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Reading the signs: Appropriate signage can boost safety initiatives


That one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted bed that you’ve admired was not made without risks.

 The folks at The Joinery (a Portland, Ore. woodworking shop) make beautifully detailed furniture – beds, dressers, armoires and even old-fashioned kids’ toys. They are as passionate about their work as they are about woodworking safety. But here’s the catch: a machine designed to reform solid wood has no problem reforming parts of the human body.

And that’s where machine guarding comes in. When a machine or any piece of equipment has a hazard that cannot be eliminated, the appropriate course of action is to install appropriate guarding or other safety devices.

Rotating motion machines can be particularly dangerous. Even slow-moving smooth rotating shafts can grab clothing or skin and entangle a worker in a machine leading to death or serious injury. Rotating shafts such as power take off units have caused many injuries, many of which could be avoided with a proper guard.

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Included in rotating motion are in-running nip points that can grab a small piece of a worker or the worker’s clothing and pull the worker into the machine until a part of the machine breaks or the motors stall out.

“All saws, jointers and milling machines need machine guards,” says Gary Michael, The Joinery. “We post shop safety policies on the machine guards, using brightly coloured signs and labels.”

Fortunately for the employees at The Joinery, Michael recognizes the need to not circumvent equipment guarding that is usually installed by the equipment manufacturer. Michael’s use of visible signs and labels help remind his employees of the importance of machine guarding.

Appropriate signage and labeling by an employer or manufacturer can help reduce the likelihood of guards being removed or circumvented. Providing such visible reminders for employees can be a life-saving addition to any safety program.

There are some important principles that apply when making labels to be used on guards. For example, there is a tendency to just make a label that says, “WARNING: Do Not Remove Guard.” There are some people who may ignore this warning. They could very well think, “I can get away with it just this one time and not get hurt.” That is why one of the principles of written warnings is to inform the reader of the consequences of not complying with the warning. An example of a warning statement that communicates consequences is:

WARNING – Do Not Remove Machine Guard. Loss Of Fingers May Result.

Another principle of written warnings is that the warning communicates the actions needed to avoid a hazard such as:

WARNING – Lock Out Breaker 45 Before Removing Machine Guard

Employers and equipment manufacturers would do well to familiarize themselves with good warning practices and to work with a label manufacturer that is familiar with good practices and applicable warnings standards.

Jack Rubinger is with Graphic Products, Inc. You can reach him at www.GraphicProducts.com, 800-788-5572 or jarubinger@graphicproducts.com. You can reach John Hamilton via www.jhengineer.com.