Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Sights on safety: Machine Safety Round Table 2009

November 23, 2009
By André Voshart

In Manufacturing AUTOMATION’s 2009 readership survey, an overwhelming majority of readers said they were planning to buy safety products in the upcoming year. Due to this strong interest, we invited six industry experts to our first ever machine safety round table at our office in Aurora, Ont., in September. The discussion covered several topics, from standards and productivity issues to the legal ramifications of non-compliance.

With the current economic challenges affecting manufacturers, many participants were concerned people were putting safety on the back burner to concentrate on short-term goals. Each invitee — some coming with a legal perspective, and others with expertise in product development or system integration — brought their own experiences to the table in a lively two-hour discussion.

In our online coverage, we have exclusive video clips on each of the topics of discussion, located on each topic page. To watch all the video in one go, browse our video gallery.

Jump to the topic of your choice:


Canadian companies use CSA and ISO standards — but they also use ANSI, ASME and EN, among others, and even internally developed standards. This multitude of standards can create an environment of confusion and anxiety, so the first topic of discussion was harmonization, the process of developing an agreed-upon global standard for machine safety and guarding.

Walter Veugen from Veugen Integrated Technologies Ltd., a system integrator specializing in press safety controls and other machine control systems, talked about his experiences on standard committees. He and round-table participant Jim Grube, product specialist from Siemens Canada, had just spent the last 2½ years participating on the CSA Z142 power press standard. Veugen also spent three years participating on the U.S.’s ANSI B11.1, B11.2 and B11.3 power press standard, “and it was the first one in the group of ANSI standards to address harmonization. That standard started about four years ago; three-quarters of the way through, we approached CSA to ask whether they would be able to open the power press standard so that the technology new to industry would be addressed in Canada as well as the U.S. We were very vocal on harmonization. … If we have our way, I think within the next three to four years, you’re going to see harmony within Canada, the U.S. and Europe for safety circuit requirements.”

VIDEO: Our experts examine current safety standards and the push toward harmonization:

Calvin Wallace, a sales manager with Beckhoff Canada, agrees that progress is being made. “I know CSA is working very hard to harmonize its standards, and every year it’s getting easier and easier for Canadian manufacturers and machine builders. Most of the standards are being adopted from the U.S. and Europe. For sure, harmonization has started, and I think it’s got some momentum.”

Grube believes that harmonizing certain standards — building standards, for instance — will be more difficult, “but machinery, typically, whether you have a robot here or in Germany, all have the same issues.”
Allen Rutherford, a senior applications engineer with Bosch Rexroth Canada, had first-hand experience battling a client over what standard to use. While performing a pre-start safety review (PSR) and overhaul on Japanese presses at a major automotive company, the client’s No. 1 guideline was its U.S. corporate standard. “So we were a year discussing what standard we were going to use,” he says, “and of course I’m pushing CSA Z142. … And as we got into it, every step of the way — every design change that was required for safety — they wanted us to use their corporate standard, which wasn’t anywhere close to the level CSA was. So it was constant battle.

However, just following a standard may not be good enough. Safety for machinery in the majority of Canadian workplaces comes under the jurisdiction of provincial occupational health and safety legislation. Some standards have been referenced in legislation; however, not all regulators have adopted all standards across the country. In fact, there are no CSA safety standard references in Quebec. Jeremy Warning, a senior associate in the labour and employment law group with Heenan Blaikie LLP and a former prosecutor with the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL), says the courts don’t enforce the technical standards — they enforce the legislated standard.

“The approach that’s taken by the courts — especially in Ontario — is very, very strict when talking about equipment guarding in particular,” he says. “The courts define a machine to be guarded when you have prevented both intentional and inadvertent access to a moving part. So, in guarding equipment, you have to factor in for the both the accidental access and the intentional access to that moving part.

“I think it’s always good practice to follow the highest standard you have as a model to guide yourself, but then there’s going to have to be an ongoing review to determine whether or not that standard is sufficient for the work that’s done in the workplace and how that equipment is actually used on a day-to-day basis.”

Regarding liability, Dominic Caranci, a safety product manager with Omron Canada, says he tells customers that standards are 100-percent voluntary and that it comes down to due diligence and who holds liability. “The company running that machine is liable for any accidents that happen, and if they decide a CSA standard is appropriate or an ANSI standard is appropriate — or their own in-house standard is appropriate — I guess if they can stand up in court and defend that to what is in law then they can pick whatever standard they want.” However, he adds, “Harmonization certainly makes it easier.”

Wallace then adds that one of the big pushes toward harmonization is coming from global machine builders, who want to be able to build a standard machine and change as little as possible from a safety perspective when selling around the world? “I know some machine builders are also concerned about increased legal exposure in the U.S. if they’re already shipping safer machines to Europe or elsewhere.”

Grube echoes this statement. “That’s a much more global market when you have the ability to move these fairly valuable pieces of equipment. And from an engineer’s point of view, I think I would rather know one standard than 20 standards.”

He also talks about a simple formula for success to applying standards to machines: “Safer machines equals fewer accidents; fewer accidents equals increased productivity, lower insurance costs and happy employees, which all point to a successful business. It does take some time to become skilled regarding standards, but as with anything, the more you learn the more comfortable you are with the topic.”

However, sometimes finding exactly what is needed isn’t as easy as, say, clicking a mouse. Rutherford relays his experiences sifting through standards online: “I just went to go find a standard [online], and I found one — it looked like it was the right one, so I bought it. And it was totally wrong. … It’s tough, especially when you open up a page and there’s 50 of them, and they all relate to the same topic, so it’s like, ‘Gee, which one do I buy now? They’re all worth $150.’ I’m buying standards every time I click my mouse. It can be a nightmare, especially if you’re just getting started.”

So where does one start? “You start in your own plant,” he continues. “Go out in your own plant, find out what you’ve got and learn what’s there from when people before them put into place, and learn the ‘old way,’ because the ‘old way’ will tell you a lot, and get you started, and it will say you’re compliant with such and such, or their health and safety committee has approved it based on a standard. Go read the standard it was originally accepted to — what’s the next version from there?”

Assessing risk
Veugen takes a moment to talk about how standards have to be written to appeal to several different readers involved in making critical safety decisions, each with varying levels of technical knowledge. These include health and safety committee members, engineers, maintenance workers and, in most cases, production. “So you have four different groups of people with the [safety] specialty on their plate — but it is not necessarily their expertise.”

“Sounds like a risk assessment team,” Caranci adds.

Veugen nods. “Exactly, but if they don’t know how to do a risk assessment and they don’t understand machinery or guarding or safety circuit performance levels…”

Caranci jumps in. “It’s getting to the point now where manufacturers in Canada need to start considering having a safety engineering team to not only look at these standards but to evaluate their old machinery. Guys who are as equally important to the facility as production.” Several members agree, and he continues: “The stature of safety is becoming so much higher at the manufacturing level — you see it everywhere. Standards are being continually evolved, and they’re getting much more stringent. Without having that knowledge base, manufacturers are opening themselves up to who knows what kind of litigation.”

With the advent of Bill C-45, the issue of an employer’s responsibility to his or her employees has become even more critical (if it wasn’t already). Starting things off, Veugen related to the group his experience with retrofitting a piece of machinery that had undergone a PSR by an engineer. However, to him, the PSR was not an adequate scope of work, “just a letter saying the machine’s not safe and that we’re supposed to interlock it. … So the customer comes back and says, ‘You know what, just do what the pre-start says, ’cause if you do, then the engineer will come back and stamp it and say it’s not going to endanger a worker.’ Once again, we say, ‘We’re not comfortable doing that. We don’t believe that’s true.’ And he says, ‘Well, all we want to do is legally cover our butts.’ His question was, ‘If we have an engineer’s report that says the machine is safe and someone gets hurt, we’re not liable, are we?’ ”

Warning responds that it may prevent penal liability but may not prevent an order to get the machine up to code. “They may well have some difficulties depending on what [an] investigation reveals because you’ve now advised them that the PSR is not effective. Whether the PSR come into play depends completely on the facts of the case.”

VIDEO: Legal expert Jeremy Warning analyzes the legal ramifications of Bill C-45:

On Dec. 7, 2007, Transpavé Inc., a Quebec manufacturer, was the first to be convicted of occupational health and safety criminal negligence causing death, two years after a 23-year-old employee was killed after entering equipment that was jammed; the equipment was equipped with a light curtain, which failed. The Criminal Code had been amended in March 31, 2004, to include Bill C-45, which established the duty of an organization to take “reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm” to workers and others.

“The genesis of C-45 was the Westray mine disaster,” Warning explains. “The legislative changes that were made were such that it made it possible to apply the criminal negligence provisions in the Criminal Code to organizations and individuals for workplace health and safety issues and accidents where you have the ability to direct someone to do work and how they do work. So what it means to employees and organizations, in theory, [is that] there is the potential criminal liability if you have workplace accident. And I say ‘in theory’ because, to date, there have only been two prosecutions under Bill C-45; only one resulted in a conviction on a criminal change, and that’s the Transpavé case. … They pleaded guilty and were fined $110,000.

“We don’t know the full extent to what this criminal liability means,” he continues. “It’s on the books, it’s available for the police and the Crown to use in the circumstances they deem appropriate; however, experience to date suggests that Bill C-45 has not displaced the provincial or the federal health and safety legislative regimes, and those are, right now, still the main implements of penal liability.”
The advice Warning typically gives to clients is that meeting safety-standards obligations at the provincial or federal (if federally regulated) level will take care of C-45. “C-45 is a criminal negligence charge,” he finishes. “It requires the Crown to establish a marked departure from the ordinary standard. If the organization and the individuals within it are complying with the legislated requirements, it will be difficult for the Crown to establish that there has been a marked departure.”

Making excuses — and changing a culture
“I think they’re taking it seriously but not acting on it seriously,” Caranci adds about companies’ legal responsibilities, “and they’re using the current economic state as an excuse. A lot of places we’re going, talking to our customers, they claim to fully understand the importance of safety, but they all give us the same answer: ‘When we start making money, we’ll spend it.’ And until that day comes — which is not today, for these companies — they are very reluctant.

“And,” he adds “they’re really careful about what they expose to us as an outside party in their facility.”

Grube explains how the consequences of delaying such safety implementations could result in losses in productivity once equipment is forced to be shut down. “I think it’s even more important for manufacturers to be safe in today’s current economy. Companies have let go of many people and therefore any lost time accident can really impact production. There is no time to train and no one to replace the injured operator/maintenance person. And the value of the dollar puts even more pressure on the manufacturer to get the product out the door.”

“I totally agree, too,” Caranci says. “But when we’re talking about five, 10, and 20-man shops — little press shops, little metal-fab shops or small Tier 1-type companies — they’re struggling. And asking them to spend another $50,000 or more on a safety upgrade, as much as you throw at them information-wise, they just don’t buy it.”

So are manufacturers taking their responsibility seriously?

“I do not think people go to work and think they will be hurt by machinery,” Grube says. “Just as no one expects to get into their car and get into an accident. Safety needs to be present 100 percent of the time. The company needs to live and breathe safety.”

“That’s a pretty good analogy,” Rutherford says, “but how many of us would buy a car without air bags?”

Some companies are putting their employees behind a the wheel of a car without air bags, and Warning addresses how this kind of complacency sets in. “One time, someone does something that’s not quite keeping with the health and safety standard because it’s easier one day, it’s faster, seems like it’s low risk — and, if that practice continues and expands, it erodes  the culture and, eventually, you get into a situation where workers are using their discretion about when they will abide by the safety standards in the workplace.

“I think to maintain [a vigilant workforce] requires a very vibrant culture in the workplace that is focused on safety, and that has to start at the top, and it has to constantly be reinforced.”

Continuing along these lines, Wallace mentions resources available to manufacturers. “There are some organizations – the IAPA [Industrial Accident Prevention Association] is one – that go into companies and try to assist them with setting up processes like that and help keep that culture vibrant.”

Warning adds to this point: “There are also numerous consultants with health and safety backgrounds that can be brought in to design programs and assist with rolling them out, reinforce them.” He also says they can use consultants to do random internal inspections so they can find out where the inefficiencies are. “This is all part and parcel of the due diligence that’s required should you have an event. You will need to be able to explain your procedures and policies … to avoid or defend any charge that may be laid.”

When talking with customers, Caranci says there are three things to talk about. If appealing to a potential client’s softer side (“Do you want to be the one to call the family of Joe who just got hurt?”) and introducing them to recent cases on the MOL’s website don’t do the trick, he bring up the financial benefits. “The financial side … works really well with the business managers of the company because they just see safety as a capital expense,” he says. “Put it in their mind that a safe plant will get you lower insurance premiums, reduce your financial and production risk; and an accident will cost you much more than they probably realize.”
Veugen agrees, saying, “It’s important not to look at safety as a burden but as an opportunity to update old equipment.”

Rutherford adds that if a company was spending the money performing a safety upgrade, it makes sense to make every aspect of the machine better, too. “If we’re going to do safety, let’s see if we can make it a more reliable machine and run better. If we’re going to spend the money on that, let’s make it run faster, let’s make it run smarter.”

Sometimes just doing anything, instead of doing something correctly, can be a waste. Caranci quoted his favourite statistic: 80 to 85 percent of all light curtains are installed incorrectly; safe distance is either calculated incorrectly or more commonly not calculated at all, or they are not wired incorrectly. “Just trying to get a checkbox on a safety list,” he concludes.

And given the ever-increasing selection of differently priced products in the market, Grube says a good place to start is with a risk assessment. “Without risk assessment, you could be over designing your safety system and flushing money down the drain or, even worse, under designing.” In his opinion, the CSA Z460 Control of Hazardous Energy standard contains very good info on risk assessment, with a nine-step approach explained in Appendix C. The process typically involves reviewing the operation of the equipment, identifying associated tasks and potential hazards and using these to complete a risk estimation.

VIDEO: Legal expert Jeremy Warning analyzes the legal ramifications of Bill C-45:

“By using risk assessment, newer standards and integrated solutions, the designer will have many more flexibilities,” he says. “Safety will become an intrinsic part of every machine and not an add-on. The first step of risk mitigation for the OEM is to remove any hazards from the design at the beginning. The remaining hazards must be mitigated using guards, safety control systems, secondary safety protection [glasses, gloves, etc.] and processes. Time and time again, I see a small investment in safety that can pay off in the future. The cost of an accident can be much higher than the cost of the upgrade. Not to mention the human cost.”
According to Wallace, automation is able to mitigate a lot of the risks. “Sometimes the only practical way of running a machine safely is to increase the automation — no question.”

However, Rutherford blames a lack of good, solid planning on people’s tendencies to think only in the short term — a practice exacerbated by the current economy. “People are thinking in two to three-year increments; no one is thinking 20 years down the line anymore. … When automation first came in, everyone had a long-term path; it was to put robots in, and then they’d do this, and then do that. Safety should be a huge part of a long-term plan.” He follows this with a question to readers: “How many companies are currently planning for new technology, like safe motion on servos, for the future?”

“Believe it or not,” Veugen adds, “safety is new to a lot of people. It’s an anomaly of the 2000s.” But he still believes the level of expertise is growing. “The industry has gotten a lot, lot better, but it still has a long way to go.”

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