Eight key elements of an effective safety automation program

As safety standards continue to evolve and new technologies emerge, the challenge for many organizations is where to begin. The answer is different for every company, but we’ve identified eight core areas of focus that should be considered as part of a comprehensive safety program.

By Dan Hornbeck, manager, safety business development, Rockwell Automation

Establishing an effective safety program remains a top priority for most manufacturers today. As safety standards continue to evolve and new technologies emerge, the challenge for many organizations is where to begin. The answer is different for every company, but we’ve identified eight core areas of focus that should be considered as part of a comprehensive safety program.

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1. Conduct a risk assessment: Widely regarded as the best place to start, a thorough risk assessment will identify the areas of risk within a plant and help pinpoint the best people and the right technology that will help minimize those risks. A risk assessment also will help companies establish acceptable levels of risk for their operations, which in turn helps determine what safety products they need. Performing a risk assessment first will help chart the course for an effective machine guarding strategy (as part of subsequent planning steps) designed to protect a company’s investment in both personnel and machinery.

2. Eliminate hazards through design: Ideally, the best way to eliminate a hazard is by designing it out of the machine. When machine designers review the risk assessment and risk reduction process at the earliest stages of inception, they can more effectively eliminate hazards – such as pinch points or sharp edges – that would have required guarding. It also helps ensure that machines are designed with the safety and integrity of the machine in mind at an early stage in the machine’s development.

3. Consider machine guarding: Sometimes hazards can’t be removed through design. In these cases, hard guarding offers a physical barrier that provides the best protection at a relatively low cost. A variety of guarding options are available that can help protect workers around specific points of an operation or machine or in a perimeter area. Common devices include safety mats, light curtains and interlocks. Determining how frequently a machine or area must be accessed can help refine the list of possible solutions. It’s also important to make sure the solution itself doesn’t cause a hazard.

4. Add advanced controls: In addition to applying the appropriate guarding devices, engineering controls can be implemented to help reduce risks. Electromechanical safety relays have been the backbone of safety control design for decades, offering a wide variety of functions and features. More advanced protection can be provided by safety-rated controllers. These devices contain the fail-safe software required for critical safety functions and can take direct inputs from most safety products, such as light curtains, emergency stops and mechanical interlocks.

5. Promote awareness: Encouraging safety awareness can help further reduce levels of risk. This can include adding appropriate signage, as well as using visual and audible awareness devices. Awareness devices should be positioned where they will best serve their intended purpose. It’s also important that audible signals can be heard over normal operating noise, and that they comply with current standards and regulations.

6. Training: Another key step toward reducing risk is providing appropriate instruction and training on safety procedures. Employees who might be exposed to the hazards of a machine or process should participate in these training programs. While the company is responsible for implementing the training, each employee is ultimately responsible for applying the training and safety procedures to their work.

7. Follow-up assessments: After installing safeguards, it’s important to conduct follow-up assessments to verify that the risk level has been reduced to an acceptable level. Likewise, periodic follow-up assessments of safety methods and practices are critical to confirm that specific programs are being followed and remain effective.

8. Rely on experience: When embarking on a safety program design or review, an experienced partner who is well-versed in the current requirements that apply to the working environment is highly valuable.

This partner should have a thorough understanding of the risk assessment and risk reduction process. When choosing a provider, consider their ability to not only supply products, but also assist in device selection and in developing new machine safeguarding specifications to meet certification and compliance demands as required.

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