery to perform. Once this determination is made (which, by the way, can be driven by Lean thinking), the discussion then goes to rethinking the workflow so that the product is presented to the operations staff in a way that does not require them to be in the same space as the machinery.
Herein lies the silver lining in executing a “safety” project. Once our customers realize that they are not providing reasonable protection for their people by virtue of the current construct of their production machinery and the resulting “unsafe” operations interface points, they are faced with the challenge of mitigating this risk to their people. The realization that money must be spent to provide more safeguarding becomes the impetus to rethink the process, redesign the workflow, and implement a new, more up to date manufacturing line that is leaner, helps reduce costs and improve product delivery, and results in a safer working situation for their staff. Ultimately their money is spent on retooling the line into this new configuration, not in guarding their current suboptimal layout (which typically involves constructing barriers and results in more obstructions and inefficiencies).