Machines and their moving parts are accidents waiting to happen and thousands of workers are injured each year from machine-related accidents. And yet, machine guarding is one of OSHA’s top 10 most commonly cited violations (learn about the Top 10 OSHA Safety Violations You May Have Committed Last Year).

This article will give you an overview of why machine guards are important, when they’re necessary, and what you need to look for to ensure you’re choosing the right ones. We’ll also go over employee training, which is a critical component of an effective machine guarding safety program.

Why and When Machine Guards Are Required

Most people who have worked with machinery, especially those with lots of moving parts, have a good sense of why machine guards are important. The hazards involved with machine use are numerous, and the potential for worker injury is extremely high. The hazards include:

  • Rotating machine parts, reciprocating motions, and transverse motions
  • Direct injuries from points of operation where the machine cuts, shapes, bores, or bends
  • Pinch points and shear points where a body part of piece of clothing could get caught
  • Moving belts and gears
  • Flying splinters, chips, or debris
  • Splashes, sparks, or sprays created during machine operation

Machine-related injuries range in severity. The most common accidents include workers being rubbed or abraded by friction or pressure, being caught in or compressed by equipment, and having body parts accidentally amputated.

According to OSHA, any machine part, function, or process that may cause injury must be safeguarded. If the operation of a machine or accidental contact with it can injure the operator or others in the vicinity, the employer must control or eliminate the hazards.

In many cases, machines require point of operation guarding – that is, guarding of the area on a machine where work is performed. Machines that generally require this type of guard include:

  • Guillotine cutters
  • Shears
  • Alligator shears
  • Power presses
  • Milling machines
  • Power saws
  • Jointers
  • Portable power tools
  • Forming rolls and calenders

The best way to know whether a machine requires a guard is to carry out a safety assessment, which will help you determine if there are hazards that have the potential to cause injury to the machine operator. If there are, then the machine must be guarded.

The Components of a Good Guard

Effective machine guards are an essential part of a strong machine safeguarding program. There are six important things to look for when selecting them:

1. Prevents Contact

All machine guards must provide a physical barrier that keep body parts and clothing away from the "danger zone" when a machine is in operation.

2. Is Fully Secured

Workers should not be able to bypass, remove, or tamper with the machine guards in any way. The guards should not be easily removable and, where possible, must be attached to the machine. If a guard can’t be attached to the machine, it must be attached somewhere else.

3. Protects Objects from Falling into Machinery

The potential for objects to fall into a machine creates new safety hazards, can cause serious damage to the machinery, and may compromise its safe operation.

4. Allows for Safe Lubrication

Whenever possible, workers should be able to lubricate the machine without removing the guards.

5. Creates No New Hazards

Machine guards are designed to mitigate hazards, so they certainly shouldn’t introduce new ones.

Make sure your machine guards don’t have shear points, sharp or jagged edges, or unfinished surfaces that could cause lacerations. It’s also important to ensure that the selected machine guards don’t obstruct the machine operator’s view.

6. Does Not Interfere with Machine Operation

Machine guards must not interfere in any way with a worker's ability to carry out their work comfortably, efficiently, or effectively. Ideally, the guard will actually boost worker efficiency, since it can ease any worries about the potential for injury.

Beyond Guards: Training Workers to Prevent Injury

While guards can help protect workers from the dangers that come with machines and their moving parts, it’s important that they understand why the guards are in place and how to use them.

Machine operators and maintenance workers should receive training when they first begin their jobs, when new or different safeguards are put in place, or when they are assigned to a new machine or operation.

The training should cover:

  • The hazards associated with particular machines
  • How machine guards offer protection against these hazards
  • How and why to use the safeguards
  • The circumstances under which guards may be removed, who may remove them, and how to remove them safely
  • What to do if a guard is damaged, missing, or doesn’t provide adequate protection

Training should give employees a sense of the key role they play in preventing injuries and ensuring a safe atmosphere around machinery. In particular, they are responsible for:

  • Operating machines and equipment only when guards are securely in place
  • Immediately reporting problems with machine guards to a supervisor
  • Not removing guards unless a machine is locked, tagged, and they have permission to do so

Conclusion

Of the thousands of machine-related injuries that happen each year, many are preventable with proper guarding. Managers, supervisors, and workers must be united in their approach to injury prevention, and that starts with understanding when, why, and how to use machine guards.