Preparing for the Ontario machine safety blitz

Tuesday February 02, 2016
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Feb. 2, 2016 - The Ontario Ministry of Labour’s “Safe operation of machinery blitz” is taking place January 18 until February 26. During this time, ministry inspectors will show up, unannounced, at industrial facilities across the province to make sure employers are protecting workers from hazards associated with the operation of machinery.

What are they looking for and how can you prepare? Manufacturing AUTOMATION asked three safety experts for their advice.

Vivien Wharton-Szatan
Provincial co-ordinator for the Industrial Health and Safety Program, Ontario Ministry of Labour

When machines are not properly guarded or locked out during maintenance, repair and other activities, serious injuries or death can occur. “We want to make sure that we target those sectors to ensure that we can reduce the risk, with the ultimate goal of having the workers go home safe,” explains Vivien Wharton-Szatan, emphasizing that the responsibility for addressing workplace hazards is with the employer.

To ensure that workers are safe, the blitz will focus on several key priorities. Inspectors will be looking to employers to ensure workers are not exposed to pinch points or moving parts of unguarded machinery; that machinery is properly locked out and blocked during mechanical repair and maintenance; and that workers are not exposed to the risk of electrical contact by ensuring machinery is de-energized and locked out during electrical repair and maintenance. In addition, inspectors will be looking at whether employers have taken adequate measures to address potential musculoskeletal disorder hazards involving guards, and whether policies and programs are in place to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. They will also be checking to see if the workplace has an internal responsibility system, including a health and safety representative or a joint health and safety committee when required.

Wharton-Szatan suggests that, in preparation for the blitz, companies should have their safety representative or committee conduct an inspection of their own workplace, turning a “critical eye” to the areas inspectors will be watching.

Bill Valedis
Manager, Automation, Safety and Training, Precision TPS

Safety begins with having a plan in place, according to Bill Valedis. This plan should outline the steps, the process and the policy of how to protect workers in the workplace. Next, companies need to put the plan in motion, and educate employees as to how these policies will be executed.

“Having a plan and actually having some timeline of when this plan is going to be implemented shows responsibility to the ministry, and it shows that you understand what the Ontario Occupational health and Safety Act states in terms of responsibilities,” explains Valedis.

How do you determine the plan and the areas to tackle first?

“Look at the risk, assess the risk, figure out what is the highest risk component of a particular task, and deal with that specific one,” he says. “And find the remedy very quickly.”

Industrial companies also need to make sure the facility has safe operating procedures, that they are documented, and that these procedures are being followed by workers, he notes. Documentation is key, so that companies can prove they are taking measures to educate employees about workplace hazards, he adds.

“When a Ministry of Labour rep walks into a place, they look for all kinds of different signs, but fundamentally they will be looking at how workers behave with machinery,” he says.

Valedis says the best way to be prepared is to take initiative. “Be proactive and do all these things on your own, and then have an action plan of how... you’re implementing all these fixes.”

Michael Wilson
Machine safety specialist, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services

Michael Wilson knows what’s involved in making workplaces safe — and he knows what an unsafe workplace looks like when it comes to machinery. Wilson suggests that one of the first things companies should do to prepare for the blitz is to make sure there aren’t any exposed mechanical hazards like pinch points, in-running nips or crushing hazards that might be accessible to workers, and to ensure guarding is in place, that it’s effective, and that it has not been bypassed or circumvented.

Simply having the guarding in place isn’t enough, he says. Employers need to make sure that the safeguarding is in good repair and that it functions as intended. While inspections are key to pinpointing these issues, Wilson also recommends talking with the machine operators to make sure they understand the importance of properly functioning safeguards.

“Check in with workers and make sure they understand why the guards are in place and certainly that it’s important to report if they aren’t functioning or have been damaged,” he explains.

Wilson also says that industrial companies need to have a more positive and proactive approach to safety. It’s important for companies to be able to identify the hazards, assess the level of risk and determine the next appropriate steps to reduce that risk, he says, adding that companies should never assume a piece of equipment is safe.

For more information, take a look at the Industrial Sector plan on the Ontario Ministry of Labour website, which provides details on what inspectors will be paying close attention to during the blitz.

Mary Del Ciancio is a Stouffville, Ont.-based business writer, and a former editor of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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