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Operating machines in a future-proof way

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article image The inspection of a machine and plant, as per the preceding machine safeguarding evaluation, is a detailed test of an individual protective device, which is derived from the requirements of the German Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health

Operating machines in a future-proof way

Companies themselves will be held responsible when the root cause of an accident is found to be an inadequate protection model. These disasters can be avoided for the member of staff and the machine operator concerned if machines that perform hazardous movements are regularly and punctually subjected to safety checks – as stipulated in the German Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health. In order to obtain an “X-ray scan” of their machines and plants in terms of safety, more and more operating entities are utilising the knowledge of complete solutions provided by SICK as an accredited inspection centre for safety technology.

With nearly 70 years of experience in industrial safety technology under its belt as a technological pioneer and innovation leader in safe sensors, controls, system solutions, and services, SICK has established itself as the first port of call when it comes to industrial safety technology. As an active contributor to standardisation committees and a partner of accident insurance providers and trade associations, the company is one of the most experienced in all matters relating to safe machines and plants – armed with the practical expertise gained from thousands of inspections and machine safeguarding evaluations as part of machine safeguarding evaluation.

Inadequate protective functions: sometimes wilful, mostly down to negligence – always dangerous

But how do these safety-related shortcomings arise? When there is an unauthorised access opening through a safety fence, it is extremely rare that this came about through wilful sabotage; the more likely culprit is carelessness. According to experts, many who work with machines and plants often quite simply lack not only the awareness of hazards, but also the understanding of the stringent requirements concerning minimum distances, intermediate dimensions, or the height of safety fences.

A classic example of research conducted into these kinds of faults relates to performing technical modifications on or moving the machine. Even slight modifications to the machine design or layout of the plant can suddenly enable personnel to either go around or crawl beneath the safety fence. For the operating entities themselves, the important aspects are usually primarily a concern for production or user-friendliness; the fact that a vertical gap between the safety fence and the wall of the plant or pillar is now suddenly five centimetres larger is hard to spot without the necessary training. There is no willful intent involved here. However, while a gap of 180 mm here would be correct because it would prevent personnel squeezing through, a larger lateral clearance would no longer meet the safety requirements for the machine guard. As a result, the operating entity would be providing members of staff with unsafe equipment. If we were to apply this example to a pallet handling machine, a member of staff could enter the hazardous area of a box gripper or layer palletiser unnoticed in the “shadow” of the pallet, despite the protective photoelectric devices being active.

Another very common cause of faulty protective devices is choosing the wrong ones – for example, the wrong design of safety-related muting functions or their incorrect use. In many cases, the cause lies in the obstruction of the machine operator, e.g., when inserting material or during troubleshooting. When examining the machine in detail as part of the safety technology configuration, a manufacturer cannot always predict any misuse of the protective device that may subsequently occur. In such cases, the operating entity is obliged to step in at the commissioning stage at the latest. Otherwise, there will be a risk that the protective devices are bypassed, i.e., rendered ineffective via manipulation. In actual fact, a significant proportion of fatal accidents at work every year can be traced back to the suspension or curtailment of the protective function of technical protective devices. Findings by trade associations also confirm that around 37 percent of protective devices installed are manipulated, either temporarily or permanently. Many people still seem unaware of the repercussions of manipulation: Trade association figures show that one in three companies tolerate the manipulation of protective devices. And the consequences can be fatal, often because the presence of protective devices will lead machine operators to believe that they are effectively protected when performing their work. A protective device which has been manipulated,however, can no longer fulfil its original objective. Unfortunately, this means that accidents are to be expected at work, often with serious consequences. However, with detailed planning, it is possible to boost both safety and productivity.

Safe machines: operating entities can rely on external knowledge

Save for specialists such as SICK or a handful of market competitors in the field of industrial safety technology, machine safety is almost never the core expertise of a manufacturing company. So what are the options for operating entities who are not usually a safety expert and have no prospects of becoming one? Even if the position of the safety officer is adequately staffed, the companies are rarely in a position to keep their knowledge of the safe operation of machines and plants constantly at the cutting edge of technological development. As a result, they will find it difficult on their own to fully meet statutory requirements regarding safety in general and machine safety in particular. And it is not just the complex network of legislation, guidelines, standards, and documentation/labelling obligations that quickly make the challenge of machine safety a daunting task that would be difficult to overcome without external help. Often, the question of which standards or guidelines should be applied and which should not is one that is not so easy to answer.

Solutions to this problem are provided by specialised companies such as SICK, who can give detailed, safety-oriented consideration to machines and plants across all operating modes and their entire life cycle, thanks to their certified safety knowledge and a network of trained specialists. However, these safety specialists are up to the mark not just in terms of technologies, guidelines, and standards; they are also very familiar with industry-specific production conditions as well as innovative and tried-and-tested safeguarding strategies and regional or international standards and guidelines. Machine safety is their bread and butter – they have a wealth of experience and breadth of observation necessary to identify potentially inadequate protective functions on machines. With their responsibility for a project, they also manage the implementation of protective measures to be introduced. Additionally, they are in a position to generate positive outcomes for the productivity and user-friendliness of machines and plants through the optimal selection and integration of technical protective measures. At the same time, commissioning an external safety specialist provides the best basis for ensuring compliance with legal requirements because, this combines the extensive knowledge of certified, qualified safety personnel with clear, comprehensive, documentable, and internationally standardised operating principles, process standards, and safety assessments. The results for the delegating operating entity are protective functions that minimise liability risks in accordance with the Machinery Directive and other applicable guidelines and standards – underpinned by the legally binding quality seal of a certified specialist company.

Machine safeguarding evaluation: detailed analysis of the existing machines identifies weak points

What is available? What works and in what way? Which protective functions may be inadequate? And where is there a definite need for action? The machine safeguarding evaluation from SICK delivers answers to all of these questions. An initial visual inspection of machines and their safety technology is performed during a plant walk-through. The machine safeguarding evaluation reveals clear deficiencies in the safety system, such as missing or incorrectly attached physical guards. The mounting of electro-sensitive protective devices is reviewed, and technical and organisational safety measures are examinedin relation toparticular operating modes. The machine safeguarding evaluation is performed in the same way regardless of the manufacturer or system. Protective systems from other providers are incorporated into the examination, to the same extent as mechanical, physical guards that are not included in SICK’s portfolio. The machine safeguarding evaluation gives a detailed report on the current state of the systems with a manageable lead time and cost and, also suggests a list of measures to be introduced with proposals for the recommended priorities regarding timing and content. Such measures can include the subsequent inspection of existing safety measures on machines – because potential faults in the wiring or programming of an electronically controlled protective device are rarely identified at first glance.

Inspection: a thorough examination of functionality and wiring

The inspection of a machine and plant is a detailed test of an individual protective device, which is derived from the requirements of the German Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health. This test takes into account all functional aspects of the installed protective device as well as its correct integration into the control system. When it comes to electro-sensitive protective devices in conveyor systems, converters, and palletisers, functionality is tested in all expected operating modes and fault scenarios. Examination of safety distances as well as response and stopping/run-down times is optional, the output of alarm and stop signals is checked, the fault-free functionality of approved muting scenarios (e.g., pattern recognition) is tested, and potential design errors and manipulation risks are identified. Based on the machine safeguarding evaluation and the results of machine inspections, operating entities receive an overview on request of the current safety status of the machine – an “X-ray scan” of their machines and their plant as a whole. An action plan for improving safety is then derived from this overview and includes, prioritisation, a schedule, and budgeting requirements. This action plan already has an important outcome for the operating entity: it confirms that dealings with accident insurance providers and trade associations are compliant with legal requirements. The operating entity remains free to decide how this will then be implemented. It can, therefore, complete the action list on its own initiative and, on request, receive coaching from safety experts such as SICK – or even implement the plan together with them.

Complete safety solutions from SICK: “everything done in the right way”

Resources become less strained, and it is much more convenient when operating entities avail themselves of suitable services from certified specialist companies. SICK has a wide range of experience to support this requirement, and can, therefore, offer a graduated portfolio. This ranges from the one-off implementation of safety measures on a machine right the way up to complete safety solutions with regular inspection intervals. The measures to be introduced as part of individual project support include the detailed risk assessment and hazard documentation, as well as the creation of a safety concept and safe hardware design on CAD right up to the control cabinet. The complete application software for the safety controller is created, tested, and verified in the next stage – safety-oriented software design. Finally, the overall safety system is commissioned on site, which includes the configuration of the sensors and the validation of functions as well as the logged acceptance of the machine with its protective functions.

With a wide portfolio of safety products and the corresponding services, SICK can implement these complete solutions with its own devices and to manage the entire safety project as the responsible general contractor. If necessary, this is carried out hand in hand with all companies involved and in close cooperation with the accident insurance providers and trade associations.

Protective devices are planned and installed in accordance with the operational conditions and requirements and independently of the system in question. Cost-effectivenessis also brought to the fore. For example, an electro-sensitive protective device is not required in areas where a safety fence will suffice. As a general contractor, SICK will also provide the fence, even if it is not included in its safety portfolio. The operating entity receives everything from a single source – in the form of a technical and economical complete solution without putting functionality, responsibility, or interfaces at risk. With the VS seal of quality (which stands for VERIFIED SAFETY), SICK assures that the work is carried out by certified staff in a predefined, traceable and documented process. The operating entity also benefits from guaranteed functional safety with verifiable quality – and has therefore done everything in the right way.

Machine safety supplied on site

Each year, SICK performs thousands of machine safeguarding evaluations and inspections in Germany alone, while also supporting numerous operating entities, where required, in the implementation of safety concepts that may arise from such work. Nevertheless, the demand for obtaining first-hand information continues to be high. For this reason, many years ago, the company launched a cross-regional series of events entitled “Safety in dialogue”, which was geared toward machine manufacturers, operating entities, designers, and maintenance staff in equal measure. As part of a nationwide user event geared toward target groups in small, efficient groups, they provide knowledge on site regardless of the manufacturer in question – for example, under the title “Operating machines in a future-proof way”. Operating entities can also hold direct discussions with one another here in order to share their practical experiences and learn from each other.

The trained eye of certified and experienced experts can provide vital assistance with pinpointing and rectifying inadequate protective functions on machines before anything happens. This establishes a safe environment – for the machine operator, the maintenance staff, and the operating entity deemed responsible in accordance with the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health.

Machine safety from the operating entity’s perspective

In Germany, the obligation for the operating entity to provide members of staff with safe equipment is derived from the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the currently valid version of the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health, and a series of Technical Rules for Operational Safety (TRBS). This obligation is applicable over the entire service life of a machine starting from commissioning by the manufacturer.

The aim of the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health is to ensure the safety and protection of employees when using equipment. In particular, this is to be achieved by choosing suitable equipment and ensuring it is used safely, as well as the appropriate design of operational and manufacturing procedures and the qualification and training of employees.

To this end, the operating entity, as an employer, must carry out a risk assessment for each item of equipment, implement the protective measures developed according to the latest available technology, and establish the safe usability of the equipment in accordance with the current state of technology. This risk assessment must be reviewed on a regular basis, and if necessary, the protective measures will need to be adapted to the more up-to-date state of technology. If changes are made that are relevant from a safety point of view, if new information arises concerning accident occurrence or occupational health care, for example, or if the results indicate insufficient testing, the risk assessment must be updated immediately.

The risk assessment ensures the operating entity is compliant with legal requirements because it is proof that the equipment provided can be used safely under the given circumstances. The presence of a CE marking on the equipment does not absolve the operating entity of the obligation to perform the risk assessment.

The risk assessment may only be carried out by expert personnel. The repeated testing of equipment, which is exposed to influences that may cause damage and that may pose hazards to the employees, is carried out by qualified safety personnel. Missing, incomplete, and defective risk assessments, as well as ones that have either not been updated or updated too late, are considered regulatory offences in the sense of the German Occupational Safety and Health Act. This will substantiate liability claims against the operating entity in the event of accidents at the workplace caused by inadequately safeguarded machines and plants.

Risk assessments from SICK take into account electrical and mechanical hazards in accordance with the German Occupational Safety and Health Act and Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health. They enable the implementation of flawless protection concepts and exclude liability claims based on negligence or intent for the operating entity provided they are implemented competently by SICK.

SICK safety expertise ensures perfect protection concepts

SICK is accredited by DATech as an inspection centre in accordance with IEC and EN ISO 17020. And with more than 150 trained experts in machine safety in over 80 countries, SICK is able to perform safety-related checks and approvals of new or modernised machines and plants and to confirm this with a seal of approval. Every year around 20,000 machine safeguarding evaluations and safety inspections underscore the knowledge of SICK as a specialist company for complete safety solutions and the expertise of international specialists on site.

Written by:

Harald Schmidt, Project Manager Safety Services & Solutions and TÜV-certified expert for functional safety, SICK AG, Waldkirch, Germany

Olaf Zbikowski, Portfolio Manager Industrial Safety Systems, SICK Vertriebs-GmbH, Düsseldorf, Germany

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