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Course 726 - Introduction to Machine Guarding

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Basics of Machine Safeguarding


crushed hand

Crushed hands and arms, severed fingers, blindness -- the list of possible machinery-related injuries is as long as it is horrifying. There seem to be as many hazards created by moving machine parts as there are types of machines. Safeguards are essential for protecting workers from needless and preventable injuries.

A good rule to remember is: Any machine part, function, or process which may cause injury must be safeguarded. When the operation of a machine or accidental contact with it can injure the operator or others in the vicinity, the hazards must be either controlled or eliminated.

This course describes the various hazards of mechanical motion and presents some techniques for protecting workers from these hazards. General information covered in this chapter includes -- where mechanical hazards occur, the hazards created by different kinds of motions and the requirements for effective safeguards, as well as a brief discussion of non-mechanical hazards.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the that gives a good introduction about the importance of machine guarding.

Where Mechanical Hazards Occur

Dangerous moving parts in three basic areas require safeguarding:

The point of operation: that point where work is performed on the material, such as cutting, shaping, boring, or forming of stock.

Power transmission apparatus: all components of the mechanical system which transmit energy to the part of the machine performing the work. These components include flywheels, pulleys, belts, connecting rods, couplings, cams, spindles, chains, cranks, and gears.

Other moving parts: all parts of the machine which move while the machine is working. These can include reciprocating, rotating, and transverse moving parts, as well as feed mechanisms and auxiliary parts of the machine.

Hazardous Mechanical Motions and Actions

A wide variety of mechanical motions and actions may present hazards to the worker. These can include the movement of rotating members, reciprocating arms, moving belts, meshing gears, cutting teeth, and any parts that impact or shear. These different types of hazardous mechanical motions and actions are basic in varying combinations to nearly all machines, and recognizing them is the first step toward protecting workers from the danger they present.

The basic types of hazardous mechanical motions and actions are:

A wide variety of mechanical motions and actions may present hazards to the worker.
  • rotating (including in-running nip points)
  • reciprocating
  • transversing
  • cutting
  • punching
  • shearing
  • bending


Rotating parts
Rotating parts.


"Rotation" is circular motion around an axis or center such as rotating collars, couplings, cams, clutches, flywheels, shaft ends, and spindles that may grip clothing or otherwise force a body part into a dangerous location. Even smooth surfaced rotating machine parts can be hazardous. Projections such as screws or burrs on the rotating part increase the hazard potential.

In-running Nip Points

In-running nip point hazards are caused by the rotating parts on machinery. There are three main types of in-running nips.

  • 1. Parallel rotating parts: Parts can rotate in opposite directions while their axes are parallel to each other. These parts may be in contact producing nip point. Stock fed between the rolls may also produces nip points. This danger is common on machines with intermeshing gears, rolling mills, and calenders.
  • 2. Tangentially moving parts: Tangentially moving nip points are also created between rotating and tangentially moving parts. Some examples would be: the point of contact between a power transmission belt and its pulley, a chain and a sprocket, and a rack and pinion.
  • 3. Rotating and fixed parts: Nip points can occur between rotating and fixed parts which create a shearing, crushing, or abrading action. Examples are: spoked handwheels or flywheels, screw conveyors, or the periphery of an abrasive wheel and an incorrectly adjusted work rest.
Rotating parts
Rotating and fixed parts.
Rotating parts
Tangentially moving parts.
Rotating parts
Parallel rotating Parts

Reciprocating Motions

Reciprocating motions may be hazardous because, during the back-and-forth or up-and-down motion, a worker may be struck by or caught between a moving and a stationary part. See the figure below for an example of a reciprocating motion.

Transverse Motions

Transverse motion (movement in a straight, continuous line) creates a hazard because a worker may be struck or caught in a pinch or shear point by the moving part. See the figure on the right below to see an example of transverse motion.

Rotating shaft bolts can cause a fatality.

Rotating Shafts

Warning: Exposure to rotating shafts is the most dangerous machine safeguarding hazard. It is so dangerous we wanted to mention it again before moving on to other topics. There have been numerous accidents due to exposure to rotating shafts and, unfortunately, most of these accidents result in a fatality.

The danger of exposure to rotating shafts increases when projections such as set screws, bolts, nicks, abrasions, and projecting keys or set screws are exposed on rotating parts (see image to right). The image below on the right shows what can happen when a worker gets caught on a rotating shaft. In this case, massive internal injuries resulted in a tragic fatality. You should consider exposure to rotating parts as an "imminent danger" situation that must be corrected immediately.

Rotating parts
Rotating parts are always dangerous and can kill.
Transverse motions
Reciprocating motions
Reciprocating motions
Transverse motions


Cutting action
Cutting actions.


Cutting action may involve rotating, reciprocating, or transverse motion. The danger of cutting action exists at the point of operation where finger, arm and body injuries can occur and where flying chips or scrap material can strike the head, particularly in the area of the eyes or face. Such hazards are present at the point of operation in cutting wood, metal, or other materials.

Examples of mechanisms involving cutting hazards include band saws, circular saws, boring or drilling machines, turning machines (lathes), or milling machines. See figure to the right.


Punching action results when power is applied to a slide (ram) for the purpose of blanking, drawing, or stamping metal or other materials. The danger of this type of action occurs at the point of operation where stock is inserted, held, and withdrawn by hand.

Typical machines used for punching operations are power presses and ironworker machines.


Shearing action involves applying power to a slide or knife in order to trim or shear metal or other materials. A hazard occurs at the point of operation where stock is actually inserted, held, and withdrawn.

Examples of machines used for shearing operations are mechanically, hydraulically, or pneumatically powered shears.


Bending action results when power is applied to a slide in order to draw or stamp metal or other materials. A hazard occurs at the point of operation where stock is inserted, held, and withdrawn.

Equipment that uses bending action includes power presses, press brakes, and tubing benders.

bending action
Bending action.
Shearing action
Shearing action.
Punching action
Punching action.

Requirements for Safeguards

Manatoba CA - Machine Safeguards: The Basics.
    What must a safeguard do to protect workers against mechanical hazards? Safeguards must meet these minimum general requirements:
  • Prevent contact: The safeguard must prevent hands, arms, and any other part of a worker's body from making contact with dangerous moving parts. A good safeguarding system eliminates the possibility of the operator or another worker placing parts of their bodies near hazardous moving parts.
  • Secure: Workers should not be able to easily remove or tamper with the safeguard, because a safeguard that can easily be made ineffective is no safeguard at all. Guards and safety devices should be made of durable material that will withstand the conditions of normal use. They must be firmly secured to the machine.
  • Protect from falling objects: The safeguard should ensure that no objects can fall into moving parts. A small tool which is dropped into a cycling machine could easily become a projectile that could strike and injure someone.
  • Create no new hazards: A safeguard defeats its own purpose if it creates a hazard of its own such as a shear point, a jagged edge, or an unfinished surface which can cause a laceration. The edges of guards, for instance, should be rolled or bolted in such a way that they eliminate sharp edges.
  • Create no interference: Any safeguard which impedes a worker from performing the job quickly and comfortably might soon be overridden or disregarded. Proper safeguarding can actually enhance efficiency since it can relieve the worker's apprehensions about injury.
  • Allow safe lubrication: If possible, one should be able to lubricate the machine without removing the safeguards. Locating oil reservoirs outside the guard, with a line leading to the lubrication point, will reduce the need for the operator or maintenance worker to enter the hazardous area.

Non-Mechanical Hazards

While this course focuses primarily on concepts and techniques for safeguarding employees from mechanical hazards (moving parts), machines present a variety of other non-mechanical hazards that should not be ignored. In this section, we'll briefly remind you of some hazards other than safeguarding moving parts that can impact your safety and affect the safe operation of machines.


All power sources for machines are potential sources of danger. When using electrically powered or controlled machines, for instance, the equipment as well as the electrical system itself must be properly grounded. Replacing frayed, exposed, or old wiring will also help to protect the operator and others from electrical shocks or electrocution. High pressure systems, too, need careful inspection and maintenance to prevent possible failure from pulsation, vibration, or leaks. Such a failure could cause, among other things, explosions or flying objects.

 gsg image engcontrols
Examples of Engineering Controls
Click to Enlarge


Machines often produce noise (unwanted sound) which can result in a number of hazards to workers. Noise can startle and disrupt concentration, and can interfere with communications, thus hindering the worker's safe job performance. Engineering controls such as sound-dampening materials, and personal protective equipment can help control the harmful effects of noise. Administrative controls that involve removing the worker from the noise source can also be an effective measure when feasible.

Harmful Substances

Because some machines require the use of cutting fluids, coolants, and other potentially harmful substances, operators, maintenance workers, and others in the vicinity may need protection. These substances can cause ailments ranging from dermatitis to serious illnesses and disease. Specially constructed safeguards, ventilation, and protective equipment and clothing are possible temporary solutions to the problem of machinery-related chemical hazards until these hazards can be better controlled or eliminated from the workplace.


Even the most elaborate safeguarding system cannot offer effective protection unless the worker knows how to use it and why. Specific and detailed training is therefore a crucial part of any effort to provide safeguarding against machine-related hazards. Thorough operator training should involve instruction or hands-on training in the following:

  1. a description and identification of the hazards associated with particular machines;
  2. the safeguards themselves, how they provide protection, and the hazards for which they are intended;
  3. how to use the safeguards and why;
  4. how and under what circumstances safeguards can be removed, and by whom (in most cases, repair or maintenance personnel only); and
  5. what to do (e.g., contact the supervisor) if a safeguard is damaged, missing, or unable to provide adequate protection.
After the bolts on this shaft caused a fatal injury, the employer built a machine guard.

This kind of safety training is necessary for new operators and maintenance or setup personnel, when any new or altered safeguards are put in service, or when workers are assigned to a new machine or operation.

An effective training technique is to present a summary of an actual machine guarding accident, how it happened, and what would have prevented it.

Check out the sample story that get's the point across:

A paper mill employee was killed after he became entangled in a rotating shaft at the company's paper mill. The worker, employed at the company for less than two weeks, was buffing the shaft when his clothing got caught on the rotating bold heads of the shaft.

Protective Clothing and Personal Protective Equipment

NEVER - EVER wear loose clothing around rotating parts. Caution: Graphic content at 3 minutes into the video.

Engineering controls, that eliminate the hazard at the source and do not rely on the worker's behavior for their effectiveness offer the best and most reliable means of safeguarding. Therefore, engineering controls must be the employer's first choice for eliminating machine hazards. But whenever engineering controls are not available or are not fully capable of protecting the employee (an extra measure of protection is necessary), operators must wear protective clothing or personal protective equipment.

If it is to provide adequate protection, the protective clothing and equipment selected must always be:

  1. appropriate for the particular hazards;
  2. maintained in good condition;
  3. properly stored when not in use, to prevent damage or loss; and
  4. kept clean, fully functional, and sanitary.

Protective clothing is, of course, available for different parts of the body. Hard hats can protect the head from the impact of bumps and falling objects; caps and hair nets can help keep the worker's hair from being caught in machinery. If machine coolants could splash or particles could fly into the operator's eyes or face, face shields, safety goggles, glasses, or similar kinds of protection may be necessary. Hearing protection may be needed when workers operate noisy machines. To guard the trunk of the body from cuts or impacts, there are certain protective coveralls, jackets, vests, aprons, and full-body suits. Workers can protect their hands and arms from the same kinds of injury with special sleeves and gloves. Safety shoes and boots, or other acceptable foot guards, can shield the feet against injury in case the worker needs to handle heavy objects which might drop on their feet.

It is important to note that protective clothing and equipment can create hazards. A protective glove which can become caught between rotating parts, or a respirator facepiece which hinders the wearer's vision, for example, require alertness and continued attentiveness whenever they are used.

Other parts of the worker's clothing may present additional safety hazards. For example, loose-fitting shirts might possibly become entangled in rotating spindles or other kinds of moving machinery. Jewelry, such as bracelets and rings, can catch on machine parts or stock and lead to serious injury by pulling a hand into the danger area.

Alright, well that was a lot to take in :-) Click on the "Video" tab to watch a great video about machine guarding and take the quiz when you're finished. Great work!

Machine-Guarding Video


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. According to the text, any machine part, function, or process which may cause injury must be _________.

2. That point where work is performed on the material, such as cutting, shaping, boring, or forming of stock is called _________.

3. According to the text, power transmission apparatus components include all of the following, EXCEPT?

4. Which of the following is an example of a nip point?

5. A safeguard need NOT do which of the following to protect workers against mechanical hazards?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.