By Douglas Ra; and Brian Roberts
Rarely do stellar safety practices make head- lines. They seem to be in the spotlight only if they represent something better than
before, like when a plant previously plagued by
workplace hazards reinvents its safety culture. The
safety problem spurred positive change.
It really shouldn’t be this way. Good safety practices should build the foundation of a modern manufacturer’s culture. A;er all, many in earlier generations pushed their children toward “something
better” than old-school manufacturing, where the
hours are long, the workplace dirty and dangerous.
Manufacturers everywhere struggle to find good
people. With unemployment rates at record lows,
good people looking for jobs have choices. The best
among them aren’t likely to choose a dangerous
The challenge is twofold. It’s sometimes di;icult
to realize a workplace isn’t safe until a;er an accident happens. Once it does happen, managers only
then realize fully how costly those accidents can be,
both financially and culturally.
They knew it before, of course, but they never
thought it would happen to them. They kept safety
buried as they worked tirelessly to meet ever-more-stringent customer demands.
To jump-start a positive safety culture and safeguarding program, without anyone enduring a serious or even catastrophic injury, requires two things.
One, people must learn how to “see” safety problems and know what it takes to resolve them without hindering overall productivity. Two, they need
to make the business case for it.
Risk Assessment Process
Machine safeguarding is becoming an increasingly
intricate proposition for today’s manufacturer.
Aiming to improve safety in and around machinery,
numerous safety standards and regulations challenge shop operators who, above all, must squeeze
out increased productivity in an ever-volatile business climate.
How does a fabricator know that the tasks per-
formed by each employee are done safely and ef-
ficiently? How does he know when administrative
measures are adequate and enforceable? How does
he know when existing machine guards are not im-
peding productivity and are su;iciently safeguard-
ing all personnel that encounter the hazardous
area? The answer is a well-documented, e;ective
machine guarding risk assessment.
OSHA federal regulations (1910.132) require that
a manufacturer perform a job hazard analysis. It re-
quires that all tasks and the hazards associated with
those tasks be documented and mitigated.
A risk assessment takes this process further by
determining whether the hazard is tolerable and
by detailing the method of hazard mitigation. But
where and how do you start? What company re-
sources can be devoted to the process?
While a litany of methodologies, computer apps,
and providers can help produce risk assessment
documentation, it is up to the organization to provide the weight and resources to make the process
successful. It is best to divide the e;ort into phases:
first, a machine guarding review; second, a deep-dive, machine-specific assessment; and third, the
hazard mitigation implementation.
Phase I: Machine Guarding Review
This birds-eye-view assessment establishes a
“thumbs-up or thumbs-down” evaluation of existing safeguarding (see Figure 1). Fresh eyes o;en
provide a better picture of the current state, so in
many cases, an outside entity performs this review
without much direct participation from in-house
This initial assessment triages safeguarding
needs. The assessment team usually spends a few
minutes on each machine. The reviewer determines
if the existing guarding is compliant, if a lockout/
tagout procedure is in place, if the machine has a
compliant e-stop, and if any additional safeguarding needs to be added.
The assessor then speaks briefly with machine
operators, area supervisors, and maintenance
sta; to uncover any machinery idiosyncrasies. If
he deems the current safeguarding inadequate,
he notes it for further review. Full facility reviews
typically take one to three days, and the results can
be used to plan a plantwide machine guarding improvement program.
The resulting machine guarding review documents typically include an executive survey and a
detailed spreadsheet that identifies machines and a
safety and health audit score ranking for each. The
assessor may add subjective comments to provide
additional safeguarding direction.
The spreadsheet helps determine tolerable and
intolerable machine-related risks. Tolerable risks
are mitigated with administrative measures. Tolerable risks typically occur infrequently and result in
minor or negligible severity of harm. Vigilant training and detailed written procedures can mitigate
most tolerable risks.
Intolerable risks require further review that results in additional machine guarding. It is the intolerable risks that keep company owners up at night,
and a successful safeguarding program can mitigate
Intolerable risks are deemed as such for various
reasons. For instance, a risk’s severity of harm may
be small, but it also may be very likely to occur, thus
creating a degree of intolerable risk. Conversely, another risk may have a low occurrence potential, but
the harm could be catastrophic.
In general, intolerable risks can cause lost-time incidents, which can be extremely expensive, both in
direct and indirect costs. These incidents include amputation, dismemberment, and sometimes death.
Good safety is
Assessing risk and financial
a safety program’s worth
This shows an initial assessment of a C-frame press. With a low score of 50.00, this machine is recommended for
a full risk assessment.
This matrix details the severity of harm and occurrence probability for a task.
Safeguarding Categories Evaluated for Compliance
40 30 10 10 5 5 100
Pt. of Op./
YNNN Y Y50.00N Y
Occurrence of Harm
Severity of Harm
Catastrophic Serious Moderate Minor
Likely High High Medium Low
Unlikely Medium Medium Low Negligible
Remote Low Low Negligible Negligible