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When people think about machine safety, they often think about the safe use of tools, such as a sawing bench. But machine safety should be viewed in a much broader context. Machine safety is defined as follows: ‘the safety of any object that involves the use of electromechanical systems’. In our field of work this includes: pumping stations, lock filling and emptying systems, building-related systems, lifts, moveable bridges, technical tunnel systems, etc.
A safe machine starts off with a safe design. The design affects all of the machine’s lifecycle stages, from build to ultimate disassembly. Establishing a strong foundation during the design phase and providing due consideration to the many aspects that affect the installation, operation and maintenance of the machine can result in significant cost savings. At the same time, this allows safety to be elevated to a higher level. The essence of machine safety is as follows: to gain insight into and assess the risks for those people who come into contact with the machine or its sphere of influence. This means due consideration must also be given to the environment and the local community. The challenge is to limit the risks identified to a minimum.
Machine-related risks can manifest themselves during start-up, carrying out maintenance activities and while managing the machine. Several safety aspects that are addressed during these phases include: physical load, ergonomics, being trapped and coming into contact with moving parts. The Design department can have a high impact on risks in its design. In the European Machinery Directive, safe design is explicitly mentioned as forming the basis for the risk mitigation process.
Another point concerning machine safety is the design of the space in which the machine is set up and maintained. Often there is insufficient space to be able to properly carry out maintenance in the final situation. This is caused by the sequence in which a machine is designed. The result of an erroneous design sequence is a lack of space with the resulting consequence that the ultimate space in and around the machine for its placement, installation and proper maintenance is limited. This increases the chance of being trapped or coming into contact with moving parts during maintenance or management. Moreover, as a result of this it is almost impossible to allow for an ergonomic working posture.
Design safety measures, by choosing suitable constructive choices within the machine itself or in the interaction between exposed individuals and the machine, result in avoiding hazards or reducing risks. The safety of a machine’s operation increases when the design itself takes risks into account and incorporates risk-mitigating measures. The risks covered off by the design no longer require technical safety provisions or warnings to be implemented, unless, despite a safe design, residual risks continue to exist.
To provide for a smooth design process in terms of identifying and dealing with potentially unsafe situations, you should adhere to the following steps as a designer.
This often starts as early as in the Tender Phase.
Establish a Technical/Construction Dossier
The technical/construction dossier is a combination of documents that government bodies use to establish whether a product complies with essential requirements. The dossier must at a minimum include the following documents: drawings, list of standards, test results, certificates, operating instructions and an EC or EU declaration of conformity. The basis for this document is formed by the Design choices and these must therefore be recorded here. Before you establish this dossier, it is recommended that you first identify which directives, standards and certifications apply to the machine you are going to design (see the header ‘Tips’ for a useful link).
Complete a Risk Assessment and Evaluation (RI&E)
The RI&E is a list with the potential risks relating to all of the machine’s lifecycle phases. This list is used to identify the risks that apply to the machine. The right mitigating measures can only be taken once the risks are known (Figure 1).
Installation space & moving parts
The machine’s installation space consists of the area that contains the machine’s drive and profile (the free space for maintenance). In relation to safety, the designer must take the following aspects into account: