Both OSHA and ANSI have standards in place for protecting workers who operate dangerous machinery — and if your industry is impacted by such regulations, you’re likely well-aware of the statistics about amputations, lacerations, and other injuries that come from improper machine guarding. Still, it’s worth noting that improper machine guarding was one of the top OSHA citations of 2021, and has held a place on this list every year for the past decade.
So if machine guard safety isn’t on your list of priorities, it should be. Let’s take a look at some of the safety standards surrounding machine guarding, then we’ll follow up with some actionable steps you can take today to improve compliance and avoid mistakes in the future.
OSHA Standard 1910.212 covers general machine guarding requirements for all machines. The standard defines machine guarding and gives examples (including barrier guards, two-hand tripping devices, and electronic safety devices).
While you can read the full standard at the link above, here are the main points:
Affixing guards to machines. Whenever possible, a guard should be affixed to the machine, and the guard should never cause a hazard in itself.
Point of operation guarding. The “point of operation” is the area where someone processes a material. For example, the point of operation on a table saw would be the table area around the exposed blade. Points of operation must be guarded so that the operator doesn’t have any of their body parts exposed to hazards while operating. While not all machines require point of operation guarding, here are a few that do:
- Power presses
- Milling machines
- Portable power tools
- Guillotine cutters
- Power saws
- Forming rolls and calendars
Barrels, containers and drums have specific guidelines for enclosures, as well as exposed blades on fans. Fixed machinery also should be anchored for added safety.
There are a number of steps you can take to avoid mistakes with machine guarding and keep your workplace safe and incident-free. Here are the top tips for setting your work environment and machinery up to ensure worker safety.
Every machine, from the years-old hydraulic press in the back of the shop to the brand new plastic injection molding machine you just purchased, needs to be checked against OSHA machine guarding standards. It’s surprisingly common for even brand-new machinery to lack proper guards and shields — so run a complete audit of all of the machines in your work area and make a plan for updating or upgrading those that don’t include proper guards.
After you’ve audited your workplace machinery for safety, replace or add guards to machines that didn’t meet the standard. If you’re unsure of how to do this, check out OSHA’s machine guarding resource. While it’s not comprehensive, this tool does cover some of the most common hazardous machines (saws, presses, and plastics machinery) and ways to employ guards to protect the people who operate them.
When replacing guards, be very careful to use the right materials. One of the most common mistakes is failing to use the right materials, which can render the guard ineffective or make it even more dangerous.
Not all machines need the same types of guarding, and some require unique considerations. Here are some of the main types of machine guarding and what they’re used for:
- Fixed guards. Fixed guards are permanent parts of a machine that are usually very simple, like a barrier guard or a screen. These guards provide maximum protection without requiring much maintenance, although they can inhibit visibility in some cases.
- Interlocked guards. An interlocked guard is a mechanical device that automatically turns a machine off when the guard is removed or opened — like the door of a microwave. Interlocked guards are very effective but can present hazards when they’re removed for maintenance.
- Adjustable guards. Adjustable guards are exactly what they sound like: guards that expand or contract to accommodate different shapes and sizes of materials. Because they require manual adjustment, however, workers must be specifically trained on how to use these guards in order for them to be effective.
- Self-adjusting guards. A self-adjusting guard begins in a “rest” position and only moves out of the way to allow a material to pass through the danger zone before returning to a guarded position. A retractable plastic guard on a circular saw is an example of a self-adjusting guard.
Some workers may be inclined to remove guards to speed up their work or make it easier to clean or service the machine. If this is the case at your workplace, you may need to set new expectations for your employees — and consistently apply discipline to those who don’t follow them. Employees should be required to:
- Keep machine guards on while machines are in use
- Promptly replace guards on machines after cleaning or performing routine maintenance
- Notify a supervisor if a guard is broken or missing
- Sign an agreement stating that they understand your organization’s rules and regulations around machine guarding, and that they are aware of the consequences of breaking these rules
Training is one of the best preventative measures you can take to ensure your employees’ safety when using machines. If you don’t already have a machine guarding program, consider implementing one like the Machine Safeguarding Training Course available here. Having a standardized training program levels the playing field for your team, and helps you rest assured that everyone has undergone the latest machine guarding training.