Front Line Safety: Machine Risk Assessment

Industrial and manufacturing facilities can be dangerous places for workers and the public. To ensure the safety of work crews and the machinery they operate, a machine risk assessment can provide critical information on improvements that may be necessary. The task becomes even more critical when complex industrial machinery and sophisticated automation tools are used.

What is a Machine Risk Assessment?

A machine risk assessment is a process to identify potential machine hazards, the severity of potential hazards, how frequently people may be exposed to these hazards. Then, strategies can be implemented and machine guarding techniques applied to minimize or avoid danger and harm to workers and machines.

While a machine safety consultant will their own detailed processes, most assessments will employ the following steps:

  1. Hazard Identification. In this step, each task must be identified and evaluated for safety concerns. This involves understanding where people are working in and around machines and determining what hazards may be present.

  2. Assessing Hazards. If a hazard is found, the probability and severity of harm are assessed. It’s also helpful to identify if the risk would be caused by human error or a failure of the machine. What type of harm would be caused, and how severe would the potential injury be?

  3. Mitigation Steps. Either by implementing machine safeguarding methods or otherwise eliminating the hazard, the risk of harm is reduced. This process should start with the highest risk levels or those most probable to occur. The initial risks must be reassessed after mitigation techniques are employed to be sure that there is no residual risk or that any remaining risk is tolerable. In this example, we found several hazards during our machine risk assessment, but one stood out as requiring an immediate and out-of-the-box solution. 

  4. Documentation. This step is essential as it will be necessary to refer to risk reduction measures taken to mitigate hazards should an employee get hurt. It can also be used for training purposes and further evaluation of risks and hazards.

Understanding Safety Standards

In the United States, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulates on-the-job safety protections for all workers. OSHA Standard 3071 applies to job hazard analyses and details the responsibilities that employers have to keep their workers safe.

In addition to general protections that apply to all workers, there are a number of other organizations that provide standards for different industries or types of machinery. There are also international standards that are recognized across industries. These include:

  • ANSI. The American National Standards Institute is a non-profit, private organization providing a voluntary set of agreed-upon standards for processes, systems, and workers in the United States.

  • ISO. The International Organization for Standardization develops and publishes a range of standards across a wide range of industries.

  • IEC. The International Electrotechnical Commission organizes and publishes standards that apply to all electrical and electronic-related technologies.

  • RIA. The Robotic Industry Association develops guidelines for safe robot operations in a manner that ensures standards benefit all parties.

The purpose of these organizations is to create a set of safety standards based on the compilation of data and experiences of manufacturers and other industries around the world. That way, owners, operators, and their employees have all the information they need to create the safest possible workplace. It is important for the relevant standards to be referenced during any machine safety assessment.

How Often Should Risks Be Assessed?

An assessment of all new machinery, systems, and equipment should be conducted whenever they are implemented. If new processes are added or existing processes are changed, a new risk assessment should be performed.

There are more factors that should be assessed beyond potential hazards. If the work environment, noise levels, or ergonomics have not been evaluated, they should be included in an assessment. Regular review of existing safety protocols and risk-mitigation strategies should be periodically reviewed to ensure that all processes and procedures have not changed since the most recent inspection.

How to Begin the Risk Assessment Process

One of the most critical factors of a successful risk assessment program is the buy-in of all involved. Safety starts on the front line, and machine operators must understand that the goal of this process is to create a safe workplace. Each employee should be trained and feel empowered to report any recognized hazards and to expect mitigation efforts.

The risk assessment process must also include a diverse range of individuals throughout the organization. Along with machine operators, maintenance staff, engineers, supervisors, and any health or industrial safety professionals should join the effort. Management must lead the process to ensure it is complied with across the organization, and someone with the authority to approve safety spending should also be involved.

Ensuring a Successful Outcome

To be considered an accurate risk assessment, you must be able to demonstrate that all minimum industry requirements meet or exceed the recognized standards. While third-party involvement or verification is not required, enlisting the help of experienced machine safety consultants can provide peace of mind. When choosing a professional, ensure that they have experience implementing the standards dictated by the organizations in your industry as well as OSHA regulations. 

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