Everyone admits, or they should, machine safety is a crucial aspect of machine design and installation. The primary reason for safety is to protect personnel. All companies genuinely do want to provide a safe workplace. In fact, according to article 5A, OSHA requires that the employer provides a safe workplace for their employees. Unfortunately, safety and profitability have historically been at odds with one another. Beyond the general best interest of employees, there are legal and financial implications if a facility is found not abiding by the OSHA regulations. OSHA fines begin in the thousands, and for repeat offenders can be in the hundreds of thousands. On top of the fines, willing disregard to safety opens employers up to lawsuits and the latest addition to our society – BAD social media coverage! Luckily, many options now exist to help ensure every employee goes home to their families exactly the same way they arrived at work. The challenge is finding the options which make sense.
The most straight forward version of machine safety was implemented with Lock Out-Tag Out (LOTO) as part of the Control of Hazardous Energy regulations developed in 1982. The entire machine was shut down if any employee needed to interact with it. This was, and still is, a high level of safety but decreases productivity. As time progressed, new technologies were developed that were acceptable under the minor servicing exception in the LOTO standard. This exception states that any minor servicing activity that is integral, routine, and repetitive to production can be done without LOTO, if there is alternative safety protection. As the automation industry continues to advance, so have the safety devices. Over the last few years many devices have moved away from the traditional dry contacts, or “dumb devices”and are now using solid state “smart devices.” With this progression, a safety circuit can communicate its status to the operators or even give troubleshooting tips to maintenance to decrease downtime. With these advances manufacturers’ can have a safe and productive machine.
Once the importance of machine safety is understood then the question becomes, how do I implement a safety system correctly and efficiently? A lot must be said when answering this question, but to start in the right place you must understand the safety standards. Many OSHA standards state what must be done but do not explain how to do it. They have referenced “consensus standards,” which are ANSI B11.19, ISO 12100, ISO 13849, IEC 62061, etc. These standards lay out the implementation process, called the safety lifecycle. There are five steps to the safety lifecycle:
Following the safety lifecycle will help facilitate the machine safety process from start to finish, keep from over engineering, get you to be compliant, and produce a well-tried safety system. Safety is a must in the automation industry today, don’t fall behind.