Be on your guard: the importance of machinery guarding

Men in highvis and hardhats

There are approximately 12 deaths and 40,000 injuries (some of them life-changing) each year, due to incidents involving machinery. Many incidents are due to and are 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 specifically designed to protect their staff. By allowing the complete removal or defeating of these safety devices, employees are instantly put at risk when operating machinery.

It’s estimated that UK employers could save around 250,000 workdays 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.

Man wearing safety goggles

So why is guarding important?

People can be pulled in, struck and injured by moving parts of machinery or ejected material, There is also a serious risk of being trapped between rollers, belts and pulley drives if you fail to comply with PUWER.

Sharp/ protruding edges or materials (including cutting tools) can cause cuts and severing injuries and sharp-pointed parts can cause stabbing and even puncture the skin.

Operatives can be crushed between parts moving together, towards a fixed part of the machine or other solid objects.

Parts of machinery, materials and emissions (such as steam, cutting fluid or water) can be hot or cold enough to cause burns, scalds or raise the risk of slips, trips and falls.

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

It is of paramount importance to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery and equipment by thinking of how a machine can be made safe. Measures to consider could be in the following order.

It may be necessary to use a combination of control measures:

  • Use fixed guards, typically solid or framed construction secured with screws, nuts and bolts, to enclose the dangerous parts, whenever practical. If wire mesh is used, make sure the holes are not large enough that they 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, e.g 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.

There may be situations where it is necessary to remove a guard when the machine is in operation i.e. where unusual sized or shaped materials may need to be processed and there is no other practicable way to achieve this. If this is the case for machine maintenance, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be carried out and the work activity properly planned with a safe system of work in place prior to commencement.

Helping your business with your machinery guarding questions

If you use machinery in your business and you’ve got questions about protecting your people with adequate guarding, remember you can get in touch with our Health & Safety experts 24/7, 365 days a year on our advice line 0345 844 4848.

If you’re not yet a Citation client and you want to chat through how we can help you with your Health & Safety obligations and take some of the strain, just give us a call on 0345 844 1111 or fill out your details in the form on this page.

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