Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Safe, secure and sure: Safety in automated manufacturing facilities

January 27, 2023
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

Photo: getty/E+/Morsa Images

As automation technologies evolve every day, ensuring machine and operational safety becomes even more important. It is not enough to ensure that automation equipment manufacturers are following the proper safety standards. When automated equipment is integrated with existing machinery, the safety risks change. Consequently, the safety requirements change. It is of primary importance for the end-user (manufacturers) to understand the latest safety standards and requirements and make sure that it is safe to work with and around the newly installed equipment.

Douglas Nix, managing director and principal consultant at Compliance InSight Consulting, says that standards writers in Canada are working hard to harmonize Canadian standards with international standards for many years. The hope, he says, is that one day there will be just one standard to look at.

Machine safety standards

  • CSA Z142, Code for Punch Press and Brake Press Operation: Health, Safety and Guarding Requirements
  • CSA Z432, Safety of Machinery (new edition due out in Q1-2023)
  • CSA Z434, Industrial robots and robot systems (ISO 10218-1:2011, MOD / ISO 10218-2:2011, MOD)
  • ISO12100, Safety of machinery – General principles for design – Risk assessment and risk reduction
  • ISO 10218-1, Robots for Industrial Environment – Safety Requirements – Part 1: Robot
  • ISO 10218-2, Robots and robotic devices – Safety requirements for industrial robots – Part 2: Robot systems and integration
  • ISO/TR 15066, Robots and robotic devices – Collaborative robots

Understanding relevant standards

There are quite a few machine standards that cover different types of machinery. So, the first step is to understand which standard is relevant for the newly installed equipment, says Dave Smith, owner and lead trainer at Cobot Safety.

“If you’re putting in an injection molding machine, there’s an injection molding standard. If you are operating a robot, there’re robots standards. If you are putting in a press, there’s a press standard,” he explains.


Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has three main machinery safety standards for fixed equipment. The CSA Z142 deals with power presses, for example, stamping metal and other similar applications. CSA Z434 is the robotics standard. Nix explains that it is the Canadian version of ISO 10218. The CSA Z432 is the fundamental standard used for safeguarding machines. This standard is currently being reviewed for the next edition, which is expected to be out in the first quarter of 2023, says Nix. The new document closely harmonizes with quite a few ISO standards, he adds. The standard provides a general overview of how things should be done. It includes pointers for specific information.

Nix shares that the CSA Z434 has not been changed since 2014. However, there have been many changes in the robotics industry in recent years. Therefore, he suggests that it is important to look at ISO/TR 15066, a standard that covers collaborative robots. This standard has been rolled into ISO 10218. Nix explains that CSA has combined Parts 1 and 2 of the ISO 10218 into one document and included Canadian deviations to comply with Canada’s specific OHS requirements.

Assessing risks

Risk assessment is a crucial step when adding any automation equipment to the factory floor. Smith suggests that it is important to do the risk assessment at the design stage. This helps the end user understand everything that they should be aware of regarding the new equipment.

Michael Warren, product manager of safety components and safety controllers at Omron Automation, says that the risk assessment should strictly be based on the currently recognized industry standards to maintain the integrity of the process. Warren shares that a facility today constantly changes based on the current business needs. As the automation evolves, so should the safety, advises Warren. Risk assessments should be done continuously. For example, a workcell that is on the output of a machine changes and becomes the input of another workcell. In this scenario, the new workcell will have new risks involved and should be looked at a new installation, explains Warren.

So, what happens if manufacturers are not familiar with all the machine safety requirements? They could either send members of their team for safety training or hire safety consultants to ensure that the systems integrators are following all safety requirements and meeting the requisite standards, suggests Smith.

Smith shares that he has come across situations in the past where equipment manufactured in Japan did not meet Canadian standards and safety requirements. The Canadian standards had to be shared with the equipment manufacturers to ensure compliance. Such situations could arise with the increasing number of automation technologies being released every day. It is therefore important for the end users to understand the relevant standards for their region, says Smith.

Safety consultants like Smith and Nix help facilitate the risk assessment process.

For example, if a manufacturer is installing a robot cell, Smith will go in at the design stage and assess all the potential hazards. He will show the team the different parts of the standard that they need to meet. Smith will work with the team to look at each task and each hazard combination to come up with risk reduction measures. He can then show what needs to be done to get the risk levels down to an acceptable level.

Smith says that he doesn’t do risk assessments unless the end user gets a pre-startMorsa Images health and safety review, which is a requirement in Ontario. He adds that end users often request his help to go through the documentation after the review is complete to ensure that nothing important has been missed out.

Nix follows a slightly different process. The first thing he likes to do is assess the team members of the equipment end user to understand their backgrounds. He says that as an external consultant, he likes to know who the resources are and determine the best way to inform them. Then he begins the risk assessment. Instead of working with every person in the company, he prefers doing the risk assessment with a small group of knowledgeable people. Nix helps this group understand what to do once the documents are ready.

“We go through the document to see what needs to be done. Do they need to improve the guarding in some places or do they need to work on the functional safety aspects of the machine? Is there something else that we have discovered in the process that they need to deal with immediately?” explains Nix.

He adds that around 80 percent of risk assessment documents that he has come across are not up to the mark.

“If it’s done right, risk assessment is painstaking and time-consuming. Once it is done, it is a very useful document if you choose to use it. It is very important to do the job properly at the very beginning and then actually use the document,” he says.

Safety knowledge in-house

Just leveraging safety consultants and experts to ensure machine safety is not enough today. Safety experts recommend training employees to ensure that knowledge of safety standards and requirements exists in-house.

“If you have the facility, you have automation and you have safety assessments without training, you have the possibility of injuries. You should train employees up front on safety and write a safety doctrine for machine operators. This helps them be aware of the risks as they may not be obvious to the operators,” says Warren.

Warren recommends training the team on safety every quarter. He explains that with the turnover of employees, it is essential that all new people receive the training. He adds that the training should evolve with the change in risks and facility setup.

It is critical to invest in training employees on all the industry safety standards, according to Nix. This allows the team to tailor the safety guidelines to the needs of the facility. Nix explains that every company’s operations have nuances that only the internal team would be aware of. In-house safety experts can help external safety consultants understand those nuances and do the risk assessments accordingly.

Smith similarly emphasizes the importance of training the team in the facility. He recalls how some years ago Honda had installed a robot and the team did not have the requisite safety knowledge. So, they brought Smith to work on the safety and risk assessments. Simultaneously, they had Smith train internal team members. As a consequence, they did not have to rely on the robot manufacturers or integrators for safety requirements.

“If you don’t know anything about the standards or the way things should be done, there could be people that take shortcuts to save a little bit of money. However, in the end, you come up short because you never really understood the system yourself. If you invest in your people, you will have to rely less on outside resources down the road,” says Smith.

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