What Do I Need to Know About Machine Guard Safety?

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All workers are entitled to a safe work environment that is free of safety hazards which can jeopardize their health and safety. This is true for all workers, regardless of the work environment or the specific job that they perform. However, workers who handle heavy machinery can suffer devastating injuries or fatalities if the appropriate guards are not used. Each piece of heavy machinery has specific hazards, including mechanical and non-mechanical. In order to protect employees who are working in the immediate vicinity of a machine, it is crucial that the appropriate machine guards are used. If a worker suffers a serious injury that was caused by an unguarded piece of machinery, he or she is urged to contact a skilled Workers’ Compensation lawyer as soon as possible.

What are the Different Types of Machine Guards?

Machine-related accidents are responsible for over 18,000 injuries each year in the United States. Depending on the nature of the accident and the type of machinery involved, injuries can include lacerations, amputations, and crushing injuries. In extreme cases, the accident can result in tragic fatalities. Many of these devastating injuries could have been prevented if the appropriate safety protocols were followed and the machines were properly maintained, and any necessary repairs were made. Machine guards are physical barriers between the operator and the machine’s dangerous parts. They are the first line of defense against serious, potentially fatal injuries caused by the machine.

In addition to protecting workers from the moving parts of the machine, many of which are extremely sharp or dangerous in other ways, machine guards also protect workers from shavings, shards, or metal sparks that fly off the machine while it is being used. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), all machines that can cause injuries must be guarded by the appropriate type of guard. The following are examples of some of the most common types of machine guards:

  • Fixed guards: This is permanently attached to the machine and cannot be moved while the machine is being used. In most cases, it is used to enclose blades, flywheels, or other hazards that the machine operator does not need to interact with directly. If the machine needs to be repaired or regular maintenance needs to be performed, the guard must be disassembled and removed because it is a permanent fixture on the machine.
  • Adjustable guards: These are similar to fixed guards in that they are permanent, but they can be adjusted when the machine is handling different sizes of material. Workers must manually adjust the guard and lock it into place, so employees must be trained on how to properly adjust and lock the guards. If a worker does not do this correctly or the employer fails to provide the necessary training, the adjustable guards may not prevent contact with moving parts and the worker may suffer a serious or fatal injury.
  • Interlocking guards: These are also known as barrier guards. When the guard is open or removed, the guard automatically shuts off or disengages the power source. This is an important feature, particularly if the machine operator needs to open the guard in order to access certain parts of the machine or to fix a jam. The operator can gain access to the interior parts of the machine without having to completely disassemble the machine. These guards often require careful adjustments and regular maintenance.
  • Self-adjusting guards: These are similar to adjustable guards, but they automatically adapt to the size of the material. When the machine is not in use, the guard sits all the way down. When an operator is using the machine, he or she feeds material into the machine and the guard opens enough to let the material in. This type of guard is usually found in table saws and other woodworking tools.

What General Safety Precautions Should I Keep in Mind?

When workers are expected to use certain types of tools or heavy machinery as part of their job, it is critical that employers provide the necessary training. Workers should never operate machinery until they have completed the recommended training sessions for the tool or machine they are using. Workers are also urged to keep the following general safety precautions in mind at all times:

  • Thoroughly inspect all tools, machines, and guards before each use.
  • Understand and follow the lockout/tagout procedure for the machine being used.
  • Always follow the recommended procedures when setting up the machine, adjusting one of the machine parts, clearing a jam, and cleaning or lubricating machine parts.
  • When a machine is in use, never attempt to remove the guards. Wait until the tool or machine has been turned off and the parts are no longer moving.
  • If a machine or its guard is damaged, place a Do Not Use tag on the machine and report it immediately so that it can be repaired as soon as possible.

What are the Common Hazards Associated with Machinery?

When a piece of heavy machinery does not have the necessary guards secured, there is an increased risk of serious workplace injuries and fatalities. Unfortunately, studies show that less than half of the machines used in the United States are properly guarded. This has caused approximately 18,000 work-related amputations, lacerations, crushing injuries, and abrasions. These devastating injuries often cause workers to miss days, weeks, or even months of work, and may even result in permanent disability if the accident is severe. In addition to the injuries, over 800 workers have lost their lives in machinery accidents that could have been prevented if the proper guards were in place.

Examples of machine-related hazards include the following:

  • Hazardous motions: This may include rotating machine parts, reciprocating motions, or transverse motions that involve moving materials in a single line.
  • Points of operation: These are the areas where the piece of machinery cuts, shapes, bores, or bends the material that is being fed through it.
  • Pinch points and shear points: These are the areas where body parts, clothing, or jewelry could get caught between a moving part and a stationary object. This may include parts such as flywheels, pulleys, belts, chains, spindles, gears, and other machine components that transmit energy.
  • Non-mechanical hazards: Workers can also become seriously injured by hazards such as flying splinters, chips, debris, splashes, or sparks.

The following are examples of common injuries that can occur when a piece of heavy machinery is not properly guarded:

  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Broken bones
  • Concussions
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Electrical burns
  • Digit amputations
  • Severed limbs
  • Death

What Machine Safeguards Help Protect Workers?

In addition to machine guards, the following types of safeguards can help protect employees who work directly with a piece of heavy machinery or in the vicinity of machinery:

  • Devices: Machines have a wide range of hazardous parts. These devices limit or prevent access to the parts of a machine that can cause serious injuries. They may include presence-sensing devices, pullback or restraint straps, safety trip controls, two-hand controls, or gates.
  • Automated feeding and ejection mechanisms: These prevent exposure to the point of operation while handling materials.
  • Machine locations or distance: Positioning machinery in a safe location removes serious hazards from the operator’s work area.
  • Miscellaneous aids: These aids help protect machine operators as well as employees who are working in the immediate vicinity of the machinery. Effective protective methods include shields that contain chips, sparks, sprays, and other dying debris; holding tools that operators can use to handle materials going into the point of operation; and awareness barriers that warn employees about the potential hazards in the area.

What Benefits May I Receive if I am Injured in an Unguarded Machine Accident?

If a worker suffers a serious injury while operating or in the vicinity of an unguarded machine, he or she may be eligible to collect financial compensation by filing a Workers’ Compensation claim. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, the worker may be entitled to the following benefits:

  • Medical expenses related to the injury.
  • Lost wages if the injury causes the employee to miss a certain number of work days.
  • Disability benefits if the employee will be unable to return to work for an extended period. These may include temporary total disability (TTD), temporary partial disability (TPD), permanent partial disability (PPD), or permanent total disability (PTD).
  • Vocational rehabilitation.
  • Death benefits if the injury resulted in a fatality.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Workers Injured by Unguarded Machinery

If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury from an unguarded piece of machinery in the workplace, you are urged to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We understand how devastating these injuries can be, particularly if the injury resulted in an amputation or a severed limb. We will assist you with every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.