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December 14, 2016

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What does it take to be a machine safety engineer?

What attributes and skills do you need in order to be an effective machine safety engineer in any organisation? Warren Spiers of Spiers Engineering Safety explores the ins and outs of machine safety engineering.

Machine Safety, especially in the end-user manufacturing scenario, is all too often, not carried out very well. I have observed this to be true even in organisations who implement ‘traditional’ health and safety topics such as COSHH, manual handling, slips/trips/falls etc.

In nearly 20 years of working in a variety of roles and companies, it seems that in general terms this boils down to two basic truisms:

  1. that health and safety professionals don’t know enough about engineering, while engineers don’t know enough about health and safety; and
  2. for whatever reason, these two disciplines seldom work together effectively to achieve the right result. To a greater or lesser extent, both parties see machine safety as the job of the other.

One particular example of user specified change management (i.e. without the involvement of the Original Equipment Manufacturer) is functional safety.

engineeringFunctional Safety

This refers to the selection, installation and configuration of protective devices and related control systems needed in order to avoid unexpected start-up of the machine during operator or engineer interventions.

As a manufacturer, you often rely upon others to make decisions during the design and build phases; these might be your electrical engineers, mechanical designers and/or automation technicians. Perhaps their choices were correct, perhaps not.

The obligations to the company in law are the same as with other areas, like noise in the workplace, or control of hazardous substances. In the event that things are questioned – in the worst case after a serious incident – the company must be able to evidence what it did and why and the only presumption of conformity available is working to standards.

Those standards specify the documentation that is required in order to evidence what was done and why. So, what is the message? “Being right is not enough…. Prove it”.

Finally, all good management systems account for some feedback and review. This is where an independent and impartial competent person (i.e.; a machine safety engineer) can really come in handy!

Health and safety professionals are often used to create and carry out our risk assessments, and (if I’m being very honest) us engineers don’t tend to like to get involved in that kind of stuff. Machine safety in general, can appear to be (even to experienced technical engineers) an extremely complex and overwhelming topic.

No-one would blame a company for wanting to outsource that task of assessing safety and ensuring compliance. No business wants their staff to get hurt, and even fewer want to be prosecuted. This is where a machine safety engineer comes in.

What does a machine safety engineer look like?

The machine safety engineer is the curator of the final piece. He doesn’t play all the instruments, but he must have a keen interest and familiarity with all of them.

Ideally, the engineer will have spent time in a variety of different industries, and have experience in multiple disciplines like design and maintenance of electrical systems. .

As experience is gained, the machine safety engineer will have gathered an appreciation of:

  1. Failure modes, i.e. how things fail and the mistakes that are commonly made.
  2. Tasks that are typically required
  3. Experience of how ‘creative’ people can be when it comes to overcoming safeguards and what factors might motivate them to do so.

As a machine safety engineer you will need to utilise these skills and apply them to:

  1. Hazard identification
  2. Task analysis
  3. Understanding technical standards
  4. Report writing
  5. Articulating your thoughts to others

A machine safety engineer helps customers and clients audit the safety and compliance of their machines. There are two primary areas that this support falls in to:

  1. CE Marking Machines: This applies to machinery placed into use for the first time within the EU that must comply with the EU Machinery Directive, and
  2. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). In the UK, any machinery or work equipment which employers use must be safe. Where there is a significant risk potential then a PUWER inspection record is required also.

If able to convey your thoughts clearly, already experienced in doing risk assessments, and using technical standards to make your machines PUWER compliant, then you are already well on the way to becoming a Machine Safety Engineer.

Considering a career in machine safety?

One of the things that can be very daunting when you first consider a career in machine safety is the hundreds of standards, which are constantly changing.

Nobody expects you to memorise the contents of these ever-changing standards. On the contrary, you can be very effective with a basic understanding of around six to ten standards, and the common sense to know where to look for the specifics for the rest.

So, who are you going to work for? Most SME’s don’t have the capacity to hire an experienced machine safety engineer, hence why they choose to outsource their work to a machine safety consultancy.

If you have an interest in this type of engineering, then it’s usually a good starting point to self-educate and take a personal interest in the subject first. You could also ‘champion’ the subject in your own business; your employer may recognise your interest and invest in your development.

If you would like to pursue a career in machine safety outside of your current organisation, then you should direct your attention to smaller, specialised machine safety consultancies.

Spiers Engineering is currently recruiting for a machine safety engineer – if you think you have what it takes, then apply today on SHP4Jobs.

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