What is a Machine Safety Program and why is it important?

October 27, 2016

Machine Safety - Machine Guarding

Authored by: Jeff Winter, CSP, FS Eng (TÜV Rheinland), Director, Safety Practice
Why is a Machine Safety Program So Important?
Simply put it, without it, your company may be more exposed to more risk than you realize. An effective machine safety program will look beyond the minimum requirements of the law and include a holistic approach toward prevention of injuries, reduction of risk exposure, and enhancement of productivity. Making a single machine safe is a concept most EH&S professionals understand, however, ensuring that all the hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of different machines that comprise your manufacturing process are safe, is a completely different hurdle. Adding in engineering’s constant push to modify and expand existing production capabilities with new equipment and technologies, you may find yourself quickly behind the curve playing catch up. There can easily be too many people involved in decision making with very little ownership or accountability, resulting in increased risk for the company.

What should be included in every machine safety program?
This is the overarching question that your organization needs to ask itself. And answers are generated by a committee including Safety, Operations, Engineering, and Maintenance. Here are some of the bigger topics that the committee will need to address:

  • Choose safety standards to follow. What does this mean? Having a minimum set of required safety standards for the corporation. And what this does is drive consistency across the organization, eliminates opinions and subjectivity, and provides justification that your equipment is both safe and compliant with regulatory requirements.
  • Define a risk assessment process. What does this include? Most risk assessment standards define methodologies for assessing and reducing risk, but many leave a lot of wiggle room for how “risk levels” are calculated. Without selecting an assessment process and defining a scoring matrix, results will vary widely across your organization.
  • Choose your acceptable risk. Risks of injuries can never be fully eliminated. Your organization needs to choose what level of risk you are willing to accept. Without this, you’re letting OEMs, onsite contractors, and others in your own company choose your level of comfort.
  • Create equipment safety specifications. Without equipment specifications, your safeguard(s), protective device(s), and/or safety control function(s) will have a different “look and feel” from machine to machine. These specifications will ensure all safeguards perform as you expect.
  • Determine documentation requirements. Without proper documentation, it is nearly impossible to answer the question “how do I know this is safe and compliant?” Make sure your company requests the right documentation from OEMs, Integrators, Service Providers, and even your internal engineering and maintenance teams.
  • Establish roles & responsibilities. A best-in-class machine safety program spans many different job functions at many different levels. It’s vital to know who is responsible for which parts throughout the lifecycle of every project. This applies from the purchase of new equipment to the maintenance and upkeep of existing equipment.

How does my company create a machine safety program?
More times than not, the need for a machine safety program is already understood. The more common problem is addressing the question of “Where do I start?” It quickly feels like an overwhelming task, but with the right group of people on your team, and the correct guidance, it is not as daunting as it may seem. Here are the basic steps that will lead you to your goal of creating a Machine Safety Program for your organization.

  • Identify and select the right team members. Determine the right team members needed to develop and implement a successful machine safety program. EH&S, Engineering, Operations, Sanitation, Supply Chain, and Procurement are almost always on the team.
  • Set your corporate goals. Understand if and why your company needs a machine safety program. What happens if your company does nothing? What are the benefits of creating a holistic program? What happens if your company does independent safety projects without a program?
  • Determine what success looks like. Determine what metrics will be used for evaluating success. Lower incident rates? Reduced citations? Lower insurance premiums? Improvements in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)? Reduction in operational costs? Reduction in engineering costs?
  • Identify program stakeholders and audience. Identify who and what will be affected by this program. Who will it benefit? Who will it hinder? Who may provide resistance?
  • Do your homework and gather appropriate information. Research what it takes to develop a successful program. What does Best-In-Class look like? What all is required? What companies can help? What are the major hurdles to overcome?
  • Access your current state, define your future state, and perform a gap analysis. Determine where your company currently stands and where it would like to be. Where is the company most exposed? Where is the company weakest/strongest? What is working? What is not working? Where are inconsistencies formed? What corners are being cut?
  • Get executive sponsorship. Compile your information, establish a vision, and get Executive Sponsorship.What is the business case justification? What is the ROI? How big of an effort will this be? How will this align with business goals?
  • Develop an implementation strategy. Put together a plan for how to launch and execute a successful program. How long will it take? What is the schedule? What are the milestones? Where is the starting point?
  • Divide and conquer. Assign tasks and execute. Where does the ownership reside? Who handles deviations? Who selects vendors and suppliers?

When you are ready to embark on your journey, call Grantek. Our Team of experienced TUV Nord certified Safety Engineers are ready to provide guidance. And conducting Machine Safety Program Workshops at your facility is a service we provide. We have helped other organizations, large and small. Whether you have a single plant, or many across the continent, we have guided someone similar through their journey.

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