Machine Safety: Design a safer machine with risk assessments

Understand why and how to conduct a risk assessment on a machine to improve the design by increasing safety and productivity. Note 6 reasons why to do risk assessments, and 8 steps to conduct a risk assessment.


Sometimes, old habits are hard to change. What is so difficult about understanding why and how to conduct a risk assessment on a machine? See these six reasons to conduct a risk assessment and eight steps to doing a machine risk assessment.

Let’s start with why risk assessments should be conducted.

Here are six reasons to conduct risk assessments.

  1. It’s simply a good business practice. 
  2. You’re performing your responsibility for due diligence.
  3. Your overall liability as a business is the same, regardless.
  4. It’s part of your existing business safety culture.
  5. Industry consensus standards require risk assessments.
  6. It’s the law – OSHA!

If the above is reasonably clear, doesn’t it seem plausible that everyone would be conducting risk assessments without hesitation? Well, it’s my opinion that old habits are hard to change! Haven’t we all seen situations in recent years where any or all of the example reasons above have either been MIA (missing in action) or just simply misunderstood. Having said that, we’ve also seen numerous case examples of companies considered “best-in-class” incorporating risk assessments into their business. Isn’t this because, in part, they’ve concluded that there is a cost associated with not being best-in-class?

The most frequent excuse I hear from companies not conducting risk assessments is – because risk assessments are added costs to our business. Yet, don’t all six of the reasons above have an avoidable cost associated with them that can shutter a business? Best-in-class companies say: yes!

Secondly, “how” to conduct a risk assessment?

There are several answers to this question. However, it begins with a real simple concept which in my experience is not universally understood. The key word is “process.” A risk assessment is not a snap shot, a check mark, and generally is not a single hazard. There are some folks out there incorporating the new ISO consensus standard, ISO 13849-1; 2008, who mistakenly believe the risk graph in informative annex A is considered a risk assessment. No, this only has to do with the safety-related parts of a control system where a control function is deemed necessary to reduce risk. And, every hazard on a machine isn’t usually mitigated via a control function.

So, a risk assessment is called a process because it takes multiple steps to conduct. Of all the standards, white papers, and training classes I’ve encountered, they all seem to average eight process steps to properly conduct a risk assessment on a machine.

8 steps to properly conduct a machine risk assessment are:

  1. Prepare and research limits of the assessment
  2. Identify all tasks and hazards
  3. Access initial risk(s)
  4. Risk reduction actions
  5. Access residual risk(s)
  6. Acceptability of residual risk(s)
  7. Validate solution(s)
  8. Provide documentation

Therefore, a risk assessment is a process of logical steps designed to systematically identify and evaluate any and all hazards associated with a machine. And, not until any and all hazards are identified via a risk assessment can designs be implemented to mitigate those hazards making it a safer machine.

If all companies understood everything mentioned above, wouldn’t we see a majority of them fully incorporating risk assessment into their businesses as a core function?

Has this presented you with any new perspectives? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.

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Brad , KY, United States, 12/05/13 06:56 AM:

Good Info.
This should be a monthly column.
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