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Risk Assessments: Prioritizing your Machine Safety Requirements

If you are faced with the task of assessing all the machines in your facility for safety compliance and guarding and have a very limited budget, where do you begin?

You must assess all the machines in your facility for safety compliance and guarding. You have a very limited budget. Where do you begin?

The obvious thought would be to start with the most dangerous machines, but how do you determine that? You need a risk assessment.

If you have 100 or more machines to evaluate, a full risk assessment could cost in the neighborhood of $35,000, take multiple weeks to complete the onsite assessment and another four weeks to receive the documented report. Once you receive the report, you will have to read each machine’s results, and you still may not know which machines are the most dangerous and where to start taking action.

Budget, time and prioritization are common challenges for most plant or safety managers with respect to machine safeguarding. The solution might be a relatively new service called a high-level assessment, sometimes referred to as a "safety check."

Less Time, Less Cost, Clear Direction

What is the difference between a a high-level assessment and a full machine guarding assessment? With a high-level assessment, a machine safety expert reviews each machine in your facility for existing guarding, compliance to appropriate standards and identification of where a more thorough risk assessment and/or corrective action might be needed. A full risk assessment consists of a number of different elements that can take additional time.

In a full risk assessment, the limits of the machine are determined, the various tasks and persons performing each of those tasks are documented and the risks associated with each task are ascertained. Each task hazard is weighted for severity of injury, frequency of exposure and possibility of avoidance. These three factors are combined to determine a risk level for the hazard.

In some cases, this risk level result is the scope of the report. In a more comprehensive assessment, the risk level is related to the appropriate level of control architecture required, and a proposed guarding solution for each machine is provided. Depending on the provider, risk assessments can include more or less detail on these various elements, so it is important to know exactly what will be included in the final report.

Unlike a full risk assessment, where a single machine may be evaluated over a period of several hours or even days for a complex cell, a high level assessment usually only takes minutes per machine to determine if the existing guarding is compliant and if any additional work needs to be done. Usually the assessor briefly will talk with the machine operator to uncover any idiosyncrasies of the particular work being done on the machine that might require special consideration.

What It Includes

The typical high-level safety check will include inspection for proper guards and devices at the point of operation or proper perimeter guarding, power transmission guarding and other moving parts. The machines also must be inspected for proper drop-out protection, emergency stop devices and energy isolation devices.

The results of the high-level safety check should include a written report that includes a pass/fail for each guarding criteria reviewed, how each machine’s key safety categories or criteria are rated, recommendations for next actions and what machines need to have a stop-time measurement performed.

In most cases, the report will prioritize machines for next action using a prioritized scoring system. The report will provide direction and recommendations as to which machines need the most attention and where to allocate risk assessment/safeguarding time and dollars.

The whole process is designed to be very efficient, fast, budget friendly and produce results in a fraction of time and cost as compared to a full risk assessment.

If the machine passes all categories or criteria, some companies affix a pass inspection label or sticker to the machine stating date of inspection and compliance to safeguarding regulations.

While a full risk assessment for 100 machines can cost $35,000 and several months to complete, a high-level assessment for the same number of machines can cost a tenth of the price with results taking days, rather than months.

What To Look For in a Consultant

These quick, high-level assessments are best performed by a very experienced consultant to ensure that each safeguarding category is reviewed correctly. The consultant should meet the following criteria:

  •  Be experienced at conducting machine safeguarding risk level assessments and risk  reduction strategies.
  • Have formal training on risk assessment standards (ANSI B11.0, ANSI/RIA R15.06, etc.) and the risk assessment/risk reduction process and methodologies.
  • Have a track record of assessing large quantities of machines (100 plus) in a single site visit.
  • Ability to inspect guarding devices and hazardous locations to current applicable North American machine safeguarding standards (OSHA, ANSI, NFPA, etc.).
  • Be experienced at and have a thorough understanding of correct application of safeguards and safety devices.
  • Be able to provide a strong reference list.

Richard Harris is the owner of Safeday Consulting, which offers machine safeguarding consulting services.


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