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Overcoming Challenges to Safeguarding Legacy Machinery

By Shawn Mantel
Published: January 3, 2023
Key Takeaways

The legacy machinery on your site was not built with safety in mind. Replacing them isn't always a viable option, so it's important to take steps to reduce the risks associated with these machines.

Caption: Equipment operator in manufacturing facility Source: Blue Planet Studio / iStock

If your company has been in operation for decades, it's likely that you have some legacy machinery somewhere on site.

These machines are manufacturing equipment that are critical to your production process but are from another era. They might be discontinued, outdated, or simply old, but they still work and keep your production line going so there has been no need to replace or upgrade them.

These machines might have been with the company longer than you have. There's even a chance they were built before you were born. Unfortunately, that means they were likely designed at a time when workplace safety wasn't a major consideration. Your legacy machinery might even predate OSHA.


This is where the real challenge comes in. The equipment gets the job done, but it might not meet your safety standards. If it has machine guards in place, they likely don't provide the level of protection you need.

So, you have a decision to make. Do you pull the plug on your legacy machines and buy new equipment, or do you invest in safeguards to protect your workers?

To help you make the right choice, I'll highlight some of the challenges you will face to safeguarding your legacy equipment and walk you through some of the steps to accomplishing it.

Weighing the Costs

There's a popular saying that "you can't put a price on safety." But you can. In fact, you have to. Otherwise, your expenses will run away from you and you won't be able to run a profitable business.

The safest option is, of course, to replace your legacy machinery. That way, you'll have a machine that was designed with safety in mind, not just production.

That's not likely to be a cost you can justify, however. Not when the equipment is still working fine and replacing them would put a strain on your budget, create significant interruptions to your production line, and require training sessions and changes to your work process.

This leaves you with only one viable option: finding the right machine guarding company to develop a solution for your legacy equipment.

Overcoming Hesitancy

There's no such thing as a perfectly safe workplace. Safety professionals are continuously working to improve safety, but preventing every single incident and injury simply isn't possible.

The same applies to machine guarding. It doesn't completely eliminate the possibility of a machine-related incident, but it does drastically reduce the opportunity for an injury to occur.


Despite this, there is sometimes an attitude that perfection is possible - that zero injuries is a reasonable safety goal. That kind of attitude can stand in the way of guarding legacy machines. Since there's no way to make the equipment 100% safe, you might face hesitancy about moving forward with these types of safeguards.

That's why it's important to clearly communicate the benefits of the safeguards when trying to get approval for them. Like everything else, it's less about making the workplace safe and more about making it safer. Since these machines were not designed with safety in mind, there's a limit to how much you can reduce the risks associated with them. Still, if these machines will be kept on site, it's the company's responsibility to take steps to mitigate those risks - and that means investing in the right guards.

(Learn about The Real Problem With Zero-Incident Safety Programs)

Making the Case for Additional Controls

Another challenge is overcoming the perception that other types of hazard control are sufficient.

Administrative controls can certainly help keep workers safe, but those are not entirely under your control. Putting your faith entirely in them is a recipe for disaster.

Likewise, safety signs can guide workers through the safe use of the equipment and remind them of the hazards that come with operating it. Unfortunately, those are not perfectly effective. Workers might still deviate from the safety signs or absentmindedly violate their warnings.

You may have already implemented simple safety systems to improve the safety of your legacy machinery. Whether they're zero-speed monitoring systems or complete SIL-level controls, these upgrades will help keep workers safe.

With all of these things in place, it might be more difficult to get approval for a further layer of protection. If there hasn't been an incident involving the legacy machines in recent memory, it might seem like the safety systems in place are adequate.

Machine guards, however, create an actual physical barrier between the worker and the machine hazards they face. Unlike administrative controls and safety signs, they don't require the worker to ensure they are behaving safely around the machine since the guard will actively prevent contact with certain parts of the machinery. They are also far more affordable than upgrades to the machine's controls.

Machine guards are both effective and cost-effective, which makes them a good addition to any legacy machinery, no matter how many other safety measures are already in place.

(Learn more in Sign Blindness Is Real - Here's What You Can Do About It)

Finding the Right Company

Finally, you have to find a company that can get the job done. Thankfully, there are machine guarding companies that can handle legacy machines across the country.

First, look at your internal system to see whether a machine guarding company has already safeguarded the equipment at another location. Working with someone who has already guarded machines at one of your other facilities will bring a level of machine and operational knowledge, as well as consistency across sites.

If that turns up nothing, you could find one through ISNetworld, a third-party contractor vetting company.

You can also simply search online for machine guard installers or contractors to find one that could bring a turnkey solution to your facility.


Legacy machines bring inherent safety challenges due to their age. Accidents can happen to the most experienced operator - and can happen in a split second.

There is no grandfather clause for protecting workers from harm, so it's imperative to continue making legacy machines safer so the employees who work with them can do their jobs without being put at undue risk.


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Written by Shawn Mantel

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Shawn Mantel started his industrial career as part of two startup companies in the T-Slotted extrusion and machine safety guarding market. He grew the businesses as an integral partner. After 22 years, Mantel started PowerSafe Automation, a machine safety guarding and automation company based in Indiana.

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