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Proper guarding protects workers: Six steps to focusing on your employees’ needs

When people think of machine guarding, usually they think of devices to protect people from the moving parts on machinery.

When people think of machine guarding, usually they think of devices to protect people from the moving machineguardsparts on machinery. While this is clearly one use of machine guarding, another area involves protecting workers from all types of cutting, welding, or grinding that can take place in tube or pipe cells.

Flying debris, weld flash, and other dangers make machine guarding an important component in the overall safety of a facility. But how do you choose the proper machine-guarding devices for your facility?

Because machine-guarding devices can do more than improve safety, it’s important to understand the different types of machine-guarding options available. Properly applied devices can help improve workcell productivity, help eliminate ergonomic concerns, and improve the overall efficiency of a facility.

Because the amount of information on machine-guarding systems can be overwhelming, you’ll find it easier first to examine closely your specific applications and needs. And, you can do it in just six steps.

One—Keep Safety First

Safety is the primary goal of any machine-guarding device, and you must look closely at safety in your work area. Are you concerned about flying debris, or do you simply want a process to stop when a person enters the work area? Are you concerned about weld flash? Is an automated process occurring in the cell? Consider all these issues before choosing a solution. When considering your machine-guarding options, always keep safety as your first goal.

Two—Evaluate the Cell Process

Pay close attention to how materials are moved in and out of a workcell, and evaluate how a machine-guarding device could help or hinder that process. Can you use fixed devices, or are movable barriers necessary? Is automated equipment used, or does the application rely on people to complete the process? Look for opportunities to improve both productivity and safety.

Three—Determine If a Physical Barrier Is Required

While the term “machine-guarding device” implies that a barrier exists, not all devices provide a physical barrier to help protect employees from harm. Typically, you would use a physical barrier if flying objects are present that could harm employees. This includes the weld flash and debris from cutting or grinding that are common in tube or pipe cells.

Four—Improve Productivity

If you want to improve your facility’s productivity, the type of machine-guarding device you choose may have a direct impact. For example, an automated device can significantly improve workcell productivity versus a manual device, which requires a person to complete the operation.

Five—Determine If Automated Material Handling Devices Are Needed

While you might improve productivity by using a forklift to move objects in an operation, you could slow down productivity if an operator must exit that forklift to manually remove a machine-guarding device before entering a cell. This holds true for overhead cranes and conveyors as well. The productivity benefits realized by material handling devices will be lost by the human intervention required in the process.

Six—Define Ergonomic Concerns

workshopErgonomic problems can arise from the repetitive motion of opening or closing a manual machine-guarding device, even if the operation is done properly. Count the number of times this operation must take place on one of your machines and multiply the total by the number of work days a year.

An operation performed just a dozen times a day will add up to 3,120 times in a 260-day work year. Evaluate your own operation and talk to your employees to determine if a potential exists for ergonomic problems.

Range of Choices

Once you understand the issues to consider, you then can look at the variety of devices available with a better understanding of your needs to determine the best solution for your operation. You’ll find you have a number of options.

Nothing. You might find this hard to believe, but many facilities do not offer any protection to their employees. This can be a dangerous decision, as unprotected work processes may result in flying debris or weld flash, which can cause serious injuries.

Fixed Solid Guarding. The obvious benefit of a solid guard is that it provides a barrier between personnel and a hazard. This is ideal if you want to prevent access to a workcell completely. Unfortunately, because these devices are fixed and unmovable, they can hinder productivity if objects must move in and out of a cell.

Fixed guards are recommended for use around a workcell, but consider other guards for the opening, where material or an operator must move in and out.

Fixed Fencing. Although fixed fencing may seem to have the same benefits as a fixed solid guard, it doesn’t protect from flying objects or flash. A fence does a good job of preventing access to a cell, but it isn’t recommended for welding, grinding, or cutting areas, which are prone to flying debris. Again, fixed fencing is recommended for use around the workcell, but another device should be considered for the opening of the cell.

Safety Mats. Safety mats are used to stop an automated activity, such as welding or cutting, when a person steps on the mat. The mat sends a signal to the machine to stop, which protects the person from the potential hazards of the operating machine.

While safety mats are useful in preventing a person from getting too close to an automated process, they don’t provide a physical barrier. And, though safety mats are automated, they can hinder productivity.

If people working around a cell step on the mat several times a day, the automated operation stops that many times, so safety mats often are used with other machine-guarding devices such as a physical barrier.

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Light Curtains. These curtains use light beam technology to provide an invisible barrier to the hazards inside a workcell. When the light beam is broken, the automated activity inside the cell stops.

Unfortunately, the barrier is invisible, so it doesn’t provide a physical barrier to hazards. In addition, light beam technology can be unreliable in dusty or dirty environments, causing false signals. A dirty light curtain may imitate the effect of a broken beam and stop the operation.

Manual Curtains and Barriers. Manual curtains and manual barriers provide a movable physical barrier between personnel and the hazard. This can be considered an advantage over fixed barriers, which can hinder productivity, and over light curtains and safety mats, which do not provide a physical barrier. Manual devices include rollup curtains, sliding curtains, and sliding hard panels.

The greatest limitation of manual barriers is that they require human intervention to open them and stop the automated operation in the cell. This human operation not only can slow productivity, but raises safety concerns if operators don’t follow proper procedures.

To protect employees, safeguards must be in place to prevent them from opening the curtain before the automated activity stops. And, ergonomic issues could arise from the repetitive action of opening and closing the curtain or barrier, depending on how much effort is required.

Automated Machine-guarding Systems. The latest development in machine-guarding devices is machine-safetyautomated systems, which offer the benefits of the other devices, without the disadvantages. Automated solutions include rollup curtains and barriers, pneumatic sliding curtains, and bottomup hard panel devices, which are custom-made to fit specific application requirements.

These systems provide a physical barrier between personnel and hazards and are connected to the automated activity in the cell for reliability and safety. This means the barrier won’t open unless the activity in a cell has stopped, and the activity won’t begin until the barrier is closed.

Automated systems also work well with material handling equipment, such as forklifts, overhead cranes, or conveyors. The machine-guarding system can open automatically without the need for human intervention. This complete automation of the cell process can help improve a facility’s productivity and safety, and can help eliminate the ergonomic concerns associated with manual devices.

By installing the proper machine-guarding solutions for your operation, you can improve safety and productivity, while lowering long-term costs. By doing your homework first to determine what your needs are and what options you have, you’ll be able to save yourself time, effort, and money and provide effective safety measures for your employees.


December 3, 2008 Posted by | Business, Economy, Education, Health & Safety, OSHA Compliance, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Revisions to OSHA’s Respiratory Protection

Answering 6 common questions can help in selecting the right respirator
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently made some changes to its Respiratory Protection Standard 1910.134. It now includes a table listing the assigned protection factors for all types of respirators. Now is the time for employers and fabricators alike to review respirator programs (or determine if they need one) to ensure that everyone in the workplace is properly protected.

The two types of respirators are air-purifying respirators and supplied-air respirators. Air-purifying respirators filter the air from the immediate work area before it enters the lungs. Supplied-air respirators provide clean air from an air line or tank. Each type comes in several styles, such as those that cover half of the face (mouth and nose area), all of the face (referred to as a full face piece), or a helmet or hood. Respirator selection becomes particularly important with air-purifying, or filtering, respirators because the respirator is cleaning the air rather than receiving supplied fresh air.

Answering six frequently asked questions can help employers simplify the respirator selection process.

1. How Do Respirator Filters Work?resp2

Determining the type of respirator needed, whether it is a supplied-air unit or an air-purifying unit like the one shown above, depends on the APF it is assigned.

Air-purifying respirators work by filtering the air before it reaches the lungs. The pores of the filter are small enough to screen out dust and particles. For chemical fumes and gases, the filter contains absorbents such as charcoal that capture the chemicals before they reach the lungs. Some work situations, such as spray painting, require both dust and chemical removal. Most welding applications generate metal fumes or particulate and require filtering to clean the air.

2. What Factors Determine Which Respirator to Use?

To help determine what respirator to use and how long it lasts, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed a rating system for respirators called the assigned protection factor (APF). Another new term—maximum use concentration (MUC)—has also been incorporated into the revised OSHA standard.

3. What Are Assigned Protection Factors (APFs)?resp3

APFs are numbers that indicate the level of workplace respiratory protection that a respirator, or class of respirators, is expected to provide to the user. APFs are used to select the appropriate type of respirator based on the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of a contaminant and the level of the contaminant in the workplace. The APF number is the percentage of the contaminant that will be filtered out of the surrounding air.

4. What Are Maximum Use Concentrations (MUCs)?

The selected respirator must keep exposure at or below the PEL. For each specific respirator, the MUC is the largest concentration of an airborne contaminant that the respirator can handle. The exposure level must be measured using OSHA protocol and compared to the MUC for the respirator selected. If the workplace exposure exceeds the respirator’s MUC, a respirator with a higher APF must be chosen.

5. What Do These Revisions Mean to the Metal Fabricating Industry?

Fabricators may be required to use a respirator to protect themselves from inhaling fumes, particles, or dust when cutting, grinding, welding, coating, and painting. If work is done with stainless steel or with coatings containing chrome, there is the risk of exposure to hexavalent chromium, and a respirator may be required. It is important to determine the level of exposure for each chemical produced or used in the workplace, and then ensure that the protection level of every respirator is adequate for the exposure level.

6. What Constitutes an Effective Respirator Program?

First, all airborne hazards in the workplace must be identified and their levels determined. These levels must be compared to the OSHA PELs.

Whenever possible, general or local welding or other exhaust systems should be used to control dusts, vapors, gases, fumes, smoke, solvents, and mists that may be generated. Hazardous materials should be used only in designated work areas that can be ventilated.

If airborne contaminants are still above safe levels after ventilation and exhaust systems have been applied, fabricators must then use respirators to reduce exposure to an acceptable level. Respirators must be approved for each chemical and specific application by NIOSH. Matching the MUC against the measured airborne contaminants ensures selection of a respirator with adequate protection.

testimonial-ad-2Employers should develop written standard operating procedures for the selection and use of respirators. These procedures include when respirators must be worn and who, specifically, must wear them. Welders required to wear a respirator first must have a medical evaluation to be sure that they can safely breathe through the restricted airflow of the respirator.

Once the doctor determines that a welder is medically fit to wear a respirator, fit-testing must be performed to ensure that the respirator fits the shape and size of the face, thereby ensuring a good seal. OSHA regulations list specific protocol for fit-testing.

Everyone must be trained on the correct use and limitations of their respirators. Respirators must be stored in a convenient and clean location, away from contaminants, and must be regularly inspected and sanitized.

December 1, 2008 Posted by | Business, Economy, Education, Health & Safety, OSHA Compliance, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tips for Supervisors: Five Ways to Follow Up on Training

Would you like it if your employees only gave 50% effort or completed half of their tasks?

Well, if you are only scheduling and implementing training sessions for your employees, you are merely employee-trainingdoing half the job. Equally as important as these two steps is the task of following up your training sessions.

Following up involves measuring and evaluating a session’s effectiveness. Doing so will provide you with a benchmark for future sessions as well as give your employees the opportunity to tell you how they would like to change the training subject or format.

Here are five easy steps to follow up your training sessions.

1. At the end of the training session, ask each participant to commit to trying 1-3 new skills. Get the participants to write down the actions and then schedule a follow up meeting to discuss whether theses actions stuck, and why. If you do want to lead this meeting yourself just bring back the original trainer.

2. Shortly after the training, ask each participant to give you a brief summary of the two or three most important points they took away from the training. Consolidate the responses and post them in a popular location for a couple weeks.

If time passes and you see your employees reverting to their old habits, email them their responses along with any more feedback you have received.

small-business3. If appropriate, post facts or statistics related to the training after a session. For example, if your training was on customer service, post the number of sales made per week to show employees how they are improving.

4. A week or two after the training, ask participants how they have changed. If appropriate, post the responses. If participants are saying they haven’t changed, ask why and how the training can be improved next time.

5. Several weeks after a training session, send the participants a quiz related to the training’s content. Post all the responses (but separate the right and wrong answers) and award a prize to the person who does the best. For example, if your training was on speedwriting, ask each participant to write down as many abbreviations they can come up with.

Follow these steps and see the results for yourself. After all, going halfway when it comes to managing your organization’s training only cheats the very employees whose performance you are looking to improve.


November 25, 2008 Posted by | Business, Economy, Education, Health & Safety, OSHA Compliance, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments