9 Machine Safety Myths You Need To Stop Believing

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5 September 2023

9 Machine Safety Myths You Need To Stop Believing

The costs of poor machine safety are well known to both workers and managers, and can have numerous negative repercussions on a business. There is the rising cost of penalties and fines for non-compliance. The extensive costs associated with workplace injuries and fatalities are projected to cost Canadians up to $75 billion by 2035 and are currently reaching almost $27 billion. Then, there are costs associated with loss of reputation, machinery repair, damaged tools and equipment as well as the overhead costs of downtime and decreased productivity/production losses.

Companies who don’t take machine safety measures seriously risk losing out on opportunities to bid on contracts and the loss of safety certifications and possibly professional designations. Yet, many manufacturing companies still buy into many outdated myths regarding machine safety that can be both dangerous and expensive.

Keep your employees and worksite safe — here are 9 myths about machine safety that you need to stop believing.

Machine safety is a one and done thing

There is no such thing as one-time maintenance when it comes to machinery. Breakdowns occur, wear and tear happens, no matter how well a piece of machinery is handled. Workplaces must assess machinery on an ongoing, regular basis and in particular whenever an event could impact that equipment. These events could include a worker injury, or even something as seemingly simple as an equipment move, depending on the complexity of the machine.

Older machines can be “grandfathered in”

Machinery must be guarded regardless of how long you’ve had it or when it was built. Older equipment is not exempt from current standards, and there are no grandfather clauses that allow you to operate without machine safeguards. The same standards in both the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the CSA Standard that apply to new machines apply to the old ones.

New machines are always safe

New machines are not always compliant with existing standards, particularly those related to guarding. It is up to you to ensure they are. Additionally, unlike in the EU, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is not solely responsible for the risk assessments required for new installations. You also share that responsibility.

If you have several similar machines, you only need to do a risk assessment on one

This is technically true for identical machines but with a huge caveat. If you make even a small, seemingly insignificant change to a machine or add a tiny additional step to your procedures, you must do a further risk assessment as that change, no matter how small you perceive it to be, could put a worker in danger.

Safety requirements only apply if the energy source is electrical

This is simply not true. While electrocution is a well-recognized hazard, safeguarding is necessary regardless of the type of energy source. This includes hydraulic and pneumatic power sources.

Training trumps engineering controls

No amount of training can keep an employee safe if proper engineering controls are not in place, including safeguarding and safety systems. Safety training, like administrative controls, is necessary and can help mitigate risk, but can’t replace critically important engineering controls.

If you weren’t cited on a visit, the machines must be fine

Again, this is a myth, albeit a persistent one. If an inspector misses a piece of equipment, nothing prevents another from citing you on that violation later. It is also worth noting that if you are negligent with a piece of equipment, the lack of citation from an inspector will not prevent potential accidents or injuries.

Small companies are exempted from machine safeguarding

Workplace safety standards and legislation apply regardless of the size of your company. All companies must maintain a safe workplace environment for their workers, and that requirement extends to machine safety. The only difference for small companies may be the size of the fine or penalty they must pay.

A fine is the worst thing that can happen

Actually, a fine might be the most minor of damaging things that can happen. Under Bill C-45 in Canada and the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the U.S., a company owner, manager or supervisor can face criminal charges and either fines or possible jail time for safety violations resulting in injury or death.

The inspecting organizations can also publicize the fines or penalties, potentially damaging your corporate reputation. These details are likely to include the business name and possibly the names of supervisors, directors and company executives. Violations that result in penalties, charges, and convictions could also eliminate or hinder your company during the prequalification process on a bid. An Ontario city recently barred a long-time city contractor from bidding on municipal contracts for four years after a fatal safety incident. The cost to the company was estimated to be $19 million annually.

Safety is costly and reduces productivity and efficiency

There is absolutely a cost related to safety, but that cost is more than mitigated by the returns you garner in efficiency and productivity. Think about how much a machinery shut down due to an injury or accident, or worse, a complete plant shutdown, can cost you as an employer and as a company. Investing in safe machines frees your workers to focus on both productivity and quality. In fact, a study by Lockheed Martin of the impact of a focus on safety at their plant in Paducah, Kentucky found it decreased costs by 20% and increased productivity by 24%.

Keep Your Worksite — And Employees — Safe

Machine safety myths are as persistent as they are costly and dangerous. You can protect your company and workers by recognizing them. The most important thing is that your worksite is a safe place to work, and your employees are able to safely perform their job duties.