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Machine safeguarding: understand your risks

"Company Fined… $50,000 After Worker Injured By Machine… $60,000 After Worker Loses Fingers… $110,000 in Death of Electrocuted Worker" - these recent headlines all tell similar stories of preventable safeguarding injuries. We can stop these headlines, says WSPS machine safety specialist Michael Wilson. It's all about being proactive, and that starts with understanding the risks.

In fact, that's the title of the first in WSPS' new series of proactive machine safeguarding videos. The videos feature Wilson, who uses simple, direct language to demystify the topic and offer prevention tips. WSPS Network News spoke with Wilson about this first video.

One of your suggestions is to know the legislative requirements around machine safety. Which ones?

Primarily these sections of the Industrial Establishments Regulation (O. Reg. 851):

  • 12 (Premises)
  • 24 to 44.2 (Machine Guarding)
  • 74 (Temporary Elevation)
  • 75 and 76 (Maintenance and Repairs)

Depending on the industry sector and nature of the work performed, other legislation may also apply. But remember that these are minimum requirements. For best practices, consider CSA standards such as CSA Z432, Safeguarding of Machinery.

Who in the workplace needs to know the legislative requirements?

Everyone must know the requirements, because of the specific duties assigned to them by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. For example, among other duties

  • employers are required to provide hazard information and prescribed safety devices, such as machine guards
  • supervisors are required to make sure devices are being used accordingly
  • workers are required to report unsafe conditions. If a machine guard is damaged or not working, they need to know that they can bring this forward and repairs can be completed

Certified joint health and safety committee members will already be aware of the minimum requirements for their type of operation from their certification training.

What's involved in understanding the risks?

Identify what could go wrong, assess the level of risk that people may be exposed to, and determine steps you can take to minimize the risk. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Look past the safety measures you already have in place and focus instead on the hazards and what could go wrong if there were no preventive measures in place. Then you can start building in appropriate risk reduction measures - changing the machine's design, adding engineering controls, developing new procedures, providing awareness training or PPE…
  2. Draw on a frequently untapped resource - your employees' on-the-job experience. Machine operators and supervisors often understand the risks and can offer a practical point of view.

Where many workplaces could benefit from outside help is in facilitating the hazard assessment process. We can help people identify hazards and establish a means of evaluating the level of risk ('If I come in contact with the hazard, do I need a bandage, or will I need to go to the hospital?'). We can also help them assess factors like how often and how long workers are exposed to the hazard, and offer suggestions to help manage the risk.

Who in the workplace is best at understanding the risks?

I often recommend assembling a team, including a machine operator and people from maintenance, management and safety. An outside party can also help the team go through the process and determine what options are available.

In the video you encourage viewers to talk to frontline staff and supervisors about their machine safety experiences, including close calls. Who should do this?

Joint health and safety committee members are well positioned for this, especially certified members since they will have had exposure to machine safety. Another possibility is a supervisor from a different part of the operation. It’s the same principle as involving an outside third party: fresh eyes often see things that the rest of us may not notice any more.

A key point to remember is that because our workplaces change all the time, understanding and responding proactively to risks is an ongoing exercise. Getting ahead of the process now will make your workplace safer and more productive, and keep you out of the headlines.

How WSPS can help

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