Four steps to safer plant machinery

Risk assessment is one key – and don’t forget the data.

By Tim Loria, Allen Tubbs, and Joaquin Ocampo August 8, 2019

Machines must never be hazardous to people. This principle is implemented through international standards and regional laws to ensure industrial workers have a safe work environment.

Implementing safety systems ensures employees can work with peace of mind. Consider these four best practices for a safer, more productive work environment.

1. Do a risk assessment

Identify the necessary protective measures for risk reduction. Before implementing safety technology, determine machine limits and potential hazards with a risk assessment, which identifies the measures required to reduce machinery risk. A risk assessment is a safety implementation starting point because it identifies machine hazards and defines risk estimates. Follow up the risk assessment by defining trigger events to determine the required safety technology for the application.

2. Do the research

Find a safety solution that works for your machine applications. As safety technology advances, more options become available and implementing safety can appear to be a daunting task. Before buying, explore the options on the market and which solution works best for your machine applications. For example, drive-integrated safety is a flexible solution that performs safety monitoring with control-reliable safety action directly inside the drive via dual-channel inputs.

Machine functions and operator interaction will be the deciding factors if safe torque off (STO) or safe motion (SMO) is the right choice for the application. Minimal functionality or operator interaction is ideal for the STO safety solution because the power to the motor is interrupted safely. The required safety signals are connected directly to the drive for machine applications that require additional functionality or operator interaction such as safe limited speed (SLS), safe direction (SDI), and so forth.

3. Use a flexible safety system

Find a safety system that allows you to use of existing control systems and coprocessors. A safer plant should be a top priority, but it shouldn’t be hard. The process can be overcomplicated by choosing a safety system that requires a company to purchase additional control systems and coprocessors to function.

Instead, purchase flexible safety technology that allows a company to use its existing controls system and coprocessors. This not only makes implementation easier, but it also can significantly reduce implementation costs.

Using a flexible system also reduces the burden on staff by allowing them to continue to work with a familiar system. Flexible safety technology also allows companies to adapt safety to the preexisting systems in the plant, which results in an easier installation process and increased productivity once implemented.

4. Remember safety data

The beauty of the connected industry is the ability to see how a plant functions through machine data via sensors and software. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0-compatible technology, safety data can be extracted and analyzed to deliver a safer work environment.

Data can be applied to plant improvement in a number of ways. For example, machines can be programmed to react to the individual characteristics of each user to provide the safest environment for its operators.

Operator data such as biometrics, training levels and language skills are pulled and analyzed to shape the program and adapt to the employees. This data also can be used to improve ergonomic issues or prevent potential injury by reacting to an operator’s height or reach, and digital instructions can be customized by native language or preference. It even can be used to bar operators from certain procedures or operations based on their training level.

Data also can validate or reveal an error in a risk assessment. By collecting data during machine operation, the risk assessment can be verified over time to prove the effectiveness of the safety system or expose areas where the initial risk assessment was wrong so the team can take action. Similarly, the same operational data can aid in detecting events or conditions that can lead to unsafe conditions. By collecting large amounts of data and correlating it, machine conditions that could lead to identifying harmful situations can be pinpointed.

Looking ahead

Ensuring a safe work environment for employees is paramount in industrial applications. Machines are a key part of bringing innovations to life, which makes them crucial to success in industry. But they can cause immeasurable damage with life-threatening consequences if used improperly.

Technological advances are opening more doors to keep workers safe without affecting the productivity needed to stay competitive. Taking these four steps will bring the plant closer to a safer work environment.

Author Bio: Tim Loria is a certified safety professional; Allen Tubbs, is a product manager for controls and IoT; and Joaquin Ocampo is a product manager for drives, motors and safety for Bosch Rexroth.