Industrial automated machines are typically designed and built to solve a problem related to improving quality, streamlining processes, or minimizing scrap rates. In any machine design, safety needs to be part of the equation and not left up to chance forcing the customer to accept the shifted responsibility of safety.
There is a wide array of automated machines designed and built that would require compliance driven safety devices. These machines consist of, but not limited to, single and multi-station assembly machines, custom inspection and test equipment, modular paint and spray booths, conveyor systems, robotic work cells, stamping and engraving equipment, motion and drive systems, and chemical dispensing machines.
Building automated equipment can range from simple to complex systems consisting of mechanically operated, electrically controlled, fluid power logic, or a combination of any of those control types. Each system can present a different type or a combination of hazards consisting of pinch points, crush points, shear points, wrap points, cut points, pull-in points, thrown objects, and stored energy. Safety is everyone’s responsibility and by shifting the responsibility of safety due to complacency can result in injury or death as a result of reactive human nature.
OEMs that understand the value of safety will include these features in their designs. However, sometimes they feel like their hands are tied trying to do the right thing because the customer is not willing to take on what they consider to be an extra expense. The desire to get an order cannot trump a customer’s decision to sidestep any safety measures. The machine builder must stand firm on this decision for the greater good of the customer and their assets preventing injury, death, litigation, penalties, settlements, increased worker’s comp rates, lost time wages, and life-long pain from deprioritizing the value of safety.
A misconception of machine safety is that is slows the process down and hinders the reason for building the new equipment. This perception develops reluctancy of including this piece in the design thinking it will diminish the positive results when presented to the customer. There is a wide array of machine guarding options that include physical machine guarding, safety switches, safety light curtains, safety laser scanners, safety mats, as well as numerous techniques of cutting-edge safety integrated systems. With all of these start-of-the-art options available, the machine builder has the ability to integrate safety that fits with the machine functionality, create a controls reliable system, and provide a machine to the customer that meets or exceeds the compliance regulations of OSHA.
When safety is not included and a challenge presents itself, the results have proven catastrophic. Reluctancy to accept the responsibility due to the costly liabilities will cause people to point fingers, aka “the industrial coat of arms”. Safety is a critical piece of the puzzle when building custom machines and should be factored in at the time of the build. It is vital to choose the right company for your automated equipment builds to ensure a full package, including machine safety as part of the recipe, that meets or exceeds customer needs.
One of the most common phrases is “safety is everyone’s responsibility”. This certainly is true, but safety needs to start with machine guarding. Just like anything else, people need to be set up for success by providing them with the proper tools. People want to do the right thing, they want to be safe, they want others to be safe, but they don’t know what they don’t know.
Machines are an inanimate object…no brains, no feelings, no common sense, no voice to help keep workers from harm. By the time the machine has let you know there is a problem, it is too late. Machines will not hesitate to “bite” you, some more than others. So, you need to minimize some of these characteristics in humans as well. The cost of doing nothing has proven to be catastrophic over the years as shown in the OSHA statistics. The investment of proactively putting the proper machine guarding in place more than outweighs the costs associated with a reactive approach of doing nothing based on injuries or death. There are resources in the market, some better than others as explained in the article “Fundamentals of Machine Guarding”, to help you improve your machine guarding.
There are a lot of different types of machine guarding options, such as modular machine guarding, consumer products guarding, robotic safety guarding, palletizing safety systems, industrial sound enclosures, hazardous chemical containment enclosures, and power transmission guards. In addition, adding electronic safety devices brings the guarding to life by interacting with the machine controls. It is critical to make sure you choose the appropriate guarding that fits your process as well as choosing the right turnkey solutions contractor to ensure proper installation of the guarding. “I have been doing it that way for 20 years”, “the machine came that way”, “no one would stick their hands in there”, “no one should be back there”, are all objections from workers for not being accepting of the guarding. This is one of the reasons the solutions should not be cumbersome, does not create opportunities for employees to attempt a bypass or work around it, and it interacts with the machine properly.
While the focus is on machine guarding you must complete the process by creating systems, controlled processes, training programs, and routine audits for better success with your machine safety directives. People by nature do not take responsibility for their actions, so consequences should also be put in place in case these guidelines are not followed. Then from there safety truly is everyone’s responsibility. At this point, you can have some peace of mind that you have given your employees the tools to be safe. Do not think of safety as being an overhead expense, think of it as an investment in keeping your workers safe.
Companies have a huge responsibility to make sure their employees are safe in the workplace. Safety and Maintenance professionals across America are plagued with the decisions between do I fixate on price or realize the value in “the solution”. Product companies can make a compelling argument, but companies can often get caught in the trap of being sold the wrong thing due to lack of info.
Time…there is a tricky word. Is there a grand illusion we can complete all tasks in a timely manner due to the assumption we have all the information to make the right decision? And how is “timely” measured? Is there a level of delusion thinking it will not take too long, when in reality projects typically breed more attention than originally expected? In reality, we are all busy with our primary job functions. When time is not considered in the value formula, you may end up with products from a supplier on your shelf collecting dust, potentially getting damaged, and not in place protecting the machine operators.
Technical aspects…there is a lot of pride that goes into the work we all do. However, ego sometimes rears its ugly head with the statement “I got this” or “it’s not that bad”. Ask yourself a few questions…Do you have a good understanding of the OSHA regulations and ANSI standards? Do you know how to choose the right products from suppliers as it relates to your specific needs? Do you know how to properly construct the barrier guards, position the electronic safety devices, and integrate them into your equipment all while achieving the required level of safety? If you cannot confidently answer all of these questions as it relates to executing your machine guarding directives, it will cause catastrophic results if you “give it a shot”.
Pricing is certainly a valid piece of the equation, but when you consider buying only product from a supplier you are putting yourself at risk of consequences related to your machine guarding projects. To avoid these types of consequences, you must consider a turnkey safety solutions provider and one that covers the entire United States. These companies that focus on custom design, fabrication, and nationwide installation bring several advantages which will provide peace of mind to you and your company. These advantages include understanding regulations and standards, ability to review your process to spec the proper products, create consistency in designs not only isolated to one machine but for multiple machines and/or facilities across the country, the proper safety programs and insurance coverage, and better communication.
The decision to invest in the turnkey safety solution reduces pain points, improves workplace safety attitudes, potentially reduces the lag time between hazardous exposure and machine guarding ultimately lowering the chance of being another OSHA statistic. Take all of this into account the next time you are at a crossroad of improving your machine safety.
Overcoming workplace safety attitudes must start with understanding of why the attitude exists at all. Workplace safety attitudes refers to how employees react to safety goals, policies & procedures, or new ideas & plans for accident prevention. The flip from positive to negative can happen in an instant due to the emotional connection workers typically have with their jobs and the ownership they take with their machines. This is influenced by adversity they’re faced with, incentive programs offered, and how empowered they feel. Negative employees can increase turnover rates reducing safety, creating hostile work environments, deteriorating quality, and a decline in the bottom line. It is imperative the workers stay positive to help ensure an accident free workplace, which helps improve productivity, enhance quality, and reduce costs due to refined process efficiencies creating a more profitable company.
Change is not usually well received my most, but there’s a much better chance of success if you engage your workers. The people on the line know their jobs and their machines better than anyone. Seeking the input of those team members can be invaluable when trying to improve workplace safety. This also helps reduce negative mindset by making the employee see their input is valued.
It is human nature to want to do good, such as protecting themselves and their co-workers from harm. However, in this fast-paced world a lot of times production trumps safety for profit due to customer demands. This creates an environment of employees afraid to speak up in fear of being replaced, and there is an illusion that the facility is safe because people are not getting hurt or worse; justified allowances of recorded injuries are created. People are also used to status quo with their routines. Feedback such as “I’ve been running this machine for over 20 years and haven’t gotten hurt yet” or “if someone isn’t smart enough to stay away from the hazards, it’s their own fault if they get hurt” shows a high level of complacency. There’s a perception in the marketplace of how workers interact and respond based on tenure. Employees in the first few years are fearful of the machines, which could cause mistakes due to shaky confidence. Employees that have been with the company for 10+ years get comfortable creating complacency. Those in the middle appear to respect the equipment more which reduces fear but doesn’t create complacency.
Company policies state “Safety 1st” but tend to create a self-inflicted environment by being reactive to workplace safety only to make changes once someone has been injured. This creates a non-responsive workforce feeling like their concerns would fall on deaf ears. On the surface the belief is that spending money on workplace safety is an expense and will negatively impact the bottom line because it cannot be converted to a sale. Hidden costs companies tend to forget are productivity losses due to affected morale and loss time recordables, increased training for replacement workers, increased worker’s comp rates, OSHA fines, and ultimately litigation and settlements. Smaller companies try to fly under the radar of the regulations due to lack of budgeting for workplace safety and larger companies are slower to process approvals and funds due to a spread focus of time and money.
To successfully achieve safety goals, best practice is to find ways to focus on workplace safety attitudes by engaging with your employees. This can start through assurance of a safety-based culture created from the top down minimizing skepticism through actions. Once employees feel secure, giving them a voice to be heard during any kind of process changes or brainstorming sessions will go a long way. There will still be a group with a lack of confidence or willingness to speak up, so anonymous forms will help capture additional input from those workers. Incentivizing employees gives them another reason to keep their eyes and ears open so they can focus on helping reduce hazardous exposures. Ultimately the goal would be to empower a diversified team, structured with regular meetings, objectives, and routine follow-ups.
At the end of the day, the goal and duty of the employer is to do everything possible to keep employees safe and assets protected. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, but it takes someone stepping up in a leadership role to help mentor or guide their team through the process.
Machine guarding is a safety feature consisting of barriers or electronic devices used to bridge the gap between centuries of machines and the hazardous conditions they present to workers.
Machines have traditionally been built for the purpose of producing, assembling, or packaging a product. Safety was either an afterthought or minimal focus by protecting against only the “highest” risk. Over the years, these machines have been modified for faster production rates or ease of routine maintenance by minimizing or removing the machine guards. This has created unsafe conditions for workers presenting such hazards as crush points, pinch points, shear points, and thrown objects resulting in injury or death.
Due to the lack of training, a decline in the skilled workforce, increased distractions, and unexpected machine failures have made it difficult to ensure safe work conditions with a human-controlled environment. The level of injuries and deaths from machines have increased exponentially over the years, putting machine safety in OSHA’s, a government regulations agency, top 10 most-cited violations.
Proper machine guarding is a must to be put in place in order to improve workplace safety regardless of the cost. You can’t put a price on saving lives. Machine operation and production capabilities need to be considered when designing this guarding using a general understanding of ANSI and ISO specifications, OSHA guidelines, and common sense derived from “real-world” application experience to fill the gray area void that exists from the standards. One of the most critical tasks, which is typically ignored or forgotten about, is to schedule a group meeting with the machine guarding company, safety personnel, a maintenance tech, and the operator. This discussion will be a brainstorming session discussing guarding scenarios as it relates to the operator and maintenance needs while staying focused on the goal of workplace safety. No one knows their job better than the one doing it.
Machine guarding consists of physical barriers and electronic devices in conjunction with proper training to protect workers from inherent hazards. Physical barriers are commonly built using t-slotted aluminum extrusions for modularity due to the complexity of custom machines and unique processes. Prefabricated steel posts and framing can be also be used as well for higher strength applications requiring minimal customization. Based on the type and location of the hazard, solid plastic panels or wire mesh panels would most commonly be used as the barrier material. Then to complete the physical barriers, personnel and/or material handling access doors and panels are added along with any other necessary accessories to complete the guarding.
Once the physical barrier is completed, then the proper electronic safety devices are required to create a “true” machine safety guard. These are devices that bring the physical barrier “to life” by telling a machine how to react based on the actions of the physical barrier brought on by personnel. These devices consist of safety interlock switches, safety light curtains, safety laser scanners, and safety mats used in conjunction with the proper safety relays and safety controllers to create the proper safety circuit. Each device provides different functionality and levels of safety related to the specific application. An e-safety device in itself isn’t safe, only the proper device and integration for the project makes it safe. Technology and guidelines are continually changing, requiring the need to stay relevant with cutting-edge technology.
The installation process is just as critical as the rest. The machine guarding requires proper fit, rigid mounting, and proper electrical integration between electronic safety devices and the customer’s machine. The rest is irrelevant if the guard presents itself with openings providing access to the inherent hazards or if the machine doesn’t react properly with the electronic safety devices.
Industrial facilities can greatly benefit from using machine safety companies that provide turnkey solutions consisting of custom design, fabrication, and nationwide installation. The qualification process of sufficient liability insurance coverage, OSHA log documentation, and properly documented safety programs can be streamlined and solidified through companies like ISNetworld and Avetta. The value of this service is immeasurable due to the overall skill level, “field-fit” capabilities, focused on customer’s needs, consistency throughout, and a single point of contact for efficiencies and better communication. The cost of doing nothing has proven catastrophic. Safety must always be top priority!
Robotic automation for industrial applications is rapidly growing due to the reliability of programmed robots, as well as the low overhead costs compared to traditional manufacturing processes. Some of the common robots used in the manufacturing processes are Cartesian, cylindrical, and spherical robots. Robots are reliable and consistent, but failures can occur such as loss of air pressure, power failures, or glitches in the controls. A controlled environment should be developed to minimize the “human-factor” decision making due to the inherent trust between robot and human.
A controlled environment for robot automation safety is a development of robotic safety guarding, which is a hard-sided barrier or fencing integrated with electronic safety devices to create a controlled system taking a standard barrier to a true safety guard. This guarding is designed to define a clear unobstructed area for the robot to function properly protecting workers from hazards due to robot activity, material handling, and production debris. Hazards that can occur if robotic safety guarding is not in place are pinch, crush, wrap, cut, and nip points as well as colliding with the robot or the robot losing control of a part. Designs are created using a combination of OSHA, ANSI, ISO, and RIA safety standards. These safety standards are written with some inherent flexibility or “gray area” due to the wide range of manufacturing processes . A level of “common sense” and manufacturing experience needs to be factored in when closing the gap between the “gray area” and the guarding being designed.
When designing robotic safety guarding, several things need to be taken into account such as footprint, robot reachability, human interaction, and type of material being processed. A layout must be developed using the safety standards as it relates to the operational interaction as well as potential interaction the robot could have with a human. This layout will determine the shape of the robot cell which includes length, width, and height of the guarding required. A determination is also made for the material type of the structure and panels needed.
The hard guarding is most commonly designed with either T-Slotted Aluminum Extrusion or pre-fabricated steel. The T-Slotted material is a lightweight, yet rigid material, high aesthetic look, and completely modular for custom designs. Pre-fabricated steel provides higher strength, fixed sections, and a hi-vis safety yellow finish. Both guards require the use of solid plastic, metal, or wire mesh panels which is determined by the distance between the hazard and the personnel per the appropriate safety standards, as well as type of material being processed. These guards are designed with access doors for personnel and material handling entry, as well as a wide variety of accessories needed to create a complete barrier.
Once the physical barrier is designed, the specifications for the electronic safety devices can then be determined. These devices include safety interlock switches for door and removable access panels, safety light curtains and safety laser scanners for frequently accessed areas along with all the required safety controllers, relays, cables, and hardware to design the proper safety circuit. A wide range of sizes, protection coverage, durability, and safety levels are offered to properly fit the needs of each particular application.
The fundamentals of robotic safety guarding are fairly straight forward on the surface, but requires a lot of technical detail. Creating the proper design, choosing the right products, and implementing everything together as a “system” is critical to the protection of personnel and the robotic automation equipment when developing a safe and controlled environment. It is highly recommended to partner with a company that specializes in providing a turnkey solution due to the challenges companies face such as lack of time, skill level, and knowledge of the ever changing safety standards. Companies that offer design thru nationwide installation services of machine safety and automation applications can provide a level of consistency throughout the entire process, as well as a single point of contact minimizing communication issues.