10 Best Practices of Preparing for a Machine Risk Assessment

One of the best ways to promote manufacturing plant safety is a task-based machine risk assessment. But conducting an effective assessment requires taking plant personnel away from their jobs, sometimes for as long as 4-24 hours.

This is by far the most common complaint about the risk assessment process. It can be difficult to get approval for this team to become available, especially since key people should all be in the room at the same time.

Once you get the green light for the assessment, it’s vital to be prepared and efficient.

Here are 10 best practices of preparing for a task-based machine risk assessment in an industrial plant. Conducting important activities and making key decisions in advance of the on-site assessment can maximize your success and minimize disruption.

  1. Select a Knowledgeable Facilitator
    Select a risk assessment (RA) facilitator who understands the RA process and has knowledge of the electrical, mechanical, and controls that make up the equipment. This facilitator can be a trained employee or an outside party.
  2. Determine the Champion
    Identify the individual who will champion the effort at the plant site by spearheading information-gathering and decision-making prior to the actual risk assessment.
  3. Define the Bounds of the Assessment
    Determine which manufacturing line or specific piece of equipment is in the risk assessment. Define the exact boundaries of the assessment including the area surrounding the equipment. Decide whether infeed and outfeed conveyors, overhead cranes, ATVs, robots, and delivery robots are included in the assessment or if they have been covered by another assessment.
  4. Request Limited Disruptions
    The team chosen for the risk assessment needs to have their calendars blocked out so they can focus on the assessment project. They should be in a quiet room away from the plant floor and encouraged to stay off their phones and computers for the duration of the assessment. Limiting outside business and personal interruptions will lead to a more successful and efficient assessment process.
  5. Select a Diverse Team
    Choose risk assessment team members who interface with the equipment in different ways. Individual team members should be invited to represent operations, engineering, EH&S, housekeeping, production, maintenance, parts delivery, and sanitation. Consider including second and third shift operators.
  6. Select the Right Team Size
    A team of 6-8 people is optimal. If the group is too small, it will be difficult to identify how all individuals interface with the equipment.  If the group is too large, decisions will be too difficult.
  7. Look Outside the box
    Besides assessing the normal tasks on the machine or equipment, take a walk out to the machine and look for hazards that may not be obvious from a conference room. Look for issues that can create hazards in the area of the targeted piece of equipment, such as lighting that causes dark areas or shadows, problems with utility and process lines, or forklift traffic and overhead crane routes.
  8. Set a Time Limit & Rules
    All team members have other jobs. They either are working off shift or need to get back to work to address the issues of the day. Either way, a shorter session can lead to better focus and efficiency. Consider limiting the session to four hours, since longer sessions will result in a major loss in productivity. If needed, let the team sleep on it and come back the next day to finish in a more productive manner. Since the session will be limited to four hours, make sure the team understands that they cannot come and go. All team members need to be present for discussions and decisions in their entirety. Too much information can be lost by missing a single conversation.
  9. Request & Review Documentation
    The facilitator should request several pieces of documentation from the appropriate departments well in advance of the assessment, including:
    – Corporate and plant safety standards;
    – Electrical and mechanical drawings;
    – SOPs;
    – The floor plan layout of the machine and area with traffic patterns;
    – Equipment operator and maintenance manuals;
    – Control system standards;
    – The LOTO procedure.

    The facilitator should get familiar with the machine by reviewing this information prior to the assessment. This information will help the facilitator steer the conversation in the right direction and challenge the team by having knowledge of how the OEM expected the machine to be operated.  The additional knowledge may allow the facilitator to ask questions that can trigger additional conversation and discussion about anomalies rather than the standard step-by-step operation of the equipment.

  10. Make Critical Pre-Assessment Decisions
    Perhaps the most crucial step in preparing for a risk assessment is agreeing in advance on the documentation method, scoring system, and what the company considers acceptable risk.

    Documentation Method
    There are usually no requirements in the company’s safety standards or by OSHA for the specific tool or application that will be used to document the risk assessment. However, documentation is key. A text editor (MS Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, etc.), a spreadsheet (MS Excel, Google Sheets, etc.), or a commercially available software  tool can be used for risk assessment documentation. To expedite the process, select the method of documentation early, format the documents prior to the assessment, and try to be consistent between assessments within the plant/facility and the corporation.

    – Based on our experience providing industrial safety services and machine risk assessments to manufacturers in many industries, we recommend utilizing a risk assessment software package.

    – The software is not a replacement for the input by the team but can expedite the process by eliminating problems with custom-authored documents.

    Scoring System
    How risk will be scored is another major decision that should be made prior to an assessment. Delaying the selection of a scoring system until the day of the assessment will typically lead to a delay in the completion of the assessment.
    There are numerous scoring systems available. If other scoring systems have been used at that plant location in the past, consider that system first for consistency. Once the scoring system is selected, defining the terms in detail is one of the most important tasks at this point in the process: Define the multiple levels of probability in detail (i.e., frequent, probable, occasional, remote, improbable); Then define severity in detail (i.e., catastrophic, critical, marginal, negligible). It’s essential to agree on what terms like “catastrophic” or “frequent” mean in everyday tangible metrics.

    Acceptable Risk
    The final decision to make prior to the assessment is the acceptable risk of the corporation What is acceptable? Does the team agree? Does further discussion need to take place?  Without knowing what is acceptable, the assessment will screech to a halt very quickly.

Conducting the proper pre-work is critical to an orderly, efficient risk assessment in an industrial plant safety program. Planning and preparation are the key to ensuring machine safety throughout your plant.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our risk assessment and industrial safety services, contact Tim Lemoine, PE, Director of Engineering, at (419) 897-7200 x 420.

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