Maintenance must take lead in machine guarding checks

In a letter to the editor, Chris Mumford from ManagerPlus argues that establishing a thorough preventive maintenance checklist is vital to improve safety.


At first glance, OSHA’s list of the Top 10 most common citations for 2013 seems to convey good news for machine guarding violations: they have dropped four spots from sixth to 10th compared to last year. Deeper analysis, however, reveals that this drop in rank masks the fact that machine guarding infractions have actually increased by 28 percent over the past year.

The drop in rank is actually just a case of bad news hidden among worse—there were approximately 56% more citations overall in 2013 compared to 2012 among the top ten categories.

So what accounts for the rise? Regulations and the governmental agencies responsible for enforcing them tend to be in constant flux. The recent shutdown of the U.S. Federal Government, for example, forced OSHA to furlough 90% of its inspectors and created a sizeable backlog of un-enforced cases.

But the nature of machine guarding regulations suggests that something else may be at work. Guards, electronic shutoffs, and other measures are put in place to protect workers from hazards “created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks,” according to OSHA’s official regulations. 

So companies must either be failing to fit new equipment with the proper safety devices, or neglecting maintenance on safeguards that are already in place. Identifying the cause of these violations is no small matter, as these incidents are considered particularly serious and carry some of the OSHA’s heftiest fines.

A manufacturing firm in Fort Worth Texas was slapped with 17 violations amounting to $88,000 in fines—13 of which stemmed from safety infractions like failing to equip a lathe with a foot guarding device. In another case, unguarded winding machines caused four employees to fracture their arms at a plastics manufacturing plant, resulting in $81,000 worth of fines for the company responsible.    

Given the regulatory burden already facing manufacturers, it’s not necessarily hard to imagine why machine guarding tends to be overlooked: once safeguards are in place, the focus shifts toward other, more pressing needs. Companies may even consider efforts beyond the initial installation of machine guards to be a waste of resources.  

This mentality will have to change, however, if companies hope to reverse the upward trend in these violations and avoid the fines and legal headaches associated with them. Establishing a thorough preventive maintenance checklist is a critical first step.

Implementing checks of machine guards into a preventive maintenance routine is the best way to ensure that they do not slip through the cracks. Having the maintenance staff check machine guards while performing related inspections or fixes is an efficient way to make ensure that they get done without expending excess resources.

Tracking these checks in a solid book of record provides an additional layer of protection for companies, enabling them to readily prove due diligence if needed.

Regardless of the solutions companies use to address the issue, deploying them in an organized, efficient manner is the best way to prevent them from falling by the wayside in the future.    

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