November 1, 2011
by Shane Whitaker
Catastrophic or deadly accidents are the last things officials of any manufacturing plant want to occur at their facility. Safety managers or teams must continually review best practices, equipment systems and employee training to ensure worker safety.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the US Department of Labor, issues and enforces workplace safety rules and regulations, and it often works with its partners at the state level to perform plant inspections. Inspectors can visit plants unannounced to ensure companies are not violating safety rules. The agency can issue fines for safety violations and even pursue criminal violations if a company willfully violates an OSHA standard, resulting in an employee death.
While bakeries have to be diligent in protecting employees, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) also must deliver equipment systems that are safe for plant employees. If an accident occurs, the accident victim most likely will file lawsuits not only against the company where the accident took place but also against the manufacturers of any equipment involved in the mishap.
By their very nature, bakeries and snack manufacturing plants include many hazards. From hot pans, ovens and fryers to potential ammonia leaks in freezer mechanical rooms to slick, wet floors, these plants present a variety of dangers.
“And our equipment is one of the parts of the puzzle,” said Mike Hall, director of engineering, Shaffer, A Bundy Baking Solution, Urbana, OH.
Shaffer performs risk assessments on every piece of equipment prior to shipment to ensure its safety. The assessments feature “an involved process with very defined procedures,” Mr. Hall said.
“You look at the machine and decide what kind of risk is there, and then plug that information into a formula that will come up with acceptable risks and non-acceptable risks,” he explained. “If it is non-acceptable, you have to go through a process to reduce that risk. Whether through design, training or signage, there are different ways you can do it.”
Prior to shipping a piece of equipment, Heat and Control, Inc., Hayward, CA, creates equipment safety drawings that show all the safety devices, labels and guarding for a particular machine.
The project engineer, safety officer and manufacturing supervisor perform a safety walkthrough using the drawings, and they each initial the drawings to show that all the safety labels, guarding and devices are included, according to Don Giles, Heat and Control’s director of processing systems sales.
“Once the equipment is installed, the initialized equipment safety drawing is reviewed with the customer by the Heat and Control field service technician to ensure all safety devices, labels and guarding are in place and functioning properly,” he said. “The drawing is then initialed by the customer and field service technician. This drawing is available for use by the customer in the future as a double-check of the safety systems and as a training guide for their employees.”
Even though OEMs design their equipment with safety in mind, they can’t always catch every little thing, according to Rick Rodarte, director of engineering, Stewart Systems, Inc., Plano, TX.
Therefore, when Stewart Systems delivers a piece of equipment, he noted, the bakery’s safety team will generally review it and include its own ideas about safety features that may need revision.
“You can look at this as a burden because you might have to redo some things, but it actually only makes the equipment better and more safe,” Mr. Rodarte said. “I’m never opposed to hearing other people’s opinions on how we do things because you have got to protect operators.”
In addition to building equipment to meet OSHA standards, Stewart Systems reviews more stringent requirements from Europe that would allow the equipment manufacturer to use the CE mark, according to Mr. Rodarte. “In Europe, they go over the top with safety, but I think a lot of the things they require are pretty nice,” he said. “They really push you to the limit on safety, but you can see a difference.”
CE stands for Conformité Européenne, or “European Conformity,” and this designation is required for all systems sold in the European Economic Area, which includes the 27 member states of the EU as well as European Free Trade Association countries. To meet these stricter standards, Mr. Rodarte said, Stewart Systems includes lockout key systems on ovens and fencing around the entire front of ovens installed in Europe. These measures go above and beyond any US safety requirements.
Designing equipment to these standards can be cumbersome, he said. “One of the challenges when you are doing anything with safety is, Are you allowing enough access and interaction with the equipment while at the same time keeping it safe?” Mr. Rodarte observed. “It is a constant battle of give and take.”
Almost all equipment includes guards to shield workers from dangerous moving parts. Mr. Hall pointed out that virtually any moveable part is guarded nowadays. But that wasn’t always true. “In the past, it may not necessarily have been [guarded] or at least not as religiously,” he added.
When designing machinery, guarding against all hazardous energies is critical, according to Travis Getz, director of engineering at Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA.
“Hazardous energies include mechanical, kinetic, pneumatic, electrical, potential or stored, and thermal,” he explained. “Interlocking guards that provide safety from hazardous energies are required when employees need to access these areas.”
Mr. Giles outlined some of the safety features that Heat and Control includes on its equipment, including safety mid-gates on FastBack conveyors.
“The slide gates and openings in the conveyor pan are covered in a soft plastic,” he said. “The slide gate retracts if it encounters an obstacle.”
Mr. Rodarte said that conveyors pose a distinct challenge when it comes to safety in that they have a moving part exposed at all times, and it’s not feasible to run a tunnel the length of a conveyor to protect workers.
Thus, Stewart Systems keeps pinch points to the minimum dimension, which is ¼ in., and uses guarding along the side of the conveyor as required by OSHA regulations when the conveyor is less than 7 ft high.
In some cases, Mr. Rodarte said companies have also requested that the company run a cord the length of the conveyor, so if someone does get caught, they can pull that cord and have an emergency stop for the whole system.
Some accidents within plants could probably be avoided if employees used common sense. However, even more prevalent, according to Mr. Hall, is that employees become overconfident in what they are doing.
“What we have found, too, is that people get bored or nonchalant in their jobs, or they get careless,” he said. “It’s not so much that they don’t have common sense, it’s just that they have done it for so long that it gets to be second nature to them.”
Getting complacent is not a good excuse for an accident to occur, so plants must keep safety top of mind with their employees, and equipment manufacturers play an important role in designing and training workers to ensure that accidents are rare events.