MRO Magazine

Potentially deadly lack of machine safeguarding in metal fabricating plant

November 11, 2016 | By MRO Magazine

Rockford, IL – According to OSHA statistics, nearly 5,000 workers in metal fabricating plants suffer non-fatal injuries annually in the United States, or approximately 3X more than those employed in electronics or apparel manufacturing. Even with strict OSHA standards and ANSI regulations in place, unguarded hazardous machinery remains a major source of amputations and other traumatic injuries in manufacturing plants.

Rockford Systems, a provider of end-to-end machine safeguarding solutions, estimates that an alarming 50 percent or more of metal fabricating machinery in the United States does not comply with the critical safety requirements for guarding outlined by OSHA and ANSI. Jeff Zaiser, the company’s Risk Assessment Manager, says that many manufacturers are lulled into a false sense of security because a serious accident hasn’t occurred or accidents are highly infrequent.

“Each plant is unique,” says Zaiser. “In some cases, the plant simply has inadequate machine safeguarding. In other cases, the plant’s safeguarding is in compliance but the operators are unknowingly bypassing the safeguards. And in some cases, safety personnel do not fully understand the safeguarding in place. The benefit of bringing in Rockford Systems is that we not only have the breadth and depth of machine safety experience, but we offer a fresh set of eyes to see things that management might not be able to see.”

“I recently spoke with a metal fabricator who truly believed their company’s safety standards were in full OSHA and ANSI compliance, only to have one of his workers lose a finger a few weeks later,” said Zaiser. “After a citation was issued and they were fined by OSHA for the accident, I was called in to perform a thorough Risk Assessment. There were machine safety hazards literally around every corner and a lack of understanding of the safeguarding that was in place. For example, I noticed that a flashing yellow light was illuminating on top of one machine. When I asked the safety manager if he knew what it meant, he had no idea. I explained to him that on that machine, the yellow light indicated that the machine’s safety interlocks were disabled, effectively turning off all safeguarding. When we looked further, we saw many machines in the factory had the same flashing yellow light going off, indicating safety warnings were evident on several machines.”


How risk assessments work
In an ideal world, Risk Assessments would be done proactively when a new machine is installed or a major change to an existing machine has taken place. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Instead it oftentimes takes an accident or a large OSHA fine to spur management into comprehensive risk identification and mitigation. Either way, the procedure is the same for Rockford Systems: identify hazards based on the ANSI B11.0-2015 Safety of Machinery Standard before they cause traumatic injuries.

During a Risk Assessment, Zaiser uses his nearly four decades of experience in manufacturing engineering to identify each machine’s hazards, assigning each machine a Risk Rating of 1 to 27, with 27 being the worst. Ratings are based on three considerations: Severity of Injury, Exposure Frequency, and Avoidance Likelihood. Zaiser concludes the assessment by meeting with the factory’s management where the specific machine-to-machine findings are broken down into low, medium, high and extreme risks. Identified risks can be as minor as a light bulb needing replacement or a missing yellow background on an eStop, or as extreme as the absence of barrier guards on a 100 ton hydraulic press or an exposed high-speed drive belt that could entangle an employee in seconds. Possible ideas for minimizing the machinery’s risk rankings are also discussed. Those ideas can then be validated through the next step in Rockford’s machine safeguarding process, which is an Onsite Machine Safeguarding Survey.

“It constantly amazes me the danger employees are exposed to in some plants,” said Zaiser. “What some plant managers don’t understand is that by installing proper safeguarding these same employees will feel more appreciated, safer and will work harder than before, significantly improving overall productivity. In addition, accidents will be prevented, insurance costs will drop, and companies will improve their overall profitability.”

Rockford Systems offers complete Safety Life-Cycle Management solutions, starting with the Risk Assessment, moving next into the Onsite Machine Survey, followed by installation and integration of safety controls, management and operator training, and finally Ongoing Compliance Validation. “Risk Assessments are the first step in the process of preventing injuries and saving lives, so we take this responsibility very seriously,” said Zaiser.

New machines sold lacking guards
Another factor in lack of compliance is the machine manufacturer itself. Although safety equipment and proper machine controls are required by OSHA and ANSI, many manufacturers sell machinery without either, leaving the customer with the responsibility of safeguarding the machine. Some customers make the mistake of thinking that new machines arrive fully safeguarded according to the latest compliance standards.

While most larger factories Rockford Systems visits have safety managers on staff, the advantage of a team of unbiased, second-party professionals assessing machinery risks cannot be overstated. Rockford Systems’ team of Risk Assessment experts have extensive experience in the machine safeguarding industry and are trained to identify the risks per OSHA / ANSI / NFPA regulations and standards and a hazard severity rating, so that management can focus their safeguarding efforts on the most dangerous situations first.

Lack of machine guarding or improperly installed safeguarding equipment was one of the top ten most cited OSHA violations in 2015, resulting in millions of dollars in fines levied against businesses.

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