Risk-based approach champions safety

Risk assessment, a technical inspection of machinery in accordance with applicable standards and directives is one of the easiest ways for companies to check if their machinery complies. Jen Littlewood reports.

Companies who assume machinery purchased overseas complies with Australian safety standards could be making a dangerous mistake.

IN the safety process the importance of risk assessment is reflected in the global trend to oblige machine designers and end users to follow a structured assessment in order to comply with various national and international standards and applicable legislations.

In Europe, the Machinery Directive sets out the obligation to assess the hazards in order to determine the health and safety requirements which apply to machinery.

In the US, the American National Standards Institute, Robotics Industry Association and other industry groups promote standards relating to hazard identification and the estimation of risk.

Many other national associations and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) recommend a technical risk based approach to effectively addressing machinery safety.

Here in Australia the local relevant machinery standard is AS4204.1-2006, however there is an increasing trend, especially by the larger multinationals, to have their own global machinery standards based on the ISO or IEC standards.

So can Australian companies assume that when purchasing a machine it complies with these safety standards? According to Pedro Ascoz, Engineering Projects Manager at Pilz Australia, the answer is a resounding no, unfortunately.

“There is no question that the level of safety of machines has increased and machinery safety knowledge is improving but there are still many machines not complying and standards are being improved all the time,” Ascoz said.

“It’s important that anyone involved in the safety aspects of machinery understands the standards and how these can be applied to the “real” world. Otherwise how will they know if the machine complies?” explained Ascoz. “Equipment manufacturers and users’ have a level of responsibility and degree of liability that are measured against these standards.”

Technical inspection

One of the easiest ways for companies to check if their machinery complies is to undertake a risk assessment – a technical inspection of machinery in accordance with the applicable national and/or international standards and directives.

“A risk assessment identifies and assesses existing hazards in the workplace and defines risk reduction measures in accordance with national and/or international standards.”

Ascoz has undertaken risk assessments for many manufacturing businesses and more often than not he says the scope of work increases because he identifies issues that the company wasn’t aware of.

According to Ascoz, one of the problems is that companies don’t have enough technical skills or if they do they tend to be departmentalised.

“We need to promote a more holistic look at the safety of the machine rather than have the mechanics look after the mechanical features or electricians look after the electrics.

“Another problem of course is that companies often think they have to decommission machines if there’s a safety problem meaning a huge capital outlay. This isn’t always the case,” said Ascoz.

“In a recent project for a big Australian manufacturer, when carrying out a risk assessment we identified that one of its older conveyor belts posed a risk to maintenance workers because it had to be running in order to replace the bolts.

“We worked with our customer to develop a solution in the form of a 3-position switch that enables the machine to be slowed to a pace that’s safe for maintenance but not dangerous to the maintenance workers. This was a cost effective solution for the customer to achieve a higher level of safety, even for an operation that has to be performed only once every six months,” he said.

Ascoz recommends companies undertake a risk assessment once a year and whenever a modification to a machine is made. This includes decommissioning or recommissioning a machine.

“Companies can’t become complacent, not when there’s a life on the line,” said Ascoz.