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July 31 2009 04:24 PM

The requirements for protecting machinery and people are changing more and more with the increased use of automation. With the growing demand for automated processes, logistics operations and factories must closely examine their safety strategies. European laws and directives require the equipment manufacturer to provide the necessary safety equipment to be delivered with the machine. However, in the United States the responsibility for safeguarding falls on the end user. There are many ways to safeguard a machine. Following is an overview of the six steps to help guide you through the process, including new safety standards and the practical application of safety equipment.

1. Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is sequence of steps that permit the systematic analysis and evaluation of risks. All possible hazards and hazardous points must be identified.

Various mythologies and standards can help determine the risk. Other factors that should be considered during a risk assessment include the level of training of workers; machine task history; environmental factors, such as lighting; and human factors, like performing steps out of sequence. If the risk evaluation shows that measures are necessary to reduce the risk, the next three steps shall be used.

2. Safe Design
Safe design is the most important step in the risk reduction process. Safe design includes optimizing mechanical design, allowing operating and maintenance procedures without exposure to hazards, and providing safe and reliable electrical equipment. The most effective way to minimize risk is the elimination of hazards by integrating safety in the design and construction of the machine, such as avoiding sharp edges or crushing points. All components are to be selected, used and adapted so that in the event of a fault on the machine, the safety of people is paramount.

3. Engineering Controls
If safe design is not possible, engineering controls shall protect machine personnel. Safety functions need to be both defined and designed. A safety function has to be defined for each hazard that has not been eliminated. An exact definition is necessary to obtain the required level of safety. The type and number of safety components for the function are derived from the definition. There are a wide range of components and technology solutions available- from hard guards to safety light curtains and safety cameras. The process of designing and verifying the safety function involves selecting the correct technology, protective devices and components and then validating all of the engineering control measures to ensure the required safety performance matches the actual safety performance.

4. Administrative Measures
The least effective way to minimize risk is through administrative measures. These measures inform workers about residual hazards, which procedures to follow, and define the use of personal protective equipment. Administrative measures are acceptable only when guards or safeguarding devices cannot be installed and the previous two steps did not achieve a sufficient risk reduction. Examples of administrative measures include signs, lights, horns, training procedures, safety glasses, and gloves.

5. Overall validation
As a last step before operating the machine, a validation evaluates all measures - design, technical, and organizational, in an overall validation. It is possible that although risk reduction is not achieved with a single technical measure, an adequate result can be achieved in the overall assessment.

6. Operating the machine
The employer is responsible for the safety of its employees. Machines shall be operated ergonomically and to match the qualifications of the operator. Safety of the machine does not stop after the initial commissioning. Periodic and regular inspection will ensure that all the safety measures are in operation.

All safety-relevant aspects of a machine - from the initial planning phase, through the risk analysis, engineering and project planning, to commissioning, maintenance and modernization should be considered in close collaboration with the customer. When employees do not have to worry about getting hurt on the job, they ultimately are more productive.

Juergen Bukowski is SICK Safety Program Manager. Download the complete Safety Guide by clicking

These general guidelines describe the safety requirements relating to machinery in North America and their implementation. Review of these guidelines is not a substitute for your own independent legal analysis.