Machine Safety and “reasonably foreseeable misuse”


In the world of machine safety it is commonly understood today that a risk analysis is required by the supplier and/or end user to identify and mitigate all hazards to acceptable levels. We get numerous questions on this process around the question of how to address the intent of the term “reasonably foreseeable misuse”? This term is actually defined in ANSI B11 - 2008, approved August 4, 2008 on page 16, clause 3.58 as: “reasonably foreseeable misuse:  The use of a machine in a way not intended by the supplier or user, but which may result from readily predictable human behavior.”  Furthermore, one can also find in Wikipedia a very thorough discussion with legal slant :

However, in the machine tool industry it mostly has to do with human behavior and applying thought to predicting certain possible actions.  Quite commonly the life cycle of a machine is taken into account in identifying tasks and hazards as part of the risk assessment process because hazards not identified can create substantial unknown risks.  The standards also say that reasonably foreseeable hazards that are not related to tasks shall also be identified. Some given examples often include “explosive environments, noise, instability, equipment failures or operational errors such as using an inappropriately sized workpiece, mechanical failure of a chuck, operating at incorrect speed, etc.”

In addressing questions like this - [what is the intent of the term “reasonable foreseeable misuse?”] - my advice is always:

  • Look up the term in several US machine tool standards
  • Research the term on the internet
  • Remember - interpretation is almost always required

Some additional background information can be found at the following links:

Before sale of a new product, every manufacturer should engage in a risk assessment of its product. Risk assessment has been described as

… a tool for manufacturers to identify possible hazards and provide a basis for considering alternative designs to mitigate or control risks. A risk assessment offers the opportunity to identify hazards associated with intended uses and reasonably foreseeable misuses, and to take steps to eliminate or control them before an injury occurs. This process can be a key factor in successfully reducing risks to an acceptable level.

Ross and Main, Risk Assessment and Product Liability, For the Defense, April 2001.

For more on Machine Safety visit:

Posted by J.B. Titus on February 12, 2010

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