Effective machine guarding and program best practices

Machine guarding is one of the most cited OSHA standards and there are several steps companies can take to stay compliant as well as know when to conduct inspections and maintain guards to ensure they’re in safe working order.

By Steven Stogner February 7, 2024
Courtesy: TradeSafe


Learning Objectives

  • Learn how to stay in compliance with OSHA and machine guard standards.
  • Learn when and how often should a company inspect their machine guards.
  • Understand how to maintain machine guards and when it’s time to install new ones.

Machine guarding insights

  • Adhering to OSHA (29 CFR 1910.212) is vital, ensuring guards prevent injury while not creating new hazards. Compliance enhances workplace safety significantly.
  • Integrating ANSI, ISO standards with Gotcha Stick tool inspections ensures thorough evaluations, compliance and effectiveness of machine guards.
  • Regular inspections, encompassing daily checks and quarterly detailed assessments, coupled with robust maintenance and operator training, sustain effective machine guard functionality.

Many workers in various industrial settings are often required to operate heavy machinery and equipment necessary for producing goods and services. However, these machines and equipment can also be hazardous and pose a significant risk to the machine operator if proper safety measures are not implemented. Machine guards are designed to act as a barrier between the operator and the moving parts of a machine, effectively preventing accidents and ensuring a safer working environment.

The importance of machine guards is underscored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which consistently lists machine guarding in its top 10 most cited standards, a clear indicator of both the challenges and significance of proper guarding. In 2023, this trend continues, emphasizing the need for a thorough understanding and application of safety practices. This article aims to provide valuable insights into compliance with OSHA standards, effective inspection strategies, and the essential maintenance practices necessary for keeping machine guards functioning.

Figure 1: A machine guard in place to ensure operational safety around industrial equipment.

Figure 1: A machine guard in place to ensure operational safety around industrial equipment. Courtesy: TradeSafe

Staying in compliance with OSHA and machine guard standards

Compliance with safety standards is crucial for the effective use of machine guards in industrial settings. OSHA standards like 29 CFR 1910.212, when properly implemented, safeguard employees from hazards related to operating machinery. These standards require that any machine part, function, or process which may cause injury must be safeguarded. This includes ensuring guards must not create potential hazards and must be affixed securely to the machine. OSHA’s standards are designed to minimize risks such as caught-in or -between hazards, amputations and other serious injuries. Adhering to these standards helps employers not only comply with legal requirements, but enhance workplace safety.

Table 1: Summary of OSHA standard on machine guarding

Table 1: A table showing a summary of OSHA standards on machine guarding.

Table 1: A table showing a summary of OSHA standards on machine guarding. Courtesy: TradeSafe

In addition to OSHA standards, ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) provide comprehensive frameworks for machine guarding. ANSI B11, for instance, outlines specific safety requirements and guidance for different types of machinery. ISO 12100 also offers general principles for the design of machinery and the risk assessment involved.

These standards complement OSHA regulations by providing a more detailed approach to identifying and mitigating risks associated with machinery. By integrating ANSI and ISO standards into their safety protocols, companies can achieve a more robust and globally recognized approach to machine guarding.

Staying compliant with the above standards and guidelines also requires determining the effectiveness of machine guards. One practical and straightforward method is the Gotcha Stick Tool, which is designed to mimic the human finger, hand, and arm. This allows for the measurement of safety distances and openings in guards. Its use helps verify guards are installed correctly and are effective in preventing access to hazardous areas.

The Gotcha Stick also tests if the barrier guard openings comply with OSHA and ANSI machine guard safety standards. Regular use of the Gotcha Stick in safety inspections can enhance the effectiveness of machine guarding while also keeping them OSHA and ANSI-compliant.

Determining machine guard inspection frequency

Keeping machine guards compliant with standards and in their best condition entails regular inspection and maintenance. This involves a comprehensive approach that includes training, pre-use inspections, quarterly documented inspections, and identifying guards that could pose additional hazards.

Training is the cornerstone of any effective machine-guarding program. It empowers employees with the knowledge and skills needed to identify potential issues and how to mitigate them. A well-designed training program should cover the different types of guards, their purposes, and the specific hazards they protect against. It should also teach employees how to inspect guards for signs of wear, damage, or improper installation. Training must emphasize the importance of reporting any issues immediately, ensuring any potential risks are addressed. Training also should be ongoing, reflecting changes in machinery, technology and regulations to ensure employees’ knowledge remains up to date.

Five pre-use inspection and five quarterly inspection tips

With the foundation of thorough training established, the next critical step is the implementation of pre-use inspections, a daily routine ensuring immediate operational safety. Consider these five steps for pre-use inspections:

  1. Visual check: Begin with a thorough visual inspection of the machine guards. Look for any obvious signs of damage, wear, or tampering that could compromise their effectiveness.

  2. Operational test: Operate the machine briefly to ensure the guards are securely in place and do not interfere with normal operation.

  3. Check for modifications: Ensure no unauthorized modifications have been made to the guards that could affect their functionality or compliance with safety standards.

  4. Inspect for loose parts: Verify all parts of the guard are securely fastened and there are no loose or missing components.

  5. Accessibility check: Confirm the guards do not hinder access to emergency stops or control panels and they can be removed or adjusted safely for maintenance purposes.

After ensuring daily safety through pre-use inspections, the focus shifts to a more comprehensive approach with quarterly documented inspections, which provide a deeper and more formal assessment of the guards’ condition. Consider these five guidelines for quarterly documented inspections to ensure everything is working properly:

  1. Comprehensive review: Conduct a detailed inspection of all machine guards, checking for signs of wear, corrosion or damage.

  2. Documentation: Record the condition of each guard, noting any issues or concerns. This documentation should be kept as part of the safety records.

  3. Measurements and adjustments: Measure safety distances and alignments as per OSHA standards and make any necessary adjustments to ensure compliance.

  4. Review of incident reports: Examine any past incidents or near-misses related to machine guarding to identify potential areas for improvement.

  5. Feedback and follow-up: Involve machine operators in the inspection process for their feedback and ensure any identified issues are addressed promptly.

Table 2: Showing pre-use inspection steps and quarterly documented inspections

Table 2: A table showing general steps in doing pre-use inspections and quarterly documented inspections.

Table 2: A table showing general steps in doing pre-use inspections and quarterly documented inspections. Courtesy: TradeSafe

Companies also should conduct machine guard inspections daily and quarterly to help in maintaining the machine guard’s condition. Aside from conducting inspections, it also is important to identify guards that may pose additional risks, such as those that are difficult to install or remove, which could lead to bypassing safety procedures.

Guards with sharp edges, points or surfaces should be modified or replaced. Owners also should consider environmental factors such as corrosion or vibration that may affect the guard’s integrity over time. Regularly review and assess these guards to ensure they remain safe and effective in protecting workers.

Proper maintenance of new, existing machine guards

Proper maintenance of machine guards, both new installations and existing ones, is vital to make sure they continue to function effectively and safely over time. For the maintenance of new installations, it is important to follow these guidelines:

  • Initial assessment: Before commencing operation, conduct a thorough assessment of the new installation to ensure it meets all design and safety specifications.

  • Integration check: Verify the new guard integrates seamlessly with the existing safety systems and does not introduce any new hazards.

  • Operator training: Train operators on the specifics of the new guard, including any changes to operational procedures and emergency protocols.

  • Performance testing: Run a series of tests to confirm the guard functions correctly under various operating conditions.

  • Documentation: Document the installation process, including any challenges encountered and how they were resolved, to inform future maintenance and inspections.

It’s also important to consider the engineering aspects of machine guards, especially prior to their installation. These are some engineering considerations before installation:

  • Design review: Assess the design of the machine guards to ensure they meet the specific needs of the machinery and comply with safety standards.

  • Material selection: Choose durable and suitable materials for the specific environmental conditions of the workplace.

  • Ergonomics: Consider the ease of use and accessibility of the guards, ensuring they do not impede operation or maintenance activities.

  • Safety testing: Conduct safety tests to verify the guards effectively prevent access to hazardous areas without posing additional risks.

  • Compatibility check: Ensure the guards are compatible with the machinery and do not interfere with its operation or reduce its efficiency.

While establishing a robust maintenance routine for new installations is essential, it’s also crucial to maintain the integrity of current installations, ensuring they continue to provide optimal protection. Here are some general steps in maintaining the current machine guard installation:

  • Regular cleaning: Keep guards clean and free from debris that could impede their function or cause wear and tear.

  • Wear and tear inspection: Regularly inspect for signs of wear, corrosion, or damage and undertake repairs or replacements as necessary.

  • Functional testing: Periodically test the guards to ensure they operate as intended, particularly after any adjustments or repairs.

  • Update documentation: Keep records of all maintenance activities, including dates, actions taken, and any parts replaced.

  • Feedback mechanism: Establish a feedback mechanism for operators to report any issues or concerns with the guards, fostering a proactive safety culture.

Table 3: Comparing maintenance of new installations versus current installations

Table 3: Comparing maintenance of new installations versus current installations.

Table 3: Comparing maintenance of new installations versus current installations. Courtesy: TradeSafe

For effective machine guarding and programs, a comprehensive and proactive approach is essential. This comprehensive approach begins with adhering to the detailed regulations set by OSHA and is enhanced by integrating global standards from ANSI and ISO, providing a robust framework for machine guarding. Key to this process is the regular and thorough inspection of guards, underpinned by comprehensive training that equips employees with the skills to identify and address potential safety issues effectively. Inspections, including both the essential daily pre-use checks and the more in-depth quarterly documented inspections, are crucial in maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of machine guards.

Moreover, the meticulous maintenance of these guards, whether they are part of new installations or existing setups, is vital in ensuring their continuous operation and reliability. By embracing these practices, organizations not only comply with necessary safety regulations but also foster a culture of safety that protects their workforce and sustains operational efficiency.

Steven Stogner is a certified safety professional for TradeSafe, a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Keywords: machine safety, machine guarding, OSHA

Author Bio: Steven Stogner is a Certified Safety Professional at TradeSafe with more than 14 years of diverse experience in various industries, specializing in incident investigation, risk assessment, and subcontractor management.