A Complete Guide to Machine Safety

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Want to know more about machine safety? This guide takes you through why it is important and the regulations as well as the best products available to ensure employees are protected and are able to operate machinery safely.

What is machine safety?

Machinery is commonplace within factories and industrial environments, but it comes with risks attached. The dangers posed by sharp edges, clamps, presses, hotsurfaces and moving parts are clear, and operators must be protected from them.

Aside from training, operational precautions are essential for the safe use of machinery. The first approach should always be to remove hazards by installing physical guarding or protection. Clear warning signs should also be fitted.

The addition of machinery safety systems that use switches, sensors, and opto-electronicprotective devices to monitor how the operator is interacting with a machine is a secondary way to mitigate risks when physical guarding is impractical.

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 in moving parts such as belts and rollers

  • Concussions and wounds from moving parts or ejected objects

Not a pretty picture. Operating machines safely is clearly vital. Poorly maintained equipment is much more prone to hazardous breakdown and power failures. Conduct regular risk assessments and make sure all machine operators are properly trained.

What are the best machine safety products?

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

Safety door and interlock switches

Safety-rated door switches, also known as interlock switches, are used to prevent or permit access to hazardous machinery, which has been protected by guarding or gates/safety doors: they do so by activating or cutting off the electrical current in particular circumstances and locking the barrier. For example, if key guarding has been opened, the current will be switched off.

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.

Foot switches

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

Non-contact safety switches

Non-contact safety switches are designed to quickly switch off dangerous machinery and prevent injuries. They operate via transponders, inductors or magnets and are typically hard-wearing, requiring little maintenance.

Machine safety fencing

Machine guards are shielding fitted in 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.

Safety relays

Safety relays are monitoring devices designed to detect electrical and mechanical faults in machinery. Some models monitor a single function and some multiple functions. The latter are generally easier to install. Once a problem is detected, relays can launch different responses to protect workers or prevent expensive breakdowns: 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 (see below for more information on these).

Grab wire switches

Also known as rope pull switches, grab wire switches provide an emergency stop function which is initiated by pulling on a wire, cord or rope. They are typically used where a conventional emergency stop button would be awkward to access or inaccessible.

Safety light barriers

Also known as safety light curtains or safety light screens, these optoelectronic devices detect the presence of objects within certain areas and 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.

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.

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.

Machine safety signs

Machine safety signs provide an important 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 the 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 a sense of urgency through the use of bold colours.

Which are the main machine safety regulations?

Here are some of the 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 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 Organization for Standardization (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, defines internationally applicable sets of 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 the inclusion of 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 which would not be made safer by an emergency stop.

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 relates to the entire lifecycle of the system, from planning right through to decommissioning.

IEC 61508 is a set of standards concerning automatic protection systems for industrial equipment. The central concept is that safety systems must either work as designed or fail in a predictable and safe manner. A streamlined engineering process aims to eliminate errors and omissions.

Machine safety in the workplace

The many types of industrial machinery in use perform different functions and appear to have little in common. But while the fine details may differ, the fundamentals of operating safety are much the same.

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

  • Read the operating manual of any new machine carefully, even if you are already familiar with the basics. Always follow the instructions given.

  • Always wear machine-appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). Closed toe shoes protect your feet from impact and falling items and also reduce the risk of slips. Full wrap goggles shield your eyes from debris that may escape the guarding. Cut resistant gloves can ward off injuries caused by exposure to sharp edges and blades. Read our guide to PPE here.

  • Only operate machinery for which you have received full 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 the risk of entanglement.

  • Ensure that there are no slipping or tripping hazards in the vicinity.

  • Ensure you know the location of the emergency stop (e-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 emergencies or for maintenance. Presence-detecting light curtains will induce an emergency shutdown if they detect limbs in hazardous areas.

  • Make sure appropriate guarding (shielding) is securely installed to protect operators and critical parts of the machinery itself from flying debris, sparks, moving parts or entanglement hazards. Cabling should also be appropriately guarded. Only use guarding that is free from its own hazards – e.g. sharp edges. Always switch off machinery when stepping away from it.

  • Fit easy-to-understand safety warning signs in visible locations, for the benefit of 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.

Machine Safety Guidelines

  • Never remove or tamper with machine guarding. If the shielding is worn or is coming loose, it should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible, not removed. Don’t run the risk of serious injury.

  • Guarding repair or replacement should only take place 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 a replacement for PPE when operating hazardous equipment.

  • Proper training is vital to risk management. A machine operator who is aware of 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’s far better to catch mechanical issues or developing faults before they cause an accident. Replace filters, sharpen blades and lubricate parts as necessary to cut the risk of breakdowns and overheating.