OSHA Requirements for Machine Guarding

OSHA clipboard with safety goggles

Because plant employees spend the majority of their time operating machinery, it's important to make sure they are safe and protected by following OSHA regulations.

Operating machines and equipment presents a danger to employees because many have hot, fast-moving parts, which can burn workers or ensnare their clothing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for machine guards are in place to prevent such situations.

OSHA 1910 Subpart O Standards Explained

Employers are required to provide one or more types of guards to protect the machine's operator and other employees. These include electronic safety devices, barrier guards, two-hand tripping devices, and more. However, the installation of these safety devices does not prevent all accidents — many workers still injure themselves and their colleagues.

Proper machine guarding prevents many hazards, including rotating parts, sparks, flying chips, and ingoing nip points. These hazards occur during shearing, punching, forming, and assembly processes. A general guideline is that guards should be attached to the machine.

Point of Operation Guarding and Other Observances

The following is a partial list of machines that must be guarded at the point of operation, which refers to the specific area where the work is being performed:

  • Milling machines
  • Power saws
  • Guillotine cutters
  • Power presses
  • Shears
  • Alligator sheers
  • Portable power tools
  • Forming rolls
  • Jointers
  • Calendars

There are a few different kinds of machine guards, including fixed, adjustable, and self-adjusting. Each one of these machines has an ideal guard match. For example, jointers should be fitted with self-adjusting guards.

In addition to observing point of operation guarding standards, some equipment, particularly mechanical power transmission apparatuses, must adhere to the “seven-foot rule.” This rule stipulates that hazardous operations must be enclosed or guarded if they are “located seven feet or less from the floor or working platform.”

OSHA Violations in the Workplace to Watch Out For

Workplace violations of guarding requirements are common.

For example, fan guarding standards are often overlooked in many facilities; many plants are operating with fans that are out-of-date, unguarded, or protected by openings that are too big. In fact, thousands of floor and wall-exhaust fans used throughout the country are non-compliant. Other common oversights include unguarded blades and pulleys.

These oversights commonly occur when machinery is repaired; in those situations, guards and safety devices are removed during repair but not replaced afterward. This neglect leads to their dangerous, unguarded operation.

The Importance of Machine Guarding Safety

Unguarded moving parts, such as blades and fans, can injure a worker's hands, limbs, or head during accidental contact. For example, an unguarded pulley or shear can ensnare an employee's clothing and pull the worker into a machine.

Such hazards are serious health threats and should be immediately addressed by placing proper guarding or installing new equipment. The following are some basic safety measures that employers should follow to comply with OSHA requirements:

  • Rotating and moving equipment parts and pointed objects, such as fan blades or power saws, should be guarded against contact with workers
  • Machinery, pits, holes, and hazardous procedures must be sufficiently guarded
  • Metal components of electrical equipment must be bonded and grounded
  • Electrical equipment that creates flames, sparks, arcs, or molten metal should be enclosed and placed far from combustible substances
  • Guards should be placed on chains and gears
  • Machinery should be maintained and kept clean and secure
  • Emergency stop buttons should be red 

Power presses are especially dangerous, causing many amputations and other injuries. OSHA specifically addressed power press concerns by implementing an education and enforcement program aimed at minimizing power press injuries. Employers of all sizes – from large companies to ones with 10 or fewer workers – must comply.

Machine Guarding Safety Checklist

All companies must install guarding devices, perform routine inspections and maintenance, and provide sufficient training to operators and machine workers. Safety devices, such as those that halt machine operation when a body part touches a dangerous area or barriers that provide protection during the risky stage of operations, should be stable, durable and not hamper the job.

Before operating presses unsupervised, workers must complete at least eight hours, and in some cases two weeks, of training. Their training should encompass proper use of all controls and safety devices, correct PPE, secure storage of parts, and equipment testing.

Supervisors must be conscious of all hazards, know how to operate guards, and enforce correct procedures, including regular repairs and maintenance.

Moving Forward, Safety First

It’s absolutely critical to protect employees who are working on or near machinery with hazardous moving parts. Furthermore, OSHA has outlined several standards and regulations specifically concerning guards for machinery and equipment.

Workers can be seriously injured by unguarded parts, which can ensnare clothing, hands, or hair. Employers must enact best safety practices and inspect equipment frequently in order to ensure that machinery guards are in top shape – especially after maintenance or repair.


This article was originally written by Katrina C. Arabe and updated by Kristin Manganello.

Image Credit: designer491 / Shutterstock.com

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