The machinery of trade

Published: 03rd Aug 2012

At a time when money is tight for businesses across the globe, it’s important to spend wisely on your investments. These can encompass anything from the design of your production line, and what you spend here, through to your choice of PPE, such as protective workwear.

John Glover talks readers through the process of weaving all these various elements into your planning when it comes to considering risk assessments.


Although the oil industry does significantly impact the entire Middle East both through the wealth that it generates and through the movement of labour, most of the countries in the region have undertaken efforts to diversify their economies in recent years. For example, the Middle East is predicted to be one of the fastest growing regions among the developing countries for the food and drink manufacturing industry, and the management of the food and drinks companies is forecasting an increase in procurement spend. This clearly means an investment in machinery and production process lines. Some of these organisations that will need to invest in what will be capital intensive projects will have at some point in time heard a few myths about machinery safety, and I am sure that you will have heard of some within and outside your own organisations. Sometimes these myths are due to a company’s own safety culture, though, which can exist just like air and water - so it depends how it has been shaped through the last few years. Others are professionally honed with clearly defined goals and responsibilities with open proactive actions and employee empowering engagement, but their cultures are missing in action and totally ineffective. The one thing common to them all though is that they all have experienced machinery safety myths.

Myths and misconceptions

Let’s take a few minutes and have a look at some of these myths that I’m sure you’ve heard over the years. 1. We haven’t had any machinery accidents for several years so we have a very safe operation. 2. Safety performance is an individual issue, not a company issue. It is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Manager to look after the machinery and process safety anyway. 3. Increasing machine safety is always costly and it reduces production. 4. He is responsible for machine safety throughout our plant as he is the Chief Engineer. It is not our problem and if anything goes wrong then he or she is to blame. 5. We plan to increase our efforts towards machine safety next year but it will depend on the budget, as we have our shareholders to consider. 6. A return on investment in machine safety - where did you hear that? From what we hear, safety is still not at the front of mind for many machine operators, plant managers or even business owners or stakeholders for that matter, and there is too much emphasis and procrastination on those points above. It's one of those classic safety struggles, it seems, between safety and productivity; safety and cost; safety and convenience. By dealing with these issues at an early stage, however, by implementing a proactive machinery risk management policy and procedure, there would be a systematic shift from constantly ‘fire-fighting’ and ‘crisis management’ to proactive decision making before any problems arise. By anticipating what may go wrong would become part of everyday business for you, and the management of machine hazards and associated risks that would become an integral part of the business, just as the management of corporate or financial risk is.

Anticipating trouble – the right resources

If your senior management doesn’t have an insight into what could go wrong without that level of machinery or process safety competence within the organisation, then they will need more resources. These are for problems that could have been avoided far sooner despite the fact that there needs to be a balance. Bear in mind that some problems may be catastrophic and could occur with no prior warning; naturally, this could even affect the long term survival of the business and would mean that the business is (in effect) always in constant crisis - not to mention the potential for increased insurance premiums, or even the potential for an insurer to refuse to insure a business. Also, consider the need to raise money from shareholders or through the money markets when you want to invest in a new factory with machinery and production lines. If you have a poor accident record then you will struggle to raise much money at all. So at one end of the scale it could mean a simple failure to meet statutory and duty holder obligations in respect of risk during a project. It may, alternatively, mean a risk of damage or loss to plant and equipment and other assets, resulting in a huge financial loss. Or ultimately, it could mean risks to the safety of individuals. Fortunately we are in a position to do something about it if we really get cracking with a solution.

Risk management

Let me tell you, though, that machinery risk management is no silver bullet or guarantee of success, but it can certainly improve decision making, help avoid unpleasant surprises and improve your chances of succeeding. It will also assist in you increasing your bottom line (e.g. net profits) and chances of economic success. It has also been long recognised that proactive risk management increases the organisation’s chances of flourishing and economic success. The principle behind it is to think laterally and consider the breadth and diversity of the risks to the organisation. Remember that if someone is injured then this could result in a claim for damages and a criminal prosecution, and this could cost a considerable amount of money to defend. The costs would need to be paid out of any profits.

Value and prioritise your assets

The most valuable asset that any organisation has is the talent of its workforce, but don’t forget those tangible machine assets for producing. After all, it is the people that produce the goods and services that allow the organisation to profit from its revenues. My advice is to place competency and training in the field of machinery safety at the top of your businesses hierarchy of importance. Even leaving aside the statutory duties it is just sheer common sense that it makes good business sense to protect such assets such as plant and machinery. Data from recent years indicates that 25-30 percent of manufacturing industry fatalities in Great Britain were related to maintenance activities. This gives a clue to the reasons why the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has co-ordinated the European Healthy Workplaces Campaign on Safe Maintenance 2010-2011, the UK part of which was launched in June 2010 by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) in conjunction with organisations representing employers, workers and other interested bodies - including the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and EEF, The Manufacturers' Organisation.

Maintenance considerations

In this context, maintenance activities can include things such as inspection, testing, measurement, replacement, adjustment, repair, upkeep, fault detection (troubleshooting), servicing, lubrication and cleaning. It should also be borne in mind that maintenance activities fall within two categories: proactive (preventative) and reactive (corrective). Most accidents occur during corrective maintenance, and note that the need for corrective maintenance can be due to a lack of preventative maintenance. In some cases inadequate preventative maintenance can contribute towards catastrophic failures, injuries and even fatalities. Leaving aside these extreme situations, the unexpected nature of reactive maintenance tends to result in these activities being less well planned, and they might also involve work that was not foreseen by the original machine manufacturer, hence a lack of specific instructions in the maintenance manual. It might be assumed that guards always need to be removed for maintenance, so their design has little bearing on the safety of maintenance operations. This assumption is incorrect, however, and the design of the guarding can make a significant difference. Machine designers should therefore give due consideration to the outcome of the initial machinery risk assessment (which needs to cover maintenance as well as normal operation) and, ideally, they should discuss maintenance operations with personnel from all shifts, as it is not unknown for the same maintenance operation to be undertaken differently during night shifts or weekends than during office hours, due to fewer managers being present at these times.

From a design perspective

When designing machine guards (and, if necessary, other aspects of the machinery) it is best to provide means by which maintenance operations can be performed without having to open or remove the guards. For example, external grease points can be installed, viewing panels can be incorporated in guards, and facilities for making adjustments can be made accessible from outside the guards. As an aside, remember that the need for maintenance can be reduced by using higher-specification components with improved reliability and a longer operating life. Designers need to be wary of simply designing guards that meet the nominal requirements of the standards. Take, for example, BS EN ISO 13857 (Safety of machinery - Safety distances to prevent hazard zones being reached by upper and lower limbs), which assumes that people will not use steps, chairs or other objects in an attempt to reach over guards; in reality, operators might well do so unless the guards are made sufficiently high or a top cover is installed. In the vast majority of cases machine guards provide protection against moving parts of machinery - and these hazards cease to exist when the machine has stopped for maintenance. Some machines also have hot surfaces, however, or sharp edges and other hazards that continue to be present even when the moving parts are stationary. Designers should therefore take this into account when performing the risk assessment, designing the guards and providing measures such as warning signs and maintenance instructions. If necessary, additional physical guards can be provided to prevent accidental contact with sharp blades, for example.

Managing your maintenance needs

Clearly a thorough risk assessment and subsequent risk reduction measures by the machine designer can make a significant difference to the safety of maintenance operations, as can carefully prepared maintenance instructions. Nevertheless, maintenance managers still need to ensure that a risk assessment is undertaken before maintenance work is started. This is especially true if the machine has been modified or upgraded since the original instructions were prepared, or if the machine is getting old - the state of the art may have moved on since the instructions were prepared, so some procedures described in the instructions would no longer be regarded as adequately safe. In addition, fixed guards do not need to be interlocked so, if these need to be removed, lock-off procedures must be followed to ensure that the machine cannot be restarted. In any case you must ensure that the machinery and work equipment you provide in the workplace is safe to me. In doing so, you should ensure that it is: • Suitable for use, and for the purpose and conditions in which it is used. This could mean that the machine is built according to the many machinery safety standards that are available • Maintained in a safe condition for use so that people’s health and safety is not at risk • Inspected in certain circumstances to ensure that it is, and continues to be, safe for use. Any inspection should always be carried out by a competent person - this could be an employee as long as they have the necessary competence to perform the task - and a record kept until the next inspection. You should also ensure that risks created by the use of the equipment, are eliminated where possible or controlled by: • Taking appropriate ‘hardware’ measures, e.g. providing suitable guards, protection devices, markings and warning devices, system control devices (such as emergency stop buttons) and personal protective equipment. This includes the need to provide safety workwear to protect your staff in a high risk environment, but there is a need to make sure that the workwear is based on the risk assessment • Taking appropriate ‘software’ measures such as following safe systems of work and procedures (e.g. ensuring maintenance is only performed when equipment is shut down, for example), and providing adequate information, instruction and training

Talking workwear specifics

If there is a maintenance operation being carried out in a hot environment, then there is a statutory duty to protect workers from burning if the workers are working near hot surfaces or ovens. If this is the case then the material needs to be breathable and made of natural fibres that will absorb perspiration. It is also important not to restrict the operator’s movement because the clothing is too bulky. The key thing is that the workwear is based on the assessment of risk at all times, as there is clearly a business case for making sure that the worker is protected in a comfortable manner. In choosing overalls, for example, they must be of a suitable design and material to protect your employees from a given hazard. Overalls to protect from sparks and hot particles, for instance, should be made of a flame-resistant fabric. There are also manufacturers who specialise in developing textiles with a range of protective properties, from anti-microbial textiles for use in healthcare and food preparation, or a combination of flame retardant fabric with high visual properties for people working with sparks who also need to be seen. With the various levels of protection available, it is important to conduct some research before purchasing safety clothing because different industries have different requirements. Essentially the important thing is to choose safety clothing that protects employees (or those affected by the activity) from their workplace activities.


A combination of all of these measures - from workplace design to PPE - is necessary and the actions you put into force will depend on the requirements of the work, your assessment of the risks involved, and the practicability of such measures. You need to ensure that people using work equipment of any kind have received adequate training, instruction and information for the particular equipment. At the moment there is a global shift from the developed regions to even more demanding environments, and in the Middle East the degree of sophistication of those machinery assessments needs to reflect the complexity of the hazards and risks. Published: 03rd Aug 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East