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Machine guarding is an essential element of workplace safety, helping to protect the operator and those around them from injury during the operation of equipment.
There are several potential hazards involved in operating machinery, including but not limited to:
Injuries resulting from these can be life-changing or even fatal, so mitigating risks is key.
Though it is a simple solution to a risk factor, machine guarding is an effective way to minimise the risk of an accident. The most common form of machine guarding is a fixed guard, i.e. a fixed physical barrier between the operator and the hazardous area of the machine (such as a saw blade) which prevents any direct contact from being made.
Equipment may also have adjustable guards, which can be adjusted for variation in the work being carried out (e.g. the size of materials being worked on) or which adjust automatically, or interlocked guards which prevent the equipment from starting or working unless the guard is in place.
Machine guards have the additional benefit of protecting the equipment as well as the operator. Components are covered and shielded away from reach, meaning that the operator cannot access them and potentially create a dangerous situation by altering the settings or components within the machine.
Machine guards are required by law for any part of a machine that can pose a risk whilst in operation and must meet certain Health & Safety standards for the equipment to be determined safe and usable.
This standardisation means that each machine is regularly inspected to ensure compliance; because components are protected and well-maintained they should last longer, potentially leading to reduced operating costs.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) were put in place to protect people using tools and equipment in the workplace and those around them. The regulations are wide-ranging, but the key areas concerning machine guards are as follows:
Where machine guarding isn’t covered by these regulations (such as on machines used by the public) then the Health and Safety Act will usually cover safe use.
Article by John Pearce, Health and Safety Advisor.
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