Companies which operate machinery are likely to have a keen concern for machinery safety and guarding.  This will be a preoccupation for most engineering firms, but is also of importance in other sectors, notably agriculture and manufacturing.

Obviously the heavier the machinery, the more harm it is likely to be capable of, but even light machinery such as envelope packing machines can do harm.

The gold standard for your machinery and other potentially harmful work equipment is to carry out a work equipment risk assessment, which will take you through the requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) as they apply to the machine in front of you.  PUWER is a useful checklist of important considerations such as maintenance, training and inspection, but does not cover guarding needs in detail.

You may well trust that your expensive machine, bought lately from a reputable manufacturer, meets all requirements.  This is not an unreasonable expectation, but may be a little optimistic.  Note that if you have brought it into the EU, you must ensure it is appropriately CE marked.  Even with a CE mark, you cannot be sure that the guarding meets the International Standards appropriate without checking yourself.  The responsibility lies with the employer, as always.

Adequate guarding on a machine seems like it ought to be a black and white matter – the manufacturer fits the guards needed, your people keep them in place and serviceable and everybody is happy and uninjured.  Sometimes it is as simple as that.

Guarding is mostly about moving parts, though it may cover other hazards.  Essentially, if any part of a person may come in contact with a moving part, a question is raised.  It may be fine, if the moving part moves slowly with little or no power.  It may be of minor consequence, causing a nip or bruise at worst.  Or it may have the potential to cause serious injury or death.  Your guarding should prevent contact and there are lots of different ways to accomplish this.

Take those coin sorting machines you sometimes see in the foyer of supermarkets.  That coin sorting machinery is likely to be dangerous to a careless hand.  But putting the coins into it involves dropping them down a chute, which is long and narrow enough in construction to prevent access by even the smallest and slimmest hand.  This is adequate guarding of the simplest type.

Often, though, the operation of a machine depends on interaction between the machine and the operator.  You feed a piece of wood onto the turning blade of the woodworking machine.  You can’t prevent hand contact with the blade without also preventing the admission of the wood, so rendering the machine useless.  For these situations, there are generally well established guarding solutions which are understood in each particular sector.  There is likely to be published guidance as well.  Often the solution is not fool proof, and also demands a lot of training, supervision and monitoring.  So the guarding needed also depends on the user, whether they have competences with the machine, or are naïve, such as members of the public, and so require stronger guarding solutions.

The best answer for most companies which use machinery is to have a thorough commissioning procedure, not just carried out by the installer but involving the in house maintenance and production teams, health and safety and sometimes hygiene and quality.  This commissioning process will include a careful assessment of the machine, and the identification of opportunities to improve the guarding, controls and emergency stop provision.  This must consider not just normal operation, but also breakdowns and maintenance, when guarding may be removed or disabled.

This process will capture new equipment coming in, and can be applied in retrospect until coverage of all equipment of concern is achieved.

We can certainly assist in this process, but would not choose to merely spend a morning ticking boxes in the workshop, but would prefer to work with your team to develop a commissioning and work equipment risk assessment process which they are confident with, and can carry forward.  We can design your documentation and train and coach your staff to establish systems which you can put to work.