Imagine settling in for your upcoming day at work, when you receive a page notifying you of an emergency in the machine shop. As you respond to the scene, you think about what might have happened, how serious the injury might be. You think about the various things that could have led up to the incident and ask yourself these questions; was the machine safeguarding program strong enough, is the associated employee training program adequate, was a guard missing or inadequately designed, did line management understand their responsibility for safety and provide adequate oversight of the work activities, was employee error responsible in part for the incident?
Safeguarding hazards associated with machines is a goal common to all health and safety professionals. Whether the individual is new to the safety field or has held associated responsibilities for a period of time, safeguarding personnel who work with or around machine tools and equipment should be considered an important aspect of the job. Although significant progress has been made in terms of safeguarding machines since the era prior to the organized safety movement, companies continue to be cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and workers continue to be injured, even killed, by machine tools and equipment. In the early 1900s, it was common practice to operate transmission machinery (gears, belts, pulleys, shafting, etc.) completely unguarded. At that time, the countersunk set screw used on shafts had not been invented and projecting set screws were involved in many horrific accidents (Blake, 175). Manufacturers built machines with little regard for worker safety. Workers were killed or seriously injured before definitive actions were taken to improve safety in the workplace. Many states adopted legislation aimed at requiring machine guarding and improved injury reduction. The first patent for a machine safeguard was issued in 1868 for a mechanical interlock (Brauer, 147). Other patents followed. As methods for safeguarding machinery and tools were developed, standards were written and programs were set up to monitor factories for compliance. Many of those standards still govern how we protect workers today.
It is common to see machine tools built in the forties, fifties and sixties being used in machine shops today. In terms of safeguarding, these machines may be considered poorly designed, improperly safeguarded or simply unguarded. In addition to the potential threat of an OSHA citation, these conditions expose the operator to serious hazards that must be addressed. The safety professional can help line management determine workable solutions for these problems.