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August 13, 2015

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Busting the machinery safety myths: part three

In his final article, John Glover looks at the importance of machine guard designs and managing maintenance effectively.

When designing machine guards (and, if necessary, other aspects of the machinery) it is best to enable maintenance to be carried out without having to open or remove the guards. For example, external grease points can be installed, viewing panels can be incorporated in guards, and facilities for making adjustments can be made accessible from outside the guards. By using higher-specification components, companies can reduce the need for maintenance. This improves reliability and leads to a longer operating life.

Designers need to be wary of simply designing guards that meet the nominal requirements of the standards. Take, for example, BS EN ISO 13857 (Safety of machinery – Safety distances to prevent hazard zones being reached by upper and lower limbs), which assumes that people will not use steps, chairs or other objects in an attempt to reach over guards; in reality, operators may do precisely this unless the guards are made sufficiently high or a top cover is installed.

In the vast majority of cases machine guards provide protection against moving parts of machinery – and these hazards cease to exist when the machine has stopped for maintenance. However, some machines also have hot surfaces, sharp edges or other hazards that continue to be present even when the moving parts are stationary. Designers should therefore take this into account when performing the risk assessment, designing the guards and providing measures such as warning signs and maintenance instructions. If necessary, additional physical guards can be provided to prevent accidental contact with sharp blades, for example.

Manage your maintenance

Clearly, a thorough risk assessment and subsequent risk reduction measures by the machine designer can make a significant difference to the safety of maintenance operations, as can carefully prepared maintenance instructions.

Nevertheless, maintenance managers still need to ensure that a risk assessment is undertaken before maintenance work is started. This is especially true if the machine has been modified or upgraded since the original instructions were prepared, or if the machine is getting old (the state of the art may have moved on since the instructions were prepared, so some procedures described in the instructions would no longer be regarded as adequately safe). In addition, fixed guards do not need to be interlocked so, if these need to be removed, lock-off procedures must be followed to ensure that the machine cannot be restarted.

In any case, you must ensure that the machinery and work equipment you provide in the workplace is safe. It is essential that machinery and equipment are:

  • Suitable for use, and for the purpose and conditions in which it is used. This could mean that the machine is built according to the many machinery safety standards that are available.
  • Maintained in a safe condition for use so that people’s health and safety is not at risk.
  • Inspected in certain circumstances to ensure that it is, and continues to be, safe for use. Any inspection should always be carried out by a competent person (this could be an employee as long as they have the necessary competence to perform the task) and a record kept until the next inspection.

You should also ensure that risks, created by the use of the equipment, are eliminated where possible or controlled by:

  • Taking appropriate ‘hardware’ measures, e.g. providing suitable guards, protection devices, markings and warning devices, system control devices (such as emergency stop buttons) and personal protective equipment.
  • Taking appropriate ‘software’ measures such as following safe systems of work and procedures (e.g. ensuring maintenance is only performed when equipment is shut down, etc.), and providing adequate information, instruction and training.

For example, if there is a maintenance operation being carried out in a hot environment, then there is a statutory duty to protect workers from burning if the workers are working near hot surfaces or ovens. If this is the case, then the material needs to be breathable and made of natural fibres that will absorb perspiration. It is also important not to restrict the operator’s movement because the clothing is too bulky.

Final thoughts

A combination of measures may be necessary to safeguard workers. This depends on the work that company undertakes, its assessment of the risk and the practicability of introducing these measures.

Businesses need to ensure that people using work equipment have received adequate training, instruction and information for the particular equipment. At the moment, there is a global shift from the developed regions to even more demanding environments such as the Middle East. Machinery assessments need to reflect the complexity of all hazards and risks.

The services that are on offer in the UK on machinery risk management can be one of the best ever investments a company makes, particularly if it is panning to expand its operations or diversify.

John Glover is director of Glover Associates & Consulting Ltd and has practised health and safety law and safety of machinery for a number of years. He has extensive knowledge of the subject and contributes regularly to magazine articles. After having worked for a world leading health and safety organisation specialising in machinery safety, John set up his own health and safety consultancy, Glover Associates & Consulting Ltd. This then fulfilled his vision for the provision of machinery safety and occupational safety services to commerce and industry alike including manufacturing, oil and gas, energy and power generation.

Should you wish to contact Glover Associates & Consulting Ltd about this article then please do not hesitate to contact us or email John at [email protected].

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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