It’s no secret that technology has changed over the years, but what does that mean for the modern, industrial workplace? When you look at many factories today, you’d probably see a variety of machines – different eras, different complexities and diverse skill sets required.
Older machines are typically manually operated and may be completely unguarded. For this reason, safety hazards may be easy to identify. However, for modern automated machinery, such as robotics, human safety depends on interconnected systems and software.
“When reviewing the operations of complex automation systems, specialist knowledge is required to identify these hazards,” licensed professional engineer Ken Hackworth explained recently. “Complex automation, although having the potential to improve worker safety, has created a new set of challenges – complex safety systems and scenarios must be carefully assessed. After all, robots are not performing maintenance on machinery – people are. Whether a person enters the machine for setup or unjams a machine to restart production, human interaction is inevitable.”
“We see some machines jamming every five minutes,” he said. “Operators are exposed to a myriad of hazards, everything from sharp edges to software errors and component failures. Of these, inadvertent starting of the machine – exposing an operator to hazardous energy – is among the most dangerous. Powered machinery, if not properly safeguarded, presents a high risk for injuries such as amputations and fatalities. We see these routinely.”
A point clearly made in a webinar developed by UL. In the presentation, Hackworth, who contributed his expertise, showed images from real-world machinery accidents. [Warning: The pictures are not for the faint-hearted.]
“Each machine presents unique hazards,” said Tony Robertson, business development manager with UL’s Energy and Power Technologies Division. “We want to help employers identify the risks and safety concerns on the machines, to help make it as safe a workplace environment as possible.”
It’s not only the machinery that’s changing
Employers are required to provide a safe workplace – it’s an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirement in the U.S. Part of providing a safe workplace is identifying the hazards before an accident occurs. Employers have to identify the correct skills needed to operate a machine and offer the right training and supervision to help ensure workplace safety.
“If there’s an injury related to a machine, the first thing OSHA or another similar organization will ask is ‘What did you do to prevent this accident?’ And, that is a key question,” Robertson said. “Beware of self-assessment. An independent third party can identify risks and potential solutions that you may miss on your own.”
Fortunately, tools and services are available to help manufacturing facilities owners understand and mitigate their risk.
Options for a safer machine (and employee, too!)
Different needs require different levels of service. Some manufacturers proactively request a hazard assessment to help determine risk for each machine – high, medium and low. With this type of service, a field engineer performs an overview of the entire factory or plant to provide a list of the machines that need more attention. At UL, a hazard assessment is considered a Level 1 or basic service.
“That’s good for the employer,” Hackworth said. “Finding a dangerous machine can be like finding a needle in a haystack. A factory audit helps identify and prioritize safety concerns for the employer.”
One step above a hazard assessment is a more in-depth review called a safety assessment. It’s a Level 2 service that includes a compliance audit overview with a high-level risk assessment. This service offers a more in-depth report and can be performed on an individual machine or all machines within the facility.
The third service, also called Level 3, is an ANSI/RIA compliant process that yields the most amount of information as it’s the most extensive.
“Typically, the customer has one or two machines that need a detailed review,” Hackworth said. “They use our detailed report to perform upgrades on a piece of equipment.”
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Regardless of the type of product built in a plant, manufacturers want to improve safety and lower the risk of injury by looking at the machines and how humans interact with the machine.
“Every machine has a different level of risk or a different safety concern that needs to be addressed,” Robertson added. “At UL, we truly want to assess that machine for safe operation and provide a report so that they can make a safer machine.”