August 9, 2011



Prevent accidents with machine guards

By Steve Galitzer

During a recent safety inspection by the Kansas Department of Labor, several noncompliance issues were discovered at K-State. We already reported on the finding of improper use of plug strips. Today we will discuss machine guarding.

Moving machine parts have the potential to cause severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns or blindness. Safeguards are essential for protecting workers from these preventable injuries. Any machine part, function, or process that may cause injury must be safeguarded. Regulations require that when the operation of a machine or accidental contact with that machine can injure the operator or others in the vicinity, the hazards must be eliminated or controlled.

A Yale University chemistry student died after her hair became entangled in a fast-spinning lathe this spring. She died from accidental asphyxia by neck compression, according to the Connecticut medical examiner's office.

We have had our share of accidents due to lack of machine guarding over the years. The most serious occurred in 1925 when a student worker was hit in the head by flying pieces of a grinding wheel after it broke apart. This student died of his injuries. We identified four other accidents involving lack of machine guards over the last 25 years that were serious:

  • A student had a hand mangled by a table saw.
  • A graduate student had the fingers on one hand smashed after being pulled into a noodle making machine.
  • A maintenance worker was injured in the groin when the grinding wheel on a hand grinder broke apart.
  • A student worker fractured fingers and received multiple lacerations to those fingers after being pulled into a pastry sheeting machine.

The recent Kansas Department of Labor inspection identified 13 machines with missing or improper guards. This included a band saw, a milling machine, several metal lathes, a drill press, a disk/belt sander, seven grinders and one mower with an unguarded power take off. As you can see from our history, accidents from these machines can be very serious. Maintenance areas are not the only places where these kinds of problems exist. We commonly see missing guards in laboratories, specifically in equipment with rotating parts like vacuum pumps.

Recent safety innovations for table saws can be purchased and installed that prevent severe injuries. The technology is called “SawStop.” This device can stop a saw blade almost instantly after it touches human flesh, thereby preventing serious injury. Click here for a demonstration.

Guards are frequently removed for maintenance, e.g. replacing or tightening a belt on a pulley. Missing guards must be replaced. No matter how old the machinery, guards can be purchased or built for protection. Any place where a pinch hazard exists or where hair or clothing can be caught up in the machinery, guards must be in place. Contact the machine manufacturer for replacement parts. Here are several websites offering information on machine guards:

If you work in a laboratory or shop, look for missing guards. Reinstall guards if they have been removed. Purchase or build new guards if they are missing. Do yourself a favor and protect yourself and those around you.