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      • Published 27 Oct 2022
      • Last Modified 29 Aug 2023
    • 11 min

    A Guide to Machine Safety Standards and Equipment

    How safe is your industrial work environment? This guide explains machine safety, covers regulations and machine guarding products, and helps you take preventative measures to protect personnel.

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    Reviewed by Maxwell Brown, Technical Support Engineer (April 2021)

    Want to know more about machine safety? This guide explains why it is so crucial and discusses the various machine safety standards in the UK. We will also highlight some of the best products available to ensure employees are protected and able to operate machinery safely.

    What is Machine Safety?

    Machinery is commonplace in industrial environments like factories, however, it comes with a number of risks. Moving parts, hot surfaces, presses, clamps, and sharp edges pose clear dangers, and it is imperative that operators are protected against them.

    Operational precautions and training are vital for safe machinery use. As a first step, it is imperative to minimise risks by implementing guarding or protection. It is also important to have clear warning signs fitted.

    The addition of machinery safety systems using sensors, switches, and optoelectronic protective devices for monitoring how an operator interacts with a machine is a secondary measure when physical guarding is impractical.

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    Machine Safety Definition

    Machine safety refers to the measures and precautions taken to protect individuals from hazards posed by machines and equipment in various settings, such as factories, workplaces, and public spaces.

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    Why is Machine Safety Important?

    Industrial machinery is very dangerous. Potential injuries include:

    • Cuts and puncture wounds from sharp edges
    • Skin abrasions from rough surfaces
    • Burns and scalds from escaping steam or hot surfaces
    • Crushing injuries if workers are caught between moving parts or between a wall and part of a machine
    • Limbs may get caught on moving parts such as belts and rollers
    • Concussions and wounds from moving parts or ejected objects

    Not a pretty picture. Operating machines safely is vital. Poorly maintained equipment is more prone to hazardous breakdowns and power failures. Make sure all machine operators are properly trained and conduct regular work equipment and machinery safety risk assessments.

    What are the Best Machine Safety Products?

    Let's look at key products that can be integrated into machinery or production lines to ensure the health and safety of your employees:

    Safety Door Switch

    Safety Door and Interlock Switches

    Safety-rated door switches, also known as interlock switches, are used to prevent or permit access to hazardous machinery protected by guarding or gates/safety doors. They do so by activating or cutting off electrical current according to the circumstances and locking the barrier. For example, if the keyguard is opened, the current will be switched off.

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    Emergency Stop Button

    Emergency Stop Buttons

    Emergency stop push buttons, also known as e-stops or kill switches, are fail-safe mechanisms that allow machinery to be immediately switched off in the event of an accident or other serious incident.

    E-stops should be clearly marked and easily accessible, but not so accessible that they could be accidentally activated. They are available in three models - push-pull, key release, and twist release.

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    Foot Switch

    Foot Switches

    Foot switches are a control mechanism typically used on larger machinery as a safer alternative to hand switches. Foot pressure activates or deactivates electrical circuits within the switch.

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    Machine Guarding

    Machine Safety Fencing

    Machine guards are shields fitted to different parts of hazardous equipment to protect operators from debris, sparks, blades, moving parts, and other dangers.

    Machine guards are available in different materials, designs, and sizes. They provide vital basic protection. Some guarding designs can be locked to prevent tampering.

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    Safety Relay

    Safety Relays

    Safety relays are monitoring devices designed to detect electrical and mechanical faults in machinery. Some models monitor a single function and some track multiple functions. The latter is generally easier to install.

    Once a problem is detected, relays can launch different responses to protect workers or prevent costly breakdowns. These responses include pausing the machinery, initiating an emergency stop, or shutting down the electrical current.

    Safety relays typically work in conjunction with other protective equipment such as light barriers and safety mats.

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    Grab Wire Switch

    Grab Wire Switches

    Also known as rope pull switches, grab wire switches provide an emergency stop function initiated by pulling on a wire, cord, or rope.

    They are typically used where a conventional emergency stop button would be inaccessible or awkward to access.

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    Light Curtain

    Safety Light Barriers

    Also known as safety light curtains or safety light screens, these optoelectronic devices detect objects in certain areas. They initiate an emergency shutdown of hazardous machinery when such detection occurs. They are designed to prevent injuries to workers who have gotten too close to the machines in question and are therefore at risk of injury.

    They are available in a variety of sizes with different scanning capabilities and strengths.

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    Two-Hand Switch

    Two Hand Switches

    Safety two-hand control switches prevent the activation of especially hazardous industrial machinery (for example, metalworking or printing machines) until both the operator’s hands are in place on the switch. This reduces the risk of accidental activation and injury.

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    Safety Pressure Mat

    Safety Pressure Mats

    Safety pressure mats detect when people stand on their sensing surface and initiate an emergency shutdown of the machinery they are linked to. When placed in critical areas, safety mats provide an additional safeguard against injury when workers come too close to hazardous equipment.

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    Machine Safety Sign

    Machine Safety Signs

    Machine and equipment safety signs are a vital component of health and safety planning. When placed in key areas of machine shops, factories, and industrial premises, appropriate signage cuts the risk of accidents by providing workers and visitors with quick visual cues to particular mechanical hazards, thereby helping to ensure they stay on alert and don’t expose themselves to unnecessary risk.

    Just like road signs, machine warning signs should be eye-catching, easy to understand, and convey urgency through bold colours.

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    Which are the Main Machine Safety Regulations?

    Here are some key industrial machine safety rules and regulations:

    The European Machinery Safety Directive

    Also known as Directive 2006/42/EC, this applies to a wide range of industrial machinery, including safety accessories. It sets out health and safety requirements to protect workers operating factory machinery and includes both general steps and machine-specific safety measures.

    ISO 13849-1 & ISO 13850

    The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, defines internationally applicable standards for use across industry and commerce. ISO 13849-1 relates to the safety of machinery. It sets out requirements for safe design and performance levels, as well as electrical, hydraulic, mechanical and pneumatic control systems. Meanwhile, the ISO 13850:2015 standard relates specifically to emergency stop systems in industrial machinery, setting out key principles for their function and design. It does not apply to handheld machines or those not made safer by emergency stops.

    IEC Machine Safety Standards

    The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) defines international standards for electrical and electronic devices. IEC 62061 is a standard concerning safety-focused electrical control systems for machinery, and it relates to the entire system lifecycle, from planning to decommissioning. IEC 61508 is a set of machinery safety standards concerning automatic protection systems for industrial equipment. The central concept is that safety systems must either work as designed or fail predictably and safely. A streamlined engineering process eliminates errors and omissions.

    Machine Safety in the Workplace

    Industrial machinery performs different functions and appears to have little in common. But while the fine details may differ, the fundamentals of operating safely are the same.

    The following principles apply to lathe machines, grinding machines, presses, machine tools, and packaging machines.

    • Read the operating manual of any newly acquired machine carefully, even if you know the basics. Always follow the instructions given
    • Always wear machine-appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Closed-toe shoes protect your feet from impact and falling items and reduce slip risk. Full wrap goggles shield your eyes from debris that may escape guarding. Cut-resistant gloves can ward off injuries caused by exposure to sharp edges and blades
    • Only operate equipment for which you have received full machine safety training
    • Visually assess the machinery and its fixtures and fittings before use, looking for any potential problems
    • Tie back loose clothing and hair and remove any jewellery to avoid entanglement
    • Ensure that there are no slipping or tripping hazards in the vicinity
    • Ensure you know the location of the emergency stop button if one is present and make sure you can access it immediately if needed
    • Establish clear lockout procedures and install barriers as appropriate, enabling the complete cessation of electrical current in an emergency or for maintenance. Presence-detecting light curtains will induce an emergency shutdown if they detect limbs in hazardous areas
    • Make sure appropriate guarding is securely installed to protect operators and critical parts of the machinery itself from flying debris, sparks, moving parts, or entanglement hazards. In addition, the cabling should be properly protected. Use guarding free from its own hazards, such as sharp edges. Always switch off the machinery when you are finished using it
    • Install easy-to-understand safety warning signs in visible locations, for anybody in the vicinity of the machine
    • Ensure that a well-thought-through cleaning and maintenance system is in place so that workers involved in such tasks are not exposed to unnecessary risks
    • Only fully trained technicians should conduct repairs and modifications
    Worker Operating Machinery

    Machine Safety Guidelines

    • Never remove or tamper with machine guarding. If the shielding is worn or loose, it should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible, not removed. Don't risk serious injury
    • Guarding repair or replacement should only occur during properly organised machinery maintenance
    • Never be tempted to bypass guarding and barriers, even to dislodge jammed items or conduct very small tasks: this is a regular cause of accidents
    • Guarding and barriers are not replacements for PPE when operating hazardous equipment
    • Training is vital to risk management. A machine operator who knows the key risks is much less likely to injure themselves
    • Always be aware of your surroundings when operating factory machinery. Notice if things don’t look or sound right. Surprises cause accidents
    • Don’t distract machine operators unless it is really necessary – a loss of attention could have serious consequences
    • Maintain regular maintenance schedules. Don’t skip scheduled checks - it is better to catch mechanical issues or developing faults before they cause an accident. Replace filters, sharpen blades, and lubricate parts as necessary to reduce the risk of breakdowns and overheating

    Risk Assessment

    International Standard EN ISO 12100 (Safety of Machinery - General Principles for Design - Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction) is exceptionally detailed. It identifies the hazards, describes the risks to be considered by the designer, and contains principles for design and methods for safe construction and risk reduction.

    EN ISO 14121 (Safety of Machinery - Risk Assessment) describes the iterative process for analysing, assessing, and reducing risks to achieve safety requirements.

    EN ISO 12100 recommends that the designer follow these procedures for adequate risk reduction:

    1. Specify the limits and intended use of the machine
    2. Identify possible hazardous situations, machinery hazards and control measures to mitigate risks
    3. Estimate the risk entailed for each hazard and hazardous situation identified, including any foreseeable inappropriate behaviour and misuse by operators
    4. Assess each individual risk and determine whether or not a reduction in risk is necessary
    5. Endeavour to eliminate or reduce risk through mitigation measures. If this is not possible, then:
      1. Reduce the risk by using protective machinery safety devices (such as rigid guards or covers, or by using electro-sensitive protective equipment such as safety light curtains)
      2. Inform and warn the machine operator about any residual risk present in respect of the machine via notices on the machine and in instructions for use

    The first four steps describe risk analysis and risk assessment. It is also critical that risk analysis and assessment are carried out methodically and documented understandably.

    In addition to the protective measures selected by the machine designer, the machine operator may need to take additional measures to mitigate any residual risk.

    These measures may include but are not limited to:

    • Organisational measures (e.g. safe working procedures, regular inspections)
    • Personal protective equipment
    • Training and instruction of all operators

    Machinery Safety and Risk Analysis

    Machinery safety regulations aim to ensure that machines are manufactured and operated in such a way that, when used as intended, they will not cause injury or damage.

    Accident statistics show that a hazard present on a machine will cause damage or injury sooner or later unless protection measures are adopted.

    Protection measures are a combination of measures taken by the designer and implemented by the operator. In particular, measures adopted during the construction phase are preferred since they are generally more effective than measures implemented by the operator.

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    Warning - the recommendations in this guide are not exhaustive!

    Installing, operating, and maintaining products requires following the latest standards and instructions. Failure to follow these warnings could cause serious injury or property damage.

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