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What is a Machine Risk Assessment?

March 1, 2022

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, systematically collecting information on necessary improvements is important. The task becomes critical when complex industrial machinery and sophisticated automation tools are used.

A machine risk assessment identifies potential machine hazards, their severity, and how frequently people may be exposed to them. Then, strategies and machine-guarding techniques can be implemented to minimize or avoid danger and harm to workers and machines.

While a machine safety consultant will have 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 work in and around machines and determining potential hazards.
  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 machine failure. What type of harm would be caused, and how severe would the potential injury be?
  3. Mitigation Steps. The risk of harm is reduced by implementing machine-safeguarding methods or eliminating the hazard. 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 show which risk reduction measures were implemented should an employee get hurt. The documentation can also be used for training and further evaluating risks and dangers.

Understanding Safety Standards

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

In addition to general protections that apply to all workers, several organizations 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. For example, ISO 12100 specifies the terminology and methods for achieving safety in machine design.
  • 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. All relevant standards should be referenced during any machine safety assessment.

How Often Should Risks Be Assessed?

All new machinery, systems, and equipment should be assessed whenever they are implemented. A new risk assessment should be performed if new processes are added, or existing functions are changed. 

Regularly reviewing existing safety protocols and risk-mitigation strategies will ensure that all processes and procedures have an up-to-date inspection. More factors should be assessed beyond potential hazards. If the work environment, noise levels, or ergonomics have yet to be evaluated, they should be included. 

How to Begin the Process of Risk Assessment

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 this process aims to create a safe workplace. Employees should be trained and feel empowered to report any recognized hazards and expect mitigation efforts.

It is also essential to consider whether different shifts of machine operators interact with equipment differently and whether this is due to production needs or differences in training and supervision. The process should also consider operator interactions under normal working conditions versus while being observed. Particular attention should be paid to operator interactions beyond everyday repetitive actions, as those are the least likely to produce an unexpected interaction. 

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

Steps Needed to Manage Risk

Task-based risk assessment aims to assess, methodically identify, and document hazards. The steps should be executed in the following manner: 

  1. Define.  For each machine, determine who the operators are and which tasks they perform. Remember to include all shifts and all potential interactions, including cleaning and maintenance. 
  2. Identify. For each task or operator/task combination, identify potential hazards that may be present. Consider how equipment is used, whether chemicals or dangerous substances are involved, and what common unsafe practices or shortcuts may exist. The overall area should also be assessed for organization and safety.
  3. Record & Score.  Each risk should be carefully documented and scored to prioritize the most immediate danger. Include information such as who might be harmed and how. Then, consider what measures you already have in place to control the risk and whether they are sufficient, mainly if recent changes to your staff or processes have occurred. 
  4. Reduce. When necessary, document how you will reduce the remaining risks. List what action needs to be taken, who will act, and when it will be completed. Be sure to update your documentation as steps are completed.

Beyond Safety: How Manufacturers Benefit

The obvious priority is the safety of your crew and anyone else around your equipment. Next up is protecting expensive equipment and paying customers your equipment supplies. Beyond that, there are several ways manufacturers can benefit from a task-based risk assessment, including: 

  • Increased Awareness. As you work through each risk, everyone involved will have better insight into risks and safety, which leads to a safer workplace overall. 
  • Operational Insight. There is no better way to take a new look at your entire operation than to comb through it step by step. Perhaps you’ll find other ways to boost efficiency and increase profitability.
  • Better Brand Image. When it comes to safety in the workplace, no news is good news most of the time. Keeping your company safe from negative headlines is important, too. 
  • Reduced Overall Cost. Your workers will appreciate being included in the process and feeling safer, leading to less turnaround. Avoiding costly accidents, OSHA fines, litigation, and raised insurance premiums is always good business. 

To be considered an accurate risk assessment, you must 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 and OSHA regulations.