Environmental & Safety Blog

(a personal look at machine guarding)

 by: Tammy Wade
Most manufacturing facilities utilize pieces of machinery that have moving parts, and anywhere there is machinery with moving parts being operated by humans, there is potential for injury. These potential injuries include things like crushed bones, eye and skin injury, burns, asphyxiation, and even death . Many, if not all, of these types of injuries are preventable, and OSHA has regulations in place designed to provide guidelines for companies in their endeavors to facilitate proper machine guarding.
Fresh out of college, and without a job offer in my chosen major, I worked night shift for a few months on an assembly line in a light fixture manufacturing plant. I was as unknowledgeable as one could be of the operations and potential dangers of a manufacturing environment. While OSHA may have been birthed a decade before, I doubt any inspector had ever shadowed the door of that facility. On my first night of work, the shift supervisor, Charlie (a weathered, grumpy old man), stationed me at the first position of an assembly line that was running chandeliers. My job was to place a chandelier arm in a press, correctly position it onto the joint of the body of the chandelier, and push the button that engaged the press and melded the two pieces together. There were five arms per chandelier, and we had a quota to run. I was eager to make quota.
Not once did Charlie explain the potential dangers of operating a press - nothing about the pounds of pressure, the statistics on dangers, or cautions that should be taken. And there was certainly no type of machine guarding in place; there was just me and the press. There was no safety talk, either - at least not until two hours later when Charlie chanced by just at the moment I allowed my right-hand pointer finger to lie too closely to the press's die so that when I pressed the button, the press plate pinched the outer edge of my finger. In an instant, a chunk of my skin was missing, my finger was bleeding, and I was stunned. The press had barely missed my nail. I had no idea until that moment just how unforgiving moving machinery could be.  I was lucky. A fraction of an inch further, and my right hand would have been irrevocably marred and the pain would have been much worse. Not everyone is so lucky.

And what did Charlie do? He just said something like "you need to watch that; you could lose a finger!", and then made his way back to his office. THAT was my safety talk.
That was 1986, and while OSHA has gotten more stringent (with surprise inspections and enforced standards) machine guarding injuries still occur regularly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "during the period 1992-99, there were on average more than 21 fatal and more than 11,000 nonfatal workplace amputations annually (resulting from improper machine guarding)". EHS magazine states that during FY 2010, "24 percent of OSHA's Top 10 citations for manufacturing dealt with machine guarding violations. Those violations resulted in more than $6 million in proposed penalties. Most of the violations were judged as serious violations, which can carry a penalty of up to $7,000 per instance."
These types of injuries are preventable. As a company, it is your legal duty to ensure that proper machine guarding procedures are followed, and that your employees are trained on the correct procedures for operating machinery with moving parts. Knowing and enforcing OSHA's machine guarding standard saves lives, limbs, and money, and it's the right thing to do!