Machine Safety: Legal advice and safety automation projects

There are steps (or pot holes) for minimizing project-related risks from contract through completion. Safety automation priorities may vary.


Mark Voigtmann, attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels, Control Engineering author

In the July issue of Control Engineering I read a very interesting article titled; “21 legal takeaways for the automation industry” by Mark Voigtmann. This article was very interesting because it’s the first article I’ve read attempting to lay out the steps (or pot holes) for minimizing the project related risks from contract through completion. The automation industry now includes safety automation – so, if safety automation were to be a focus, does it still apply?

Those with machine safety expertise might look at the world a little differently. For example, is a zebra black with white stripes or is it white with black stripes?

From an automation safety point of view, the 21 actionable insights are pretty much on target for safety automation projects. However, for safety automation, I might reorder the steps (or pot holes). For example I’m thinking that the #5 “Limitation of liability” step might be number one or two and that the description / discussion might be edited to be more descriptive of safety hazards.

Likewise, step #7 “Risk should be placed” might also include some language about performing risk assessments as required by standards, OSHA, and local regulations. In addition, I would want CEO’s to be reminded that they have the primary responsibility for conducting risk assessments.

The author, Mark Voigtmann, also refers to a related article, “Legalities: Not all automation standards are equal” from April 2011. I agree that standards can be grouped into four categories; specification standards, industry standards, code standards, and aspirational standards. How many folks know, for example, that NFPA 79 is considered a code standard, which is to say enforceable. That is because several states and municipalities have adopted NFPA 79 as a code for compliance and enforcement. In contrast, the ANSI B11 series of machine tool standards are broadly considered “Industry standards,” which are "highly recommended" for compliance even if they are not specified. Additionally, OSHA does reserve the right to reference ANSI standards in enforcement and citations.

Overall, I have found Mark Voigtmann’s articles to be very informative and insightful. And so far I haven’t found anything more applicable to specifically machine safety automation. Maybe that could be a topic for future coverage.

J.B. Titus, CFSEHas 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.

Related articles:

21 legal takeaways for the automation industry

Legalities: Not all automation standards are equal

Legalities: 8 ugly contract clauses

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