Elements of a machine guarding program

I have recently been asked to help protect the safety of the workers at a light manufacturing plant. My new plant manager is very committed to safety and will often support actions that go beyond the minimum standards required by OSHA. I understand most of the OSHA regulations, but an area that is confusing to me is the issue of machine guarding. Can you give me some advice on what should be included in an excellent machine guarding program?

Answered by John Czerniak, senior safety consultant, National Safety Council, Itasca, IL.

You are fortunate to be working for a manager committed to workplace safety. The National Safety Council believes management leadership and commitment is the most critical factor in determining the success and effectiveness of any safety management system. While it is not possible to give you specific advice without seeing your actual operations, it is possible to discuss some characteristics of machine guarding programs that exist in organizations that display safety excellence.

Four steps you may want to consider:

1. Ensure all employees understand machine guarding basics. A machine can exert large forces at speeds that exceed the capacity of a human body. Each employee should understand these terms:

  • Point of operation – the point at which the machine does the work for which it is designed. For example, the point of operation for a saw is where the cutting occurs.
  • Power apparatus – the source, such as a motor, that generates the forces that allow the machine the power to complete its work.
  • Power transmission apparatus – the mechanisms, such as belts and gears, that allow the power to get from the power apparatus to the point of operation.
All employees should be familiar with these three terms, as each of these areas should be protected by machine guards or other guarding methods.

2. Develop an area-specific list of machine guards and the guarding methods. This list will be helpful in developing area-specific checklists, verifying all potential hazards are guarded, and as a reference source as machines are modified or purchased.

3. Define roles and responsibility for ensuring guards are in place. A typical responsibility for a machine operator is to verify all identified guards are securely in place and all guarding devices are functional before using a machine. For area supervisors, it is customary to require periodic audits occur to verify that their workers are not removing guards or defeating other guarding methods. For engineers and maintenance, normal responsibilities include verifying any new or modified operations are properly guarded, and guards and other devices are properly maintained. The safety manager or safety committee should conduct general machine guarding training, audit the effectiveness of the program, and resolve or elevate for resolution any outstanding guarding issues. The plant manager should occasionally praise departments when audits show all machine guards and other devices are properly used.

4. Develop a machine guarding audit program. The frequency of inspections should be determined by the likelihood a machine guard will be removed, the complexity of the machine guard or guarding device, and the severity of the injury if a machine guard is missing.

You may want to view the PowerPoint files available for download from OSHA. These files may be useful for you in conducting machine guarding awareness training.

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