Guarding techniques have improved dramatically in recent years, and most modern machines come equipped with guards. Does that mean we donít have to worry about machine safety any more? Before you answer, take a look at these actual incidents:

A worker was rotating a part on a set of rollers, and his hand was caught between the part and roller, causing serious injury.

A worker reached into a machine while it was running to pull out a piece of metal; his arm was caught between the part being machined and the cutter. His arm was amputated.

A trim press operator was trying to free a part from a die when the press recycled and caught a finger between the dies. The finger was crushed.

Despite advances in technology, machine-related injuries persist.Perhaps that is why OSHA has taken a renewed interest in citing employers for machine-guarding violations. In one recent case, an employer removed the factory-installed guard on a 36-foot shear for the convenience of allowing continual use of the machine. Describing it as a significant hazard to employees, OSHA fined the company $67,000.

Within a month, OSHA was on the case again, citing another employer for over $65,000 in penal-ties after an employee suffered a severe hand injury on a crimping machine. Investigation revealed that the machine had many unguarded parts, including chains, sprocket wheels, in-running nip points, and rotating parts.

 Be an OSHA inspector

If youíre worried about OSHA showing up at your doorstep, you should be.Amputation hazards are on the agencyís hit list and is a special emphasis program that targets certain hazards and industries for inspection.Anyone with machinery should take prudent precautions now.

The best way to approach machine safety is to conduct regular inspections. Put yourself in the shoes of the OSHA inspector and take a walk-through of your facility. Check each machine and look for exposed moving parts, including meshing gears, in-running rollers, reciprocating parts, chain and sprocket drives, cams and rollers, belts and pulleys, flywheels, cutting or abrasive surfaces, cooling fans, conveyors, rotating couplings and shafts.

Check the guards on the machines. Some common methods of safeguarding machinery are barrier guards, electronic-eye shutdown devices, beam scanners, interlocks, and enclosures. If you notice any guards that are broken or missing, tag the machine "out of order" and get it fixed.

If the machine guard is missing or you are unhappy with the design of the current system, you might consider fabricating your own guard. For instance, you may want to use transparent polycarbonate so that the operator can see the process through the guard. Your operators will be less likely to bypass the guard if you make the work process easier for them. Before making any modifications, however, get written approval from the equipment manufacturer and keep the documentation for your records.

Dangerous times

The most hazardous situation is when the operator is adjusting the machine or removing jammed work or broken parts. This is the time when most injuries occur. Make sure your workers know the specific steps for powering down and locking out the ma-chine before attempting to service or adjust it. If they have not received special training, they are not

considered authorized personnel under OSHAís lockout/tagout rule.

Instead, your operators should know not to at-tempt to service the machine themselves, but to call an authorized employee. Make sure that all of the switches and valves that control the machines are clearly marked. Check to see if there are emergency stop switches which should be located on or near the machine so that it can be turned off quickly if a malfunction should occur.

Dress for the job

Common sense tells you that loose clothing worn around rotating machinery can get caught and pull the operator into the machine. Donít let your workers wear long, loose sleeves, hanging drawstrings or tassels, ties, scarves, and open jackets. The same restrictions should apply to long hair, jewelry, and gloves. Have a dress code and put it in writing.

There are, however, certain types of personal protective equipment that your operators should wear. These include safety glasses and face shields or goggles if particles could fly through the air or hazardous or hot liquids are being handled. Use safety shoes if heavy materials are being placed in and out of the machine.

Train and explain

No matter how well designed your guards might be, they are totally useless if your workers try to bypass them. Emphasize at your training sessions that removing guards or disengaging interlocking devices to make the work easier or faster is just too risky. Here are some other safety precautions to pass on to your workforce:

Read the instruction manual and know exactly how your machine operates.

Follow the instructions carefully and never leave the machine running unattended.

Clamp work securely to the machine as needed.

Make sure to remove chuck keys before turning on the machine.

Keep clear of the moving machine parts by using a push stick or push block to guide the material.

Look for unsafe conditions and report them. If a guard is missing or cracked, donít operate the machine.

Keep the floor and work area around the machine clean. Clear away spills, chips, and debris. You donít want to slip and fall into the machine.

Use approved lockout/tagout procedures for all maintenance operations.

Donít use the machine if you are sleepy or have taken any medications that may affect your judgment.

Tell your employees that in the final analysis, we are the masters of the machines. Letís keep it that way!

Machine Safety Training Tips

Find out if any safety features are impractical, and discuss options.

Take a walk through the shop and point out the safety features and guards of each machine.

Hand out copies of lockout/tagout procedures and operating instructions and review them.

Remember!The machine is only as safe as the person who is operating it!