In the late 1970's, a nucleus of safety practitioners in General Motors plants and divisions began to question why safeguards were typically added at the machine tool vendor shop after the machine was already designed and mostly built. Internal benchmarking with parallel activities in noise control and fire security indicated that occupational health and safety issues came into consideration at a much later stage of the procurement process. Fire experts were involved with architects in the earliest stages of concept and design for any plant additions or new facilities. They evaluated the proposed production operation and, working with risk insurers, made recommendations which influenced the design of material storage, sprinkler systems and other engineering controls. Likewise, noise control considerations were being integrated into concept and design by the engineer responsible for purchasing the equipment. GM was able to exert considerable pressure for new innovation and proven controls in the competitive bid stage. As a result, the focus on elimination and feasible engineering controls began to pay off. Quieter production operations meant that fewer employees were required to wear hearing protection, receive annual training and go through audiometric tests. Both employees and floor supervision benefited.

With the relatively simple equipment of that period, the traditional approach of adding guards after machine assembly did not raise too many issues. However, the concurrent emergence of more complicated issues such as ergonomics and hazardous material control raised the question of why they were not also handled early in concept and design like fire or noise hazards. What began to emerge as a common thread was the simple recognition of roles and responsibilities. Architects were responsible for assuring that fire security measures were integrated into their design. Likewise, where the process or plant engineer responsible for buying machinery was also responsible for noise, noise control was handled just like production rate and quality.

Safety personnel began to formulate a concept called "Design-In Safety", so named to promote the integration of hazards assessment with all other considerations in the design and procurement process. Early efforts at several plants focused on using light screens not only as guards but as a means to initiate machine cycle. This effort forced safety to work with engineers before release of a purchase order, as they were dealing with the fundamentals of machine control logic and operator time. Results were excellent with demonstrated improvements in both safety and productivity. Local machine tool specifications were modified to include the lessons learned in occupational safety.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.