Employees with responsibility for machinery safety - often multi-tasking - are increasingly expected not only to have, but also to prove, competence.
Despite the increasing amount of legislation and the global harmonisation of standards in machinery safety, a noticeable percentage of fatal and non fatal accidents are still occurring each year.
More often than not, incident investigations discover several safety issues with equipment involved in the accidents. These safety issues originate in all phases of the life-cycle: specification, design, manufacture, use, modification, maintenance etc. It is becoming more and more apparent that legislation in itself is not enough; engineers need to have the competence and understanding to act in accordance with directives and standards. Seldom are health and safety topics included in mechanical or electrical engineering courses. Engineers often ‘learn’ safety through experience alone. Proactive organisations demand additional education and certification of employees as the preferred way of reducing safety issues on sites.
The Machinery Directive 2006/42 EC and The Use of Work Equipment 2009/104 EC directives both state that validation tests should be carried out with the highest degree of professional integrity and technical competence. Competence is a requirement of every engineer assessing a plant or machine or providing a service.
By way of training and/or experience, a competent person is knowledgeable in applicable standards, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to the specific operation, and, has the authority to correct them. Competence includes an awareness of one’s limitations.
It has also been shown that correctly specified safety measures could lead to greater productivity. Employees who feel safe are more productive. This makes safety a critical factor for success. Companies with a consistent safety philosophy are proven to have more market success. A consistent safety philosophy includes not only provision of safe machines, but training of key employees with responsibility for worker safety and for safe control systems. These may be engineering managers, supervisors, design engineers, health and safety officers, risk managers, and anyone with input into machine design, operation and maintenance.
The high costs of not addressing machinery safety are well documented, not only the ‘up front’ cost of accidents. Insurance costs covering injury, ill health, damage –account for roughly 10% of costs; the other 90% of costs are ‘hidden’ such as product and material damage, plant, machinery & building damage, legal costs, emergency supplies, cleaning site, production delays, temporary labour, fines andloss of expertise.
The minimisation of the risk of accidents is not the only benefit of implementing a good machinery safety concept. It will offer a level of safety that conforms to relevant standards and legislation without being ‘over engineered’ and prohibitively expensive. A poor safety concept may not only lead a machine to fail to conform, it may actively hinder the machine operators, leading them to seek ways to overcome the safety measures. It can make machine maintenance more difficult and time consuming, impact on availability through a high number of ‘false trips’ and can be difficult to diagnose and maintain.
The person developing the overall safety concept needs to have an in-depth knowledge of the relevant legislation, regulations and standards, as well as the appropriate safety technologies. It is vital they posses the ‘360° approach’. Fit-for-purpose machinery safety training courses, and seminars, can provide a valuable supplement to practical machinery-based experience, which itself is something that is only attainable over time & under the right circumstances.
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