Operating machines in a future-proof way

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

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.

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

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 T√úV-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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