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7 ways to jump-start your machine safety inspections

When WSPS machine safety specialist Michael Wilson visits workplaces, he often comes across joint health and safety committee members reviewing machine guarding as part of their regular inspections. "That's a good thing," says Wilson, "but what's common can quickly become routine." This is one reason why, despite workplaces' best intentions, contact with machinery remains a top hazard in Ontario workplaces.

"Unsafe Interactions with these machines may result in a serious injury or fatality," warns Wilson. It's not just a problem for manufacturing facilities. "Deli counters, butcher shops, bakeries… they all have machinery that requires proper guarding to keep workers safe."

Wilson offers these seven steps to make the most of your machine safety inspections.

  1. Involve more in-house expertise. "Inspections work well as a team process," says Wilson. "Everybody who works in the facility and has experience with their particular tasks - equipment operators, quality control, and maintenance staff - are possible resources. The more information you can gather, the better."
  2. As you review individual machines, ask operators these questions:
    • Is your safeguarding adequate?
    • How do you know the safeguarding is satisfactory? "Answers like 'It came that way,' or 'Nothing has ever happened before' aren't reasonable responses. Dig deeper," says Wilson.
    • Are safety interlocks bypassed to perform certain tasks?
    • Is lockout ever skipped because the fix is a quick one?
  3. Make sure operators know the hazards, and what guarding is in place to protect them. Orientation training, hazard-specific training, refresher training, regular safety talks, and one-on-one conversations can help keep safe practices top of mind. "Working in the same place for years, especially if no serious injuries have occurred, can create a false sense of security."
  4. Check the regulations and reference documents that apply to your equipment, including standards from CSA, NFPA, or ANSI for specifics on equipment in your workplace. "Standards are considered good practice, which makes them useful for benchmarking how good a given operation is with respect to safety."
  5. Ask machine or process operators if they report concerns. If they don't, ask what's preventing them from doing so, and what would make it easier. Gently remind them that machine safety is a shared priority and everyone has responsibility.
  6. Strengthen your internal resources by providing your joint health and safety committee members, maintenance workers and engineers with more training. "Knowing exactly what to look for is essential, and that's where we'd encourage certification training for all joint health and safety committee members."
  7. Draw on external resources when appropriate. "WSPS is called on regularly to be a different set of eyes, to come in with a fresh perspective and help assess whether all the hazards have been addressed, and if not to help identify solutions."