Machine Safety: Is prevention through design enough?

U.S. consensus standards provide direction to suppliers on how to design in machine safety. Can users understand and comply with the additional requirements of ISO 13849-1?


Prevention through design (PTD) has been a central theme of innovation for accomplishing machine safety in my view for at least the past decade. So, where does this concept reside today on the scale of idea through broad adoption?

I have had the privilege of knowing two industry experts for over 10 years, Bruce Main and Fred Manuele. These two gentlemen are strong industry leaders in the understanding, promotion, and implementation of PTD for machine safety. I have learned a lot about machine safety from both of them. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE, January issue of “Professional Safety” is largely devoted to the concept of PTD. 

In my profession I have been on the user and supplier sides of industry. As a seasoned industry expert, I readily understand and agree that a lot of attention needs to be focused at the design (supplier) side of industry. By doing so we accomplish moving machine safety from an afterthought, where safety is added to a machine on the manufacturer’s (user’s) plant floor, to a forethought, where safety is designed into the machine. Accomplishing this transition means that a user can actually purchase a (somewhat) safe machine, even though OSHA does not require a supplier to ship a safe machine.

Ah, this is the U.S. dilemma. PTD and our domestic consensus standards provide direction to suppliers on how to design in machine safety. Great!&nb

However, enforcement via OSHA is accomplished only by inspecting installed machines on a user’s plant floor. Machines being designed and manufactured by an OEM are not inspected by OSHA. Additionally, more influence comes to the U.S. via international standards, like ISO 13849-1, focused at helping designers with safety-related compliance requirements. Again, the supplier side! So who helps the user? Can users understand and comply with the additional requirements of ISO 13849-1? Do users have the qualified resources for design? 

In my opinion, it’s great that we’re focusing on suppliers’ requirements to improve machine safety. But, let’s not forget about users and how they’ll use the same standards to maintain their safety compliance.

Has this presented you with any new perspectives? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.


J.B. Titus, CFSE

Related articles:

Inside Machines: Does adopting ISO 13849-1:2006 change the U.S. model for compliance and enforcement?

Machine Safety – does OSHA reference consensus standards for compliance?

Machine Safety: Is OSHA okay with my 'acceptable' risk mitigation?


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