Modern machinery is a marvel of engineering and technology, and it also serves as the core of most manufacturing in America and across the industrialized world. Unfortunately, machinery is also a leading cause of workplace injuries and fatalities, making the need for guarding mechanisms all the more important.


Although government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and various state labor rights groups have worked to make the workplace safer, business owners still need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations regarding the protection of workers around machinery.

The Hazards Of Unguarded Machinery Parts

The obvious concern regarding machinery in the workplace is the potential for digits or limbs to become entangled in parts like gears or presses, but there are plenty of other dangers. Adornments like necklaces or long earrings are a concern when working near parts that have the potential to pull and hold.

Likewise, long hair can easily become ensnared in moving parts and ultimately pull the user into a machine. Loose clothing is another concern when working around machinery as fabrics can be grabbed and pulled by parts that move.

One way to prevent these accidents is to separate humans and machinery when possible as doing so eliminates the potential for accidents.

Credit: Patrick Fitzgerald

Even with this being the case, guard solutions are still recommended, and in some cases required, to offer a greater amount of protection for workers since virtually all industrial machinery will need some type of human interaction at some point.

Identifying The Right Safety Guards For Equipment

Machine guard solutions vary from industry to industry and machine to machine. In cases where workers are not present around moving parts, the need for machine guarding may be less of a priority, but if there is a chance that a human can come into contact with parts in motion, machine guards should be a consideration.

Even if this contact only comes in the form of intermittent maintenance while a machine is off, guards falls into a machine, gets caught on a protruding part or a machine gets turned on by mistake.

In situations where installing a guard mechanism isn’t feasible due to interference with machine operation, auxiliary guards should be considered. These may be guard rails or ropes that alert nearby workers to the danger of a machine and also prevent access to a dangerous area while a machine is being used or parts are in motion.

Some machinery can be set up with automated gates that engage when a machine is turned on and lift when the machine is stopped.

Credit: New Mexico National Guard

Different Types Of Machine Guarding Mechanisms

Machine guards can be categorized into four main types: fixed, interlocked, adjustable and self-adjusting. Choosing which type of guard mechanism to use will depend on the workplace scenario and the type of machine environment.

Fixed Guards

A fixed machine guard is one that is placed in a position where the guard does not move from the position nor does it have moving parts that allow it to be adjusted. A fixed guard may be put in place to serve as a preventative barrier to keep objects from interacting with moving parts.

Interlocked Guards

Interlocked guards are connected to the power source of a machine. In the event that the guard is activated, power to the machine will be cut. This serves as an automatic safety feature and may be used to reduce harm when operating saws, gears and presses.

Adjustable Guards

Adjustable guards work much like fixed guards in that they are placed in a specific location and are not moved. The difference is that an adjustable guard has moving parts that allow it to be adjusted manually to fit different scenarios. This can be advantageous when a machine needs to accept loads or items of different sizes, such as in the example of a baler or a press.

Self-Adjusting Guards

A self-adjusting guard will adjust itself to accept loads or items of different sizes. This reduces interaction with machinery as the operator doesn’t need to come into contact with moving parts as often or for as long. A self-adjusting guard may be used on a machine like a chipper or a compactor.

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