National Safety Month: Machine Safety in the Workplace

A man in a hard hat operating a machine at a construction site.

It’s week two of Safety Month, and after discussing forklift safety in week one, this week we’re focusing on other types of machinery you should always pay attention to in order to keep yourself and your employees safe.

Machine-related injuries not related to mobile equipment are another common workplace hazard, so it’s important to follow all safety protocols where employees are working alongside or placed in positions as machine operators, machine maintenance personnel, sanitation workers cleaning machines, and even conveyor belts. That’s right, conveyor belts can be as big a problem as production equipment. Imagine getting hair or a hand caught in a machine that continuously moves materials over a distance until it is shut off. 

When assessing the safety of your business, note whether you can you see any moving parts other than the actual belt. If you can see rollers, motors, and gears below the rack that holds the conveyor, look to ensure there is a barrier that would prevent anyone from making contact with them, even by accident. In most cases, you shouldn’t even be able to see those parts because of the manufacturer’s guarding. However, if you can see them, you should also see the guarding in place. Additionally, it is important to have cables that stop a machine when someone pushes against them and devices like emergency stops. But remember—those do not take the place of proper guarding.

Sanitation crews, like the ones found in food processing facilities, can also be put in harm’s way if proper safety protocols are not in place. These workers often clean machines that require lockout/tagout before work can begin. Lockout/tagout procedures require every worker to have their own lock that they do not remove until that worker is done cleaning/maintaining the machines to which they have been assigned. A supervisor or other employee should not lock out a machine for someone else without that worker also placing a lock and retaining the key for themselves.

With machine operators and maintenance people, both of these scenarios can come into play. So, remember to confirm workers cannot make contact with moving parts of machines while working on or near them by confirming guarding is in place. And, confirm that before guarding is removed or a worker comes into contact with moving parts, the worker is trained in and required to perform lockout/tagout to stop those parts from being able to move at all while the worker is exposed.

In summary, machine-related injuries don’t only happen to machine operators. Check out all the machines at a work site when performing safety tours and ask about guarding and lockout/tagout anytime you see one.

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