Machine safety guarding: 9 top tips

  • Machine safety guarding
Wayne Thorp, Padgate Services

Whilst there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of accidents at work in the past 30 years, our regular bulletins from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) still have frequent reports of accidents where people have lost limbs, digits or their lives due to insufficient guarding. There is legislation which should prevent these accidents. So why are they still happening?

Lack of understanding, engagement and inconsistent enforcement all contribute to the problem.

Machine guards: the basics

Machine guards should be used to protect workers from coming into direct contact with moving parts and to protect against flying chips or splashing harmful liquids. Guarding falls into four main categories:

  • Fixed guards around part or the whole of the machine
  • Interlocks, where a moveable guard is connected to the machine’s power so the machine will not operate until the guard is closed
  • Automatic guards (gates or bars) that come down between the operator and machine when the machine is activated
  • Trip guards which shut down machines when anyone moves into the danger zone.

Regulation 11(2) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) specifies the measures to be taken to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machinery and achieve compliance with PUWER. The regulation is qualified by the term “practicable”,  but this has been defined in several court cases as meaning “technically feasible irrespective of cost”. There are also duties imposed on machine manufacturers and suppliers to make sure their machinery is properly guarded (section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974). Despite these regulations, insufficient machine guarding continues to be a significant cause of workplace injuries.

Guarding needs to be well designed if a machine is to operate safely and efficiently. That doesn’t mean that the guarding needs to be expensively over-engineered.

Here are a few simple steps to take to ensure you’re protecting your staff from potential injury by making sure your safety guarding in up to the task.

Top tips for effective machine guarding:

1) Make sure machine safety is everyone’s responsibility

Machine safety should not just be down to the Production Manager or Health and Safety Manager. Everyone who comes into contact with a piece of machinery should be encouraged to report any missing or defective guards immediately. An open and pro-active safety culture supports this.

2) Train your staff

Human behaviour is the least easy to predict of all factors. Train staff thoroughly in why guards are essential and how they act in conjunction with your machine. Monitor working procedures to check for any deviations from safe practice.

3) Know your Standards

There are lots of British Standards which cover safety guarding. BS EN ISO 14120, for example, is the main standard covering safety guarding. It covers all types of machinery and lists the aspects of machinery, people interactions and guards that need to be considered. BS EN ISO 12100:2010 covers design of machine guards. BS EN ISO 13857:2008contains tables and data to enable guards to be designed with an acceptable combination of height and distance from the hazard and aperture size (although it can be quite tricky to decipher; that’s somewhere we can help!).

There are lots of machine-specific standards, known as Type C standards. Some of these contain specific requirements in relation to guarding. We would encourage you to heck if there are Type C standards for every one of your machines.

And remember: safety standards change on a regular basis so make sure you keep up to date with the latest standards.

There’s a useful list of machinery safety standards here:

4) Don’t rely on someone else

You can’t rely on the fact that new machinery will comply with regulations and be supplied with appropriate guards. You need to check on behalf of your company as well.

5) Think ahead: carry out risk assessments

Risk assessments are essential when designing and installing new machines or modifying existing machines. They’re also integral to PUWER inspections. Carry out risk assessments covering the hazards that come with each machine’s moving parts (such as crushing, severing, shearing, entanglement). You should consider the risk that any of these could happen, despite any installed guards. Make sure the assessment covers normal operation, but also cleaning, maintenance and fault diagnosis procedures.

You need to think beyond the machine. Build in some anticipation of human error or possible misuse.

Make sure you conduct the risk assessment in front of the machine in question and in the presence of the people who operate it.

All results should be recorded and if necessary, take action to reduce any risks identified until they are as low as reasonably practicable (ALAR). Carry out risk assessments periodically throughout the machine’s lifetime to ensure you capture any changes.

6) Use fixed guarding wherever possible

Any removable fixings for your guarding should only be removable by authorised personnel. For example, security bolts should require a special tool to remove them. If your guarding must use interlocks, check they can only be overridden subject to special risk assessment.

7) Give careful thought to your guarding design

If guards are well designed, they will not interfere with efficient operation. Ill-considered guards invariably do. This encourages operators, maintenance staff and management to bypass them, significantly increasing risk. Listen to the team. If the current guarding is affecting their work negatively, find an alternative guarding solution.

8) When guards are removed for repair or adjustment, all power sources for the machine should be neutralised and locked

If full isolation is not possible, ensure dangerous parts of the machinery can be adequately isolated. Only allow access into danger zones where absolutely necessary. Where possible, stop and start controls should be guarded to avoid accidental operation by anyone (or anything!).

9) Conduct regular maintenance audits 

A maintenance audit will include a check of your safety guarding. Even the best guards available need regular inspection and maintenance. Guards that have been damaged or deliberately tampered with pose a significant risk. Our audits will identify any problems so they can be addressed before an accident happens.

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