Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Machine Safety 101: Industry experts discuss how to create a safer workplace

November 12, 2010
By Mary Del

It’s no secret that authorities are cracking down on workplace safety violations. In Ontario, alone, the total number of convictions and the amount of fines issued continues to climb each year – jumping from 326 convictions and more than $6 million in fines in 2005-2006 to 1,303 convictions and more than $14 million in fines in 2008-2009. With prosecutions quadrupling over the last four years, it is clear that some manufacturers still don’t fully understand what their responsibilities are when it comes to machine safety.

It is this alarming trend (and our readers’ clear interest in machine safety revealed in our reader surveys) that prompted Manufacturing AUTOMATION to invite eight industry experts to our office in Aurora, Ont., in September for our second annual machine safety roundtable, sponsored by Festo Inc. The participants offered expertise in areas ranging from legal issues, standards development and workplace investigations, to product development and system integration. The result was a lively two-hour discussion that touched on everything from standards to responsibility to productivity. No matter where the conversation took us, there was one clear underlying theme: Education. According to our experts, education is their biggest challenge related to machine safety; education as it relates to standards; education as it relates to responsibilities; and education as it relates to safety, in general.

The more knowledgeable employers are about machine safety, and the more they act on this knowledge, the greater chance we have of lowering the number of convictions and decreasing the amount of fines, resulting in safer workplaces. The points discussed during the roundtable are aimed at achieving this goal.

Before we delve deeper into the roundtable discussion, I’d like to extend a big thank you to this year’s participants – (from left to right in below image) Jeff Mathyssen, regional manager with Electro-Mag (Ontario) Ltd., a distributor of automation, sensors and machine safety products; Doug Nix, managing director with Compliance InSight Consulting, Inc., a firm specializing in risk assessment and safety controls for machinery; Rick Sauer, product manager with Festo Inc., a supplier of automation technology; Lisa Bolton, a labour and employment lawyer with expertise in workplace safety, with Sherrard Kuzz LLP; Wayne De L’Orme, provincial co-ordinator with the Ministry of Labour’s Industrial Health and Safety Program; Elizabeth Rankin, project manager with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA); Dave Lawson, vice-president and general manager of Advanced Motion & Controls Ltd., a distributor of factory automation products, including safety solutions; and Dan Fournier, national sales manager, Safety, with Omron Canada Inc., a manufacturer of machine safety technologies.


In Canada, Bill C-45 – legislation that amends the Criminal Code – imposes duties on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm, and if convicted, imposes serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation places legal duties and liability on organizations and individuals for the health and safety of workers. Each province has its own OHS laws that apply to provincially regulated organizations; while federal OHS laws apply to federally regulated organizations, regardless of what province they operate in. While specific machine safety legislation varies from province to province, in Canada – across all provinces – these laws establish liability for organizations and individuals when they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace accidents, and organizations and individuals can be held liable under both the OHS laws that apply to them and under the Criminal Code.

Part of preventing workplace accidents is guarding machinery, and preventing access to moving parts. Compliance with machine safety standards, while voluntary unless in jurisdictions where OHS regulations reference them, can help to achieve this goal. But one of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is familiarizing themselves with the sea of standards – CSA, ISO, ANSI and ASME, to name a few. 

"What scares me is the manufacturers that I run into on a regular basis who don’t know," says Compliance InSight Consulting’s Doug Nix. "There are a lot of manufacturers that you roll a standard number off your tongue that they should know, in fact, [that] their products should conform to, and they get a glazed look. They have no idea what you’re talking about."

He continues: "The problem is that we have electrical safety standards for which there’s an accredited certification process, that drives the electrical safety of the product, but there is no equivalent process on the machinery side of things. And so consequently you can buy something that has the CSA mark on it, or has another agency’s mark on it, which electrically is safe, but mechanically is not."

The CSA’s Elizabeth Rankin says she is asked about this regularly. "I receive telephone calls almost on a weekly basis [from] customers asking if there is a CSA certification or any type of certification to say that it meets the Z432 safeguarding of machinery standard, and there isn’t. So they say, ‘What is the CSA mark on the machine?’ Well, when you have a certification on the machine, that means that the integrity of the electrical components meet a particular standard, but there is no certification to say that the machinery [is] guarded."
Employers sometimes assume that when they purchase a piece of machinery from the manufacturer, it’s arriving on their plant floor safe, and that is not always the case.

"If you’re dealing with a small or medium-sized employer, they may not even know what the standards are," explains Rankin. "So they’re trusting the supplier and manufacturer to provide them with a piece of equipment that complies, but they don’t even know what they’re complying with."

What concerns Omron’s Dan Fournier is what might happen once that machine tool arrives on the plant floor and the company with limited funds realizes that it still needs to be guarded.

"These tools arrive on the floor and they’re not provided with safety equipment integrated into it. Now they have this very large investment. They have the pressure from the principles of the organization," Fournier says. "We’re all here today for one reason – it’s about keeping people safe, and every mother and father going home at the end of the workweek to their kids. But what ends up happening is that machine, and we have all seen it, it goes into commission."

And when that machine goes into commission, it’s not only risking the life and limbs of the operator, but the company is also putting itself at risk of stop work orders, large fines and convictions.

What happens when the Ministry of Labour or its counterparts across the country want to investigate your plant? There is a sea of standards, but unless they are adopted into legislation, they are not law, which is why some manufacturers haven’t taken the time to educate themselves on what is out there. But will compliance with voluntary machine safety standards help during an investigation?

The Ministry of Labour’s Wayne De L’Orme explains what he looks at during site visits. "In workplaces in which the industrial regulation applies, that’s what we’d be looking for – compliance with the industrial regulations. Standards may be one way of reaching that compliance, but it’s not the only way. In workplaces in which there isn’t a regulation that applies, standards would be an example of a reasonable precaution that a workplace could take to protect equipment."

Lisa Bolton is a lawyer with experience working with companies who are being sued in connection with someone getting hurt on the job. "From where I sit as a lawyer in dealing with clients, certainly the standards are helpful. That’s always a question that I’m asking a client if I’m meeting with them…’Tell me about the equipment. Are there any standards that apply to that equipment? Do you comply with those standards?…What have you done with the equipment since it arrived here. Show me all of your training records.’ We ask a lot of the same questions that the Ministry of Labour asks because we want to know what the answers are," she explains. "If it’s a situation where somebody has been hurt, and there’s a prosecution for instance, it’s part of the due diligence of the company that you would put forward in a defence or as a mitigating factor if it’s a guilty plea and you’re dealing with sentencing issues."

De L’Orme agrees. "Standards can be used as a mitigating factor, but compliance to the standard is not the same as complying with the regulation. So you could be found guilty of not having a guarded piece of equipment. The mitigating factor is that you’re following a standard, and maybe your fine is lower. But at the end of the day, you’re still going to be found guilty."

He continues: "As we go along through our normal inspection of a workplace, we’re actually looking at how are workers interacting with the equipment and making sure that that’s in compliance. Where we get into a lot more detail about what’s being done is if there’s any sort of incident that we’re investigating. And then we’ll go back and try and determine whether or not the employer took a reasonable precaution assessing the risk."

And it’s not just the new equipment that they’re looking at; it’s the existing equipment as well, and how they work together as a system. This is sometimes overlooked by manufacturers.

"It’s all great to have your new equipment comply, but everything else just kind of gets put aside because it exists and we’ll accept it the way it is," explains Dave Lawson, with Advanced Motion and Controls, adding that this is the wrong approach. "I’ve seen instances where a new piece of equipment is being integrated on a line, and there’s some legacy equipment on either side that has a tie in, and some of the systems either have antiquated safety or non-existent safety. So when the equipment is installed, the actual new piece qualifies and meets the standards, but the adjacent equipment does not."

It is recommended that manufacturers do risk assessments and evaluations on their equipment to ensure that workers are kept safe. Although risk assessments are not required by law, they can come in handy during an investigation.

"My advice to my clients is always that a well done risk assessment can be your friend during a prosecution because at least it shows that you were paying attention, you were attempting to do some things," says Nix. "A badly done risk assessment is a nail in your coffin."

Nix adds that an employer’s job isn’t over once the risk assessment is complete. "Once you’re done with that, you don’t put it on the shelf or stick it in the filing cabinet. You take the output from that and you actually do something with that. You modify your equipment; you modify your work practices."

Risk assessment is something that can be done even before the equipment makes it to the plant floor. Way before – in the design stage.

"Manufacturers of this equipment need to understand the elements of risk – the result of identifiable hazards, the possible severity of harm and the probability of an occurrence," says Festo’s Rick Sauer. 

Sauer explains a typical risk assessment. "The risk assessment is broken down into two sub-categories. The first category is the risk analysis, which addresses the limits of the machinery (use, space and time limits), hazard identification (hazard analysis, the ‘what-if’ scenario, failure simulation) and risk estimation (human interaction during machine life cycle, possible states of the machine, unintended behaviour of the operator or reasonably foreseeable misuse). The second category is the risk evaluation. This includes risk evaluation of safety design measures, risk evaluation of technical safety measures and all possible instructive measures used. Manufacturers need to be educated on how to use and implement this process into the overall [design of] machine safety." 

But once that machine hits the shop floor, the participants agree that assessing the safety of your machinery, and your workplace, is something that should be done daily.

"The operator needs to evaluate the machine every day when he comes to do his job," says Electro-Mag’s Jeff Mathyssen. "Is there something worn out that’s going to cause an additional risk?"

De L’Orme agrees. "Risk always changes, and the assessment of your risk changes all the time. And one set piece of information is not going to be something that’s going to [be] a fail safe for you from the very beginning."

That is why Nix tells his clients that a risk assessment is an ongoing process. "I often have clients ask me at what point are they done with risk assessment, and my answer is always ‘Never.’ You’re never ever done."

"The factory floor is a very, very dynamic place," adds Fournier. "One day we have to have a garbage can beside this machine, and that may create a hazard where someone has to walk around that can and into the path of a forklift. It’s constantly changing. So I think that you have to address it daily."

Bolton says that keeping records is key – maintenance records, details related to any changes made to a piece of equipment, and records of your concerns and actions. "Write it down. Keep a record of all of those things," she says. "Records are very important."

De L’Orme agrees. "One of our considerations about whether or not we’re going to go ahead with a prosecution is what’s the paper record? If the employer has got a good set of documentation saying that they’ve done all of the steps that they should have done, that’s an employer who is not likely to be prosecuted."

Regular risk assessment is also important because often times changes are made to equipment after the initial risk assessment. Lawson has seen this first hand. "There are many times I’ve seen in industry that it complied at the time of installation, and within three weeks didn’t comply because the end user chose to change the safety on the machine to increase production. So it’s kind of a dicey area where you go to the point where you deliver something that complies or has a PSR [Pre-Start Health and Safety Review], but then from that point forward, who is making sure that the equipment still complies? That is the onus on the end user."

That belief that safety is a hindrance to production is also a challenge for our experts. Safety is not often the primary consideration when somebody is buying a piece of equipment, says Mathyssen. "The primary consideration is, ‘Will it do the job of producing the parts that I need it to produce in this throughput timeline and at this cost? Oh by the way, later on we’ll think about making it safe,’" he says. "It’s always an afterthought, which is hard and expensive."

Lawson agrees. "It surprises me that employees look at the production rates of the company as more important to them than their personal safety. So I think it’s a huge education process that everybody on the floor working in the environment has to want to see the technology on the equipment. Now to get the production rate harmonized with those two things together, that’s the job of the automation integrators, the suppliers of the equipment, the solutions people, and it’s a hard go because there’s a real imbalance between what budgets they realistically have to achieve the safety goals."

To get the right combination of safety and productivity, Mathyssen says that safety has to be designed into the machine. "There are strategies and techniques through automation vendors and everybody else about designing your equipment such that it is compliant to the standards, yet it is giving you the throughput that you need. It’s got to come from the front end of the design of the machine," he says. "There are numerous counts of examples of a piece of equipment that was designed safely [that] is providing more throughput because they can stop it faster, they can put it back into service faster, they can clean a mess up, they can do everything that they need to do on that piece of equipment if the safeties are there."

Are we seeing a shift where safety is being considered during the design stage?

"For new machinery, we are seeing more activity from our perspective," says Sauer. "There have been a lot of instances where a Ministry of Labour inspector has come into a plant and has shut machines down. And that hurts the output of that plant because now they’re not producing," he explains. "It’s falling back onto the onus now of the machine designer for new machines, because they don’t want to be in that situation again. They don’t want to be shut down. They don’t want to be handed the fines that go with unsafe equipment."

He continues: "We have more of our customers being the original equipment manufacturers turning to us as the suppliers of this equipment to assist them in recognizing what risk assessment is, how to calculate risk assessment and how to design that into their machinery."

Sauer gives a recent customer example. "We have a customer that has just come to us with an open statement saying, ‘We want you to provide a piece of equipment or a line that will comply to whatever the new standards are, and we don’t want an inspector to come and shut us down, so we’re putting the ball firmly in your lap.’ They’re coming to us as the suppliers of this equipment going, ‘We don’t quite understand this, and we’re relying on you to show us.’ So there are a lot of questions out there. There needs to be education to the machine builders, to the end users."

Mathyssen is also starting to see this shift. "We’re seeing the end users pushing that back to the guy that’s building the equipment. They’re going, ‘Build me a piece of equipment that meets the standards and that I’m not going to get the Ministry of Labour going in [and] saying, You can’t use that.’"

Costs continue to play a role in whether or not a company will implement safety strategies, and to what extent. "There’s a hump that they’ve got to get over that [if] making that machine run better, faster, safer, is going to cost me X amount of dollars, then maybe I won’t do it today," says Mathyssen.

"I think with this economic condition that we’ve been in the last while, there’s a huge pressure for firms to try to get production as cheaply as possible," explains De L’Orme. "I think one of the things that employers sometimes neglect to consider is what is the total cost of the piece of equipment."

Mathyssen says that manufacturers need to look at the whole life cycle of a piece of equipment when evaluating costs. "I think life cycle engineering around a piece of equipment is relatively new to this market, where people are looking at not only as I bought it today, but what’s it going to look like in five to 10 years from now," he says.

And there are benefits to the bottom line when you run a safe workplace, explains Bolton. "I think one of the things that you might not really think about that I see from dealing with employers is that employers, in some cases, because of the economic situation, are looking a lot more closely at the WSIB costs. That’s becoming a driver perhaps to look at safety, because if they can lower their WSIB costs on an annual basis, then they’re saving some money that way. They can do it by implementing new safety scenarios in the workplace, and that actually has a positive economic outcome potentially."

An unsafe workplace will undoubtedly cost more money at the end of the day if there is a workplace accident, a stop work order or a fine resulting from failure to comply. And with the number of convictions on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before unsafe activity is caught.

"We’ve quadrupled the prosecutions over the last four years," says De L’Orme. "We probably will increase on that trend. We’re getting more severe about our penalties towards non-compliance. You should be able to guard your machine, and we’re starting to get towards the end of our patience towards having to write [stop work] orders to have people guard equipment, because an order only gets people to where they should be at the very beginning."

De L’Orme warns that, "We can prosecute at any time for simple non-compliance. We don’t have to write an order, we don’t have to say you’re not complying with an order. We can come in and say, ‘That’s not in compliance. We’re prosecuting.’"

At the end of the day, the law looks to employers to make sure they’re taking all reasonable precautions to keep their employees safe. Education is key. The only way for employers to really understand their responsibilities is to work with the trained professionals – the designers, the manufacturers, the integrators, the safety consultants – to ensure that they have the safest workplace possible. Otherwise, they could have an inspector knocking at their door, or worse.


Safety implementation

In our 2010 Canadian Manufacturing Study survey (August 2010), we polled 302 readers about their company’s status relative to implementing advanced safety technologies and complying with standards. We asked the same thing of our readers last year. In a year-over-year comparison, there is an increase in the amount of readers who have implemented safety technologies and are fully compliant. More readers also have a plan and have begun implementation to comply with standards compared to last year. The number of readers who don’t apply advanced safety technologies has been cut in half. Unfortunately, more readers also admit that they don’t have the funding to undertake implementation.

Have implemented and are fully complaint
2010: 35.4%
2009: 24.5%

Have a plan and have begun implementation to comply
2010: 30.8%
2009: 14.5%

Don’t have funding to undertake implementation
2010: 10.6%
2009: 3.5%

Don’t apply advanced safety technologies
2010: 23.2%
2009: 57.5%



School days

Introducing the idea of machine safety to students at the post-secondary level is another challenge that was revealed during the roundtable discussion.

"Within the post-secondary educational system, engineers are not actually trained in safety engineering," explains Doug Nix. "If you go to a fourth year engineering class and [ask], ‘What safety training did you get?’, they’ll say ‘We need to remember to wear our safety boots when we’re on the site, and our glasses and our hard hats.’ You missed the whole picture. All of the stuff that matters about safe design is not even discussed."

Dan Fournier agrees. "I have a neighbour that has a son that is taking electrical engineering. And that discussion between the two of us came up. ‘What have they taught you about automation safety,’ was my question. And you’re right, not a thing. I have a light curtain in my garage for testing purposes, and he didn’t know what it was."

Wayne De L’Orme suggests that safety education is also lacking in business schools. "We try many, many times to get health and safety as a management course, even a fraction of an operations course, and we get rebuffed all of the time. I did my MBA at a leading business school in Canada. I took several operations courses, [and] health and safety was not a term mentioned at all. So you get people going out and learning about operations, and health and safety is not even a concept they’re considering. So it is a real problem."

Elizabeth Rankin admits that the CSA is trying to work with schools to incorporate machine safety standards into the curriculum, but there are hurdles. "Their educational curriculums are set," she says. "There’s not a lot of room for movement. So when you try to get education about standards into the curriculum, you have to get it past, not only the senate of the educational institution, but you also then have to, once they agree to it, deal with the professor and their curriculum…So the efforts are there to try to get it in there, but it’s moving very, very slowly."


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