Kevin Ian Schmidt

Machine Guarding Basics

Moving machine parts have the potential to cause severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns, or blindness.

Amputations, lacerations, and abrasions are costly and have the potential to increase workers’ compensation premiums.(Amputation is one of the most severe and crippling types of injuries in the occupational workplace, often resulting in permanent disability.) Due to this fact, OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has established a set of standards around machine guarding.

The purpose of machine guarding is to protect the machine operator and other employees in the work area from hazards created during the machine’s normal operation.

Many companies adopt three basic practices when it comes to machine guarding in the workplace:

  • Safeguard the point of operation – the point of operation must be guarded to protect the operator from injury – OSHA 1910.212
  • All operators of production equipment must be properly trained on the equipment they will be working on.
  • Implant the value, and apply the best safety practices, for safety for all employees at all times.


Based upon the point of safeguarding the point of operation, OSHA mandates that there be at least one type of guarding mechanism in place.  The purpose of this guarding is to:

  • Prevent contact with areas of the device that could cause injury
  • Secure the device (and the machine guard) so that certain parts cannot be manipulated or tampered with by personnel
  • Protect against splatter or falling debris while using the machine during normal operation or during maintenance
  • Avoid causing additional hazards as a result of the machine guard installation such as sharp edges or pinching mechanisms
  • Allow easy operation of the machine without interfering with productivity or efficient use of the device

Employees require training in the need and value of machine guards, as well as how to work with them in place, how to remove them for maintenance, and what to do if they break or go missing.

Machine guarding can only provide protection if the people operating, maintaining and working near the equipment are properly trained and understand how it works. OSHA identifies several factors for a thorough documentation and training program, including:

  • Identifying the hazards and providing a description for each.
  • Identifying each of the physical guards and/or devices and defining which hazards they protect against and how.
  • How to appropriately use the safeguards.
  • Who can remove the safeguards and why (maintenance, repair, etc.).
  • Protocol when a guard is missing, damaged or malfunctioning.
  • Any PPE when required. If you need any additional information on PPE, check out this guide.

Unlike many other regulations, OSHA offers guidelines for the training expectations here. Do not assume this training is all that is required, it is a guideline for training., not a substitute for training.

When training employees emphasize that physical machine guards fall within 4 categories:

  • Fixed guards – designed as a permanent part of the device, these guards are sturdy and should not be removed or manipulated
  • Interlocked guards – when used these guards will disable or pause machine operations whenever they are raised, opened or removed
  • Adjustable guards – when a device needs protection but also needs to be adaptable to certain heights or angles, this type of guard is utilized and can be manually changed depending on the worker or the type of use
  • Self-adjusting guards – automatically adjusting guards are helpful for machines where operations require movement, such as trimming certain types of wood for furniture
Check Out: How to Put Together a Workplace Safety Training Workshop

Machine guarding should be routinely inspected to make sure all devices have the proper protection in place. If any machine guard breaks, cracks, or is damaged in any way there should be a priority action to address the issue.  Often it is best to completely replace the guard versus a repair because the structural integrity of the guard could be compromised.

Employee buy-in for machine guarding is also critical. Getting upfront input from the key people operating your equipment is vital as you look to update or enhance guarding to ensure solutions that are both safe and have a good dose of common sense attached. Going forward, guarding should be an integral part of your training.


Download our overview of machine guarding training below

Read our overview of machine guarding training below

Machine Guarding Basics Overview

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