Are Your Guards in Place? Quick Tips for Improving Machine Guarding Safety

Machine guards in place on factory equipment

The injured employee was already in the ambulance. As I handed the EMT the Styrofoam cup of ice that contained the severed finger, I had an oppressive feeling of responsibility and knew that this should not have happened. (Attend the MEMIC Webinar listed below to hear more details of this amputation injury.)

OSHA statistics show that exposure to unguarded or inadequately guarded equipment results in approximately 800 fatalities and 18,000 amputations, lacerations, abrasions, and crushing injuries every year. The one common denominator: Each one could have been prevented.

As a safety professional, I take these types of injuries personally. Everyone knows hazards should be guarded. But all too often, guards are left in an open position, set aside, are damaged, or the hazard was never guarded in the first place. Here are four suggestions to help ensure that guards are used properly, and employees stay safe.

  1. Make sure all guards are in place – This seems obvious, but often enough it is not the case. When I provide on-site safety services, I see missing guards with some frequency. When I ask why a guard is missing, I am often told, “It’s here somewhere.” Guards do not keep anyone safe if they are not in place. Complacency with missing, open, or removed guards is dangerous and undermines a company’s overall safety culture. Consider adding a specific guard check to your routine safety inspections or use the MEMIC Machine Guard Assessment below.
  2. Train employees – Do not assume an employee will replace a guard after taking it off. The most common key performance indicators, especially in manufacturing, focus on the number of items produced. From a productivity mindset, hitting that KPI will take less time next time if the guard is already off. Train employees to replace guards every time, make expectations clear, and hold people accountable.
  3. Make it visible - One of the tenets of Lean Manufacturing is to make non-conformances visible. This can be applied to machine guarding as well. Use bright colored paint on surfaces that are covered when guards are in place. If a guard is where it should be, the bright paint is covered and cannot be seen. If the guard is not in place, the bright color is visible and can be identified as a missing guard by anyone, regardless of their knowledge of the equipment.
  4. Address issues – If you find that employees are removing a guard repeatedly, consider re-engineering the machine to allow the guard to remain in place while employees perform the task that formerly required the removal of the guard.

Protect your workers from the hazards of machinery by keeping your guard up and registering for our live webinar.

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