Occupational safety: Safeguarding your life

This is the third article in our health and safety series written by the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health/Industrial Health Unit based at the University of Natal . In this article, we give you tips in how to safeguard your machine and how to keep safe during routine maintenance.

“Young worker killed in senseless workplace accident”

A 30-year-old male supervisor died after both arms were caught and partially amputated between two metal sheet machine rollers.

The victim was inspecting the condition of the surface of the roller of a metal cutting machine at a car manufacturing plant following a break in continuous sheet of metal, while travelling over a roller, badly damaging the metal. The victim, without first raising the top roller (of two rollers) away from the bottom roller and isolating the power source, entered the unguarded roller access area and began feeling the rollers for any possible damage that may have caused the damage. It appears that the victim’s hands became caught between the top and bottom rollers and his arms were pulled up into the rollers at the nip point (the area between any two in-running rolls). A passing co-worker saw the trapped victim, raised the top roller and released the now profusely bleeding and unconscious worker. The plant nurse, co-workers and soon after, emergency ambulance services attempted to control bleeding and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The victim, with his right arm partially amputated at the shoulder area, died soon after arrival at the local hospital.

(Adapted from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh).

The example given above is not an isolated incident. In 1998 there were 40 760 cases of disablement in the iron and steel industry of which 19.3% were temporary disablement, 3.1% permanent disablement and 0.2% fatal. Workers who operate and maintain machinery are at risk of amputations, lacerations, crushing injuries, abrasions and death.

Ensuring safe machine operation

Safety guards are standard for most or all machinery purchased from manufacturers. Even if they are not, there are a variety of barriers, enclosures, tools and control devices designed to control machine hazards. The aim of these is to:

prevent the worker from making contact with moving parts like blades and rollers, sharp blades like guillotines or in going nip points (hydraulic punches) while the machine is operating or when it is shut down.
Prevent parts from moving while the worker is in a danger zone,
Contain fragments of particles thrown off by the process, like flying chips and sparks, or pieces of broken machinery should the machine break.

What laws protect you?

If your employer is resisting providing the safeguards, point him/her to the General Machinery Regulations of 1988 that fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993. These say that every employer or user of machinery must ensure that all machinery is used in a safe manner and that all hazards as far as is possible, must be eliminated. If they cannot be eliminated, then they must be carefully controlled.

8 steps to protect your lives and limbs from hazardous machinery
Step 1:
Evaluate the work process.
Step 2:
Identify the hazardous areas and dangerous machines that need to be controlled and/or guarded.
Step 3:
Ensure restricted access to hazardous areas through sufficient guarding mechanisms
Step 4:
Develop and install permanent inter-locking gates to protect workers from hazardous areas
Step 5:
Stick up and maintain danger/warning signs/placards at conspicuous places about hazardous areas
Step 6:
Conduct scheduled and unscheduled worksite inspections
Step 7:
Document all these procedures in a policy document/operating procedure
Step 8:
Train workers on the procedures and their importance.

Keeping safe during routine maintenance – lockout/tag out?

But also be careful during routine maintenance. Serious injuries and death often occur during this time. Sometimes the process is not shutdown properly. Other times there is a failure to prevent others from accessing the machinery controls or power supply while the machinery is being maintained. Use lockout or tag out procedures to prevent these accidents. These stop all sources of energy to the machinery undergoing maintenance. These prevent the machine from starting up unexpectedly (through an unplanned supply of power from faulty machinery or unaware fellow worker) and causing injury to the maintenance worker/s. This should be standard policy for ALL maintenance work done on machinery. (Note: Identify all primary and secondary sources of energy in the workplace, such as electricity, pneumatics or hydraulics that provide electricity to the machine under maintenance.)

Lockout means placing a lock onto the “on switch” of a machine or on equipment in order to prevent the operation of the machine or equipment until the lock is removed.

Tagout means securely fastening a tag to the “on switch”. This indicates that the machinery or equipment may not be operated until the tagout device is removed.

Checklist for machine guards:
All machine guards, whether factory-installed or custom built, must meet general requirements:

Prevent any other part of an operator’s body or that of fellow workers from making contact with or coming close to dangerous moving parts

Secure machine guards so operators are not able to remove or tamperwith the guard.

Guards and safety devices should be made of durable materials capableof withstanding the conditions of normal use.

A guard that can be made ineffective is no safeguard at all. Workers, often faced with the demands to increase production (or sometimes presented with incentives to do so), will remove guards to speed up the work processes and expose themselves to the hazards of moving parts. Any safeguard, which impedes an operator from performing the job quickly and comfortably, might soon be overridden, removed or disregarded.

The safeguard should ensure that no objects can fall into the moving parts.

A small tool or metal scrap, which is dropped into a cycling machine, could easily become a projectile that could strike and injure someone.

A safeguard must not create a hazard of its own such as a shear point, a jagged edge, or an unfinished surface, which can cause a laceration.

The edges of guards, for instance, should be rolled or bolted in such a way that they eliminate sharp edges.

Regular maintenance, lubrication and adjustment of both the machine and the safeguarding systems are essential.

Workers must be trained to use guards properly. They must understand the hazard being guarded against and why and know how the guard functions.

When a guard is removed for maintenance or adjustment, temporary controls must be used to protect workers from machine hazards.

These controls often include lockouts and tagouts.

Compiled by Yogan Gounden, Dr. Rajen Naidoo and Thabang Molefi

Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.