Implementation of a machine hazard assessment program is essential to any workplace safety program; yet thorough machine hazard assessment programs are rare. Only now are we starting to see a proactive movement toward machine hazard assessment. This can be attributed to the influence of Safety Professionals and realization that an effective management system such as OHSAS 18001 is needed for a successful safety effort. An essential part of a management system is a thorough and ongoing workplace assessment for hazards, which must include hazards associated with machines. Low machine-related accident rates or under-control workers compensation costs do not equate to a workplace free of potentially fatal or disabling machine related hazards. An ongoing assessment process is a more effective way to create a truly safe workplace.
Experience has shown that detailed machine assessments are often initiated as a result of a severe, machine related, workplace injury (or death). These endeavors are often short-lived and incomplete due to the ongoing "conflict" for resources between safety, production and quality. Proactive safety initiatives often take a back seat when resources become challenged or there is an inability to demonstrate direct financial benefit from the process. Plant managers are on limited budgets, looking for an immediate return for every dollar spent. The "lean and mean" approach makes management resources tight with little time to deal with the complex initiative of identifying machine hazards and exploring risk reduction options. The bottom line is that a machine hazard assessment will not get done properly, unless it is mandated from top management and resources are provided.
A typical example may be an old, unguarded, widget machine with exposed in-running rollers and reciprocating machine parts. The machine presents multiple hazards with severe accident potential. It has been in the workplace for over 30 years. There has never been an accident on the machine. The machine makes great quality parts and is paid for. The cost to guard the equipment is considerable. The only thing keeping people out of harms way is the workers awareness of the machine hazard. People can often behave safely for a long time; however an unsafe act is inevitable over the long term. The result is that the machine is operated without an accident for 5, 10, maybe 30 years. Typically, the machinery, and others like it, will remain unguarded until a serious accident occurs.
Described below are three real cases where old equipment and exposed machine hazards, resulted in serious accidents.
A maintenance employee is troubleshooting a problem on an engine lathe. The lathe is used to fabricate stator tubes for the oil industry. The long, 50 foot, metal tubes are placed into the lathe with one end slightly protruding out from the chuck.