Be on your guard!

Men in highvis and hardhats

There are approximately 12 deaths and 40,000 injuries (some of them life changing) each year, due to incidents where workers have been using machinery. Many incidents are due to and as a result of, poorly maintained or missing guarding on machinery with dangerous moving parts.

Employees in machine shops, engineering works, repair workshops and factories can be put at risk by employers failing to maintain safety devices on machinery, which are designed to protect their staff, or by allowing the complete removal of these safety devices.

It is estimated that UK employers could save around 250,000 work days each year, if they could ensure people worked safely on machinery.

The primary legislation covering machinery guarding is the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). Employers have a duty to ensure that items of work equipment provided for their employees and other persons working for them, comply with PUWER. Therefore guarding provided on any machinery must be fitted, used and maintained to comply fully with the PUWER requirements.

So why is guarding important?

Moving parts of machinery can cause injuries in a variety of ways, eg:

  • People can be drawn in, struck and injured by moving parts of machinery or ejected material or trapped between rollers, belts and pulley drives.
  • Sharp edges (including cutting tools) can cause cuts and severing injuries, sharp-pointed parts can cause stabbing or puncture the skin.
  • Operatives can be crushed between parts moving together or towards a fixed part of the machine.
  • Parts of machine, materials and emissions (such as steam, cutting fluid or water) can be hot or cold enough to cause burns or scalds.
  • Injuries can also occur as a result of poor machine maintenance.

Effective guarding can stop these situations arising by ensuring clear separation between the machine operator and any moving components.

Guarding methods and applications

Therefore, it is of paramount importance to prevent access to dangerous parts and think about how a machine can be made safe. Measures to consider could be in the following order. In some cases it may be necessary to use a combination of these:

  • Use fixed guards, usually solid or framed construction and secured with screws or nuts and bolts, to enclose the dangerous parts, whenever practical. If wire mesh is used, make sure the holes are not large enough to allow access to any moving parts.
  • Use methods such as interlocking the guard, so that the machine cannot start before the guard is closed and cannot be opened while the machine is still moving. Trip systems, photoelectric devices, pressure mats or automatic guards may be used.
  • If guards cannot give full protection, use jigs, machine vices, push sticks etc. if it is practical to do so.
  • Control any remaining risk by providing the machine operator with the necessary information, instruction, training, supervision and appropriate safety equipment.

Other things to consider

  • Ensure control switches are clearly marked to indicate what they do.
  • Have emergency stop controls, eg. mushroom-head push buttons, sited within easy reach or consider floor mounted/foot operated devices.
  • Make sure operating controls are designed and placed to avoid accidental operation and injury.
  • Do not let unauthorised, unqualified or untrained people use machinery.


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