Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Making machines safe: Our third annual machine safety roundtable participants discuss the keys to safeguarding success

November 17, 2011
By Mary Del

The majority of Canadian manufacturers understand their responsibilities when it comes to machine safety – that employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm in the workplace. But many of them are unknowingly applying the wrong solution, or misapplying safeguarding solutions, resulting in the loss of productivity and opening themselves up to injury – or worse.

This was the message from the group of six safety experts who travelled to Aurora, Ont., in October for Manufacturing AUTOMATION‘s third annual machine safety roundtable.

“I think in most cases,” says Calvin Wallace, regional sales manager with Beckhoff Automation, “the biggest challenge end users would have right now is properly implementing all of the safety devices and systems that they are purchasing. They are spending a lot of money to attempt to have safe machines. Are they truly implementing safe systems?”

Wallace then turned to fellow panelist Ryan Conlin, a partner with SBH Management Lawyers, and said: “I’m sure you meet people all the time who say, ‘I thought the machine was safe.'”

“Oh, absolutely,” says Conlin. “‘I never could have imagined that this would happen. We had no idea.’ If I had a dollar for every time I heard that. It’s a very common thing, because a lot of accidents are not foreseeable,” he explains. “What you’re expected to do is to take into account that the workers that are going to come in make mistakes and to think of the unanticipated.”

With that in mind, the six panelists offered their thoughts on how to achieve a safe workplace during the 90-minute lively discussion.

Thank you to this year’s participants: Ian Brough, safety applications specialist, Sick Inc.; Darren Osmond, technical sales specialist, Jokab Safety, ABB Inc.; Calvin Wallace, regional sales manager, Beckhoff Automation; Ryan Conlin, a partner with SBH Management Lawyers; Stephen Loftus, general manager, Innovative Automation, a custom machine manufacturer building industrial automation solutions – and a Canada’s Safest Employer winner; and Michael Wilson, machine guarding specialist, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.

1. Think about safety from the beginning.

“When we quote the supply of equipment, a big part of the explanation of the pricing has to do with the safety,” says Stephen Loftus, general manager with Innovative Automation, a custom machine manufacturer building industrial automation solutions. “And if it’s going up for competitive bid, are all of the machinery builders supplying a safe system? I would question that. A lot of people bid what the customer asks for, and if it’s not up to standards, the thought process is, well, we’ll have to deal with that later, which, in reality, is a huge cost impact to that customer. It needs to be explained to them so that they understand that engineering prior to build is much cheaper than modification on their floor after the equipment is built.”

2. Assess risk.

What’s unfortunate, says Darren Osmond, technical sales specialist with Jokab Safety, ABB Inc., is that many customers have not conducted a formal risk assessment on their equipment. “They don’t even know what it is and how to start one,” he says.

“I think people in the safety industry talk about it a lot, but a formal risk assessment really isn’t a concept that a lot of people are aware of or follow,” says Wallace, adding that a risk assessment can open the door to savings. “Your risk assessment will tell you what performance level your control systems and your electrical design need to meet. So without a risk assessment, in a lot of cases, people are potentially spending more money on the safety process than they need. Perhaps they don’t need full category 4…If you do a proper risk assessment, in a lot of cases, you’re able to design the safety systems to the risk to be determined. So there is an opportunity for savings there.”

Ian Brough, safety applications specialist with Sick Inc., says that some standards are changing to require users to conduct risk assessments. For example, the CSA’s robot safety standard – Z434 – is going to require all adopters to conduct a risk assessment.

“The very first thing they’ll ask the user to do is perform a risk assessment,” he says. “What the standards are now going to require is that you formally document that, so you can say, ‘This is how we analysed the risk.'”

Osmond reminds end users that a risk assessment is an ongoing, live document. “If something changes, the process changes, you have to keep updating it.”

3. Select the right people.

Who should conduct the risk assessment, and what type of due diligence should an employer do to ensure that they have the appropriate person conducting their risk assessment?

Michael Wilson, machine guarding specialist with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, says that many companies already have that expertise in house.

“They have operators who do the job every day who know exactly what they’re dealing with [in terms of risk]. What they may lack on occasion is simply, how does the [risk assessment] process go, how do I put this into print, what are some of the tools I can use,” Wilson says.

“The people that operate the equipment, the people that supervise that department, most of them can do the risk assessment,” says Loftus. “I think it’s critical that everybody does the risk assessments. They may need to look for somebody to help them with the solutions, but the first step is to actually do the risk assessment and identify the hazards.”

“A lot of end users I find, and more the smaller type companies, they’re hiring people to come in and do the risk assessments for them, but those people that they’re hiring to do the risk assessment don’t understand their culture; they don’t understand their machinery; they don’t know that Joe comes in once a month to get underneath the machine to do a special function. So I think it’s really key that the risk assessment is done by the [end user] with the appropriate person, a qualified person, to come in and help them,” says Osmond.

“The best risk assessments, risk analysis, risk reductions, safeguarding strategies or safe strategies are performed by a number of people; it’s not just by an engineer or by purchasing or by maintenance. Involve the operators,” Brough says.

Whether you’re hiring a safety consultant to conduct a risk assessment, or a professional engineer to conduct a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review, Conlin says to make sure they are qualified.

“In the court of law, to be qualified to testify as an expert, you’d have to show me that you have, not only a licence, but thousands of hours of experience in actually doing something and having the background…And there’s many of them that I’ve seen who are out there doing this kind of stuff where there’s not a snowball’s chance that a judge would ever qualify them as an expert because they just don’t have the background,” he says.

Conlin recommends you do your homework. “Did you check the references for this person? Could you name four or five other guarding projects they worked on, along with a contact person? Did you phone that person? Did you get a copy of their CV?”

4. Find the appropriate solution.

If there is an incentive to bypass the guard, says Brough, “clearly things have been done that impede the operator’s job, impede the production of the machine, and that is the number one worst kind of guard.”

“It goes back to the risk and dealing with the operators, dealing with the maintenance people and understanding how that safety system needs to function within that particular business,” says Wilson. “We can’t take company A and say here’s a cookie cutter safety solution that needs to fit their operation, again, because we don’t want to impede productivity…But again at the same time, we need to work safely. So let’s understand what we’re dealing with and apply a solution that works best for us that might not only not impact productivity, but certainly make a safe environment to work in as well.

“We recommend that they talk to people on the floor, so that when you are applying that safeguard, it’s not impeding your process, it’s not going to make things take longer,” Wilson continues. “Let’s talk to those people, let’s understand how they work, let’s make the solution fit the operation, and make sure everybody works safely. What happens sometimes is that some people think it is conflicting, if you will, productivity versus safety, which is really not the case. Safety is part of your business. It’s just a matter of applying those tools and moving forward.”

Wallace says determining the appropriate solution starts with determining the proper standards to use. “Defining your machine and being able to define your machine clear enough to match it to the standards, I think that’s the challenge. I think once you’re able to match your machine or your application to a standard, then it’s pretty clear cut.”

Loftus says that it’s important to make it a competitive process and get several quotes. “I would find two or three people, look at different thoughts, different ideas that people have. And pick the one that actually suits your business best.”

Wallace adds that when users are evaluating safety upgrades, it’s also an opportunity to evaluate their processes.

“I think it’s an opportunity to evaluate their process at the same time, to see, we’re not just putting gates up and electrical switches and safety systems; what we’re doing is, can we evaluate our process…How can we possibly change our process to ensure that the operators don’t get frustrated and encouraged to override switches and so on.”

5. Apply the solution correctly.

Brough questions how many guards are actually applied correctly. “I think we can probably answer that probably 80 to 90 percent of most safeguarding devices aren’t installed correctly or at the appropriate safety distance. The other 10 percent are probably not wired right. And almost all of them, [if] it’s some kind of a guard, just throw it on and hope for the best.”

Osmond agrees that sometimes devices are not installed correctly or appropriately. “I look at how many light curtains you sell versus how many stop time analyzers you sell. Everybody who owns a light curtain really should have a stop time analyzer. You should know what the stop time is and what the proper safety distance is, but people don’t. They pick the light curtain and they mount it where it’s convenient.”

“One of the biggest pet peeves is the application of, let’s call them light curtains or guarding, and it’s misapplied,” explains Loftus. “People put light curtains on, there’s no reaction time for the equipment, the reach through time on it won’t allow the machine to stop in time to actually perform the function that it’s put in place for. So, now not only do you have an unsafe piece of equipment, you have a perception that it’s safe, which actually in my mind makes it worse than not having anything there.”

Wallace agrees. “I do think in a lot of cases, a lot of companies are spending the money, but the implementation of the hardware isn’t correct…I see it over and over and over where the money is spent, and it’s still not really safe.”

6. Comply with machine guarding standards.

“Safeguarding standards, robot safeguarding, press safeguarding – Those standards exist and are created by organizations like the CSA to help show people how to achieve safety around their machinery, as opposed to the why,” says Wilson. “And really they do represent the latest technology, the latest thinking.”

Osmond calls machine safety standards “the minimum requirements.” He uses an example from a colleague: “If your kids come home from school and they get a D, [do] we all celebrate and take them to McDonalds? No, that’s not the case. We don’t celebrate. We actually work them towards the A. And I think that’s what’s important for [end users] to understand. Just getting the minimum requirements, getting a D, is sometimes not enough.”

7. Safe design.

Loftus says that the best way to avoid the misapplication of safeguarding devices is to engineer the hazard out of the machinery during the design phase.

“If I can eliminate the hazard, there’s no need for any of this [safety] equipment or very little of it,” he says. “Now I have less restrictions on my machinery, probably easier flow, your operator is now closer to the work…We have some cells where the operators are back 36, 40 inches from the work area just because of the energy within the system when it’s moving and the time it takes to stop it. So now you look at an operator who is loading a machine less than once a minute, who is walking 40 inches in, 40 inches out, to unload a machine and the same thing to load it. You’re putting a lot of miles on in a day just to operate that piece of equipment…You’ve got to change all of that so that you come up with a method that is efficient, doesn’t create other ergo issues with the operator, and reduces your costs for implementation.”

“Safe design is a far, far, far, far superior strategy,” agrees Brough. “Where safe design doesn’t work, then you look at safeguarding technology.”

“The safe design system would work with newer equipment,” says Osmond. “But there’s still a lot of old equipment out there that needs to be retrofitted, and engineering out the process is sometimes not as easy as applying the secondary measure in our hierarchy of safeguarding, which is applying safeguarding systems.”

“With the newer technologies that are coming out, I think there are a lot more elegant solutions available to machine builders and end users for retrofits, and I think that we’ll continue to make safer machines for operators,” says Wallace.

8. Build a culture of safety.

“A good percentage of machine guarding cases are…tampering and defeating machine guarding systems that, if they were in place, would have prevented the accident,” explains Conlin. “It’s not a failure necessarily of guarding, but a failure of supervision. If you have people tampering with guards and your supervision isn’t doing anything about it, you’re grossly contravening health and safety legislation, and there’s a bigger problem with your system than just the physical machine guards. The supervision has to go hand in hand. There’s got to be a culture that guards can’t be tampered with, and the second that’s tolerated, the second you are in complete non-compliance, in my view.

“I think that organizations really need to look at safety starting from the top in terms of a safety culture,” adds Conlin. “If you build a culture of safety in your organization, my perspective is the rest will take care of itself.”

9. Measure the effectiveness of your safety strategy.

“I’d say that one of the biggest things you need to take a look at is the difference between what’s on paper and what’s in reality,” explains Conlin. “If you have a system in your safety manual that says your machines will be audited for guarding risks or other safety risks on an annual basis, and then a Ministry of Labour inspector asks, ‘Well have you done them? Well, I don’t have any records whatsoever of that, it’s never actually been done.’ That’s the number one thing. Is your program that you have written down, does it conform with reality?…And I can’t tell you how many court decisions there are out there that say, ‘Well the safety system on the ground is not the safety system in the book.’ And so the employer’s due diligence defence fails.”

10. Be educated.

Loftus, whose company was the recent recipient of a Canada’s Safest Employer Award, says that the key to safeguarding success is education. “The bottom line is that our employees understand the whole process. They’re educated in the process because it’s part of what we do, and then they apply it to our own manufacturing.”

Brough agrees. “I think probably the common thread here is education – for the plant, for the user,” he says. “Knowing about the latest technology; knowing about the latest legal requirements. Education is the biggest thing.”


Watch video highlights here: Part 1, Part 2


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.


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