For centuries machines have been operated unsafely in an unregulated market. It was not until that in 1970, just 50 years ago, OSHA was formed as a reaction to the public outcry of industrial accidents. Originally called “the safety bill of rights”, it was a regulation created to improve workplace safety for employees. Unfortunately, companies do not follow these regulations, which result in accidents continuing to happen daily. These are the same companies that commonly preach Safety 1st.
Ignorance of the law and modern technologies play a factor in current workplace injuries. Machines were not specifically built with safety in mind prior to 1970. Employees operated machines either with an overconfidence or fear and eventually many workers became injured. An excuse commonly used is “my machine is too old to add safety and should be grandfathered in prior to the OSHA regulations”. This is a response of ignorance to the knowledge of OSHA regulations and modern technologies for safety guarding such as VFDs, braking motors, and control reliability package upgrades. The regulations can be found on the internet by employers at www.osha.gov giving them the opportunity to learn the letter of the law. The specifications of how to guard these older machines is more protected within the ANSI standards to ensure they are properly interpreted. Support for these types of projects would require a technically skilled company that focuses on both turnkey machine safety and automation solutions with the ability to evaluate the machine upgrade requirements before adding and integrating the proper machine guarding. There are cases where machine hazards are still present after adding machine guarding to older machines, but with modern methods and technology, machines can be made safer.
Another major factor in unsafe work conditions is willful disregard for the workers, basically turning a blind eye. Comments like “they shouldn’t put their hands in there” or “no one has gotten hurt yet, so we’re good” are blatant disregards to the well-being of their employees. This attitude can result in a horrific accident for the worker and potential jail time for the employer aware of the hazard prior to the accident. Free will could be to blame for this carefree attitude, which allows the power of choice for different directions and outcomes. This compliance-driven industry exploits free will and poses the question…does anyone really have the right to put other people’s lives in jeopardy so they can maintain free will? Free will is a right or privilege, but can we be trusted? It has been proven through facts and stats that in the case of machine safety, the answer is generally no. If you ignore safety hazards, you are making the choice to put employees at risk which should bring on self-inflicted consequences such as disciplinary actions and/or termination.
Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law, and neither is stupidity, but both seem to trump proper workplace safety measures. Unfortunately, it can be a case of ignorance can be fixed, stupid is forever. Either scenario can result in heavy fines issued by OSHA, a federal agency founded alongside the Act of 1970. OSHA’s role is to assure American workers are safe by setting and enforcing standards followed by training and outreach. Inspectors can show up unannounced, look for repeat offenses, and search for current hazards. These finding are typically met with costly penalties and potentially a plea to the courts to shut down the jobsite. These consequences can be avoided by reaching out to turnkey safety guarding companies for guidance and solutions. These types of companies can help create prioritized plans which include custom designs, fabrication and assembly of guarding, any machine upgrades necessary, as well as the installation and integration of the electronic safety devices and automation components. This direction helps improve machine safety while providing consistency and reducing pain points found with unsafe work conditions.
Will machine safety ever rule the manufacturing world seems to be a rhetorical question but needs to be made clear. With the swing of the pendulum, we go from a blatant disregard of a person’s well-being to wondering if we must be programmed like a robot to do the right thing. Self-driving cars, self-lacing shoes, hoverboards, wrist communicators, cleaning robots; these were all thought to be “science fiction”. Maybe someday they will implant chips in our brains and force us to all operate machines safely. Until then it is imperative, we find a middle ground between the two for the safety of employees and the protection of assets. No one is alone is this and there are qualified machine safety and automation companies out there willing to help throughout the entire process providing turnkey solutions.
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Written and Published by Shawn Mantel, December 2020
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.