Machine safety and your safety culture

How's your machine safety culture? Have you heard anyone say: My hand is quicker than the machine, production is more important than safety, we don't need machine guards because...


In my last Machine Safety blog I suggested that there was an elephant in the room called “Safety Culture”! Furthermore, I suggested that quite often it’s the elephant in the room that looks over your shoulder to help make those difficult and gray decisions such as whether a hard guard is best for a given hazard.

Has anyone noticed that elephant yet?

Well, where do you think the “Safety Culture” elephant in the room comes from or if it even exists? In my opinion, a safety culture will always exist, even by its absence! This harsh reality is no different than realizing that “no decision is a decision.” Here are some common “Safety Culture” statements I’ve heard over the past several years:

  •    My hand is quicker than the machine
  •    Production is more important than safety
  •    We don’t need machine guards because we do it differently here
  •    We haven’t had an accident so we have a great safety program
  •    Our primary operators are trained every month so we don’t need LOTO

I hope none of these statements apply to your manufacturing operations or experience because they’re indicative of safety culture that’s probably about to have a serious accident. Under this safety culture, the question in my last blog would likely be to only provide the hard guard during production. And, for all the other 24/7 modes with the hard guard removed, perhaps no back-up guarding would be necessary as per the “Safety Culture.” In my opinion, it’s often the safety culture that answers the question, “has tolerable risk been achieved”? I call the above a negative safety culture.

On the other hand, a positive safety culture is one that typically is leadership driven, has a clear vision with expectations, and is accountable and measureable. Furthermore, I believe that a positive safety culture embeds a shared value concept among all employees and management built on a set of guiding principles for long term viability and sustainability. Principles like aligning safety management with reality by, for example, focusing on leading indicators like near hits vs lagging indicators like near misses. Yes, a positive safety culture can help drive employee satisfaction and increased profits.

With this brief analysis, who now has seen the elephant in the room?

Submit your ideas, experiences, and challenges on this subject in the comments section below. Comment box missing on your screen? Submit a machine safety culture comment here and scroll down.

Related articles:

Machine Safety – Hard Guarding Is Best – Right?

Updating Minds About Machine Guarding    

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