Accidents do happen, and as soon as any machines are introduced into the workplace the likelihood and potential severity of accidents begins to rise. Now that industry is beginning to adopt a more fully-integrated approach with safety sensors, smart automation and big data analytics, there are nine key safety tips you can deploy to keep your workplace safe.

1. Mental Awareness

In any automated or hazardous environment, safety depends on workers being fully aware of what they're doing and what's going on around them. This means that no-one should be allowed on or near machinery when under the influence, either of alcohol or any other substance that will hamper their clarity and response times. People must also be aware of other machinery or equipment in their immediate locality and should not distract or interfere with other workers during machine operation. Headphones should not be worn while walking around, as they may block out any hazardous or mobile equipment warning alarms.

2. Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness should be enhanced with clear markings for the paths of moving equipment, and safety light curtains and/or fencing installed around hazardous machines. Workers should see that they are crossing the path of a moving vehicle and easily recognise restricted areas. With Industry 4.0 and increased internet connectivity bringing the IoT more frequently into the workplace, spatial awareness extends also to the cyber realm, and the potential safety hazards that accompany the many integrated devices necessary for smart automation. Security initiatives can be programmed in, with built-in risk assessment and management. Collaboration with Environmental, Health and Safety directives (EHS) will help ensure the safety of workers, and if design engineers are also consulted in regard to technical standards and machine safety then both productivity and overall security will be enhanced.

3. Smart Safety

While all the human safety measures must still be rigorously maintained, the IoT allows for integrated safety networks and devices that reduce the costs of design, machine installation and unscheduled downtime. Smart devices in a connected control system allow engineers to plan and programme in predictive maintenance feedback, as well as regulating system access only to trained and authorised personnel. PLC or I/O devices can integrate safety software with risk assessment capabilities that ensure effective design, help streamline the commissioning process and achieve compliance. Safety function documents are also used in safety software design to provide guidance on the functional requirements of each specific safety function, including set-up and wiring, equipment selection, configuration and performance level calculations and requirements, as well as verification and validation plans.

4. The Importance of Risk Assessment

Design engineers often arrive at safety features as a result of faults discovered in testing, whereas they should be an integral feature of any product or system. With CAD facilities it is now far easier to carry out risk assessment early on in the design process, so that risks can be identified and designed out. Once the functional requirements have been taken into account and a design drawn up, further risks should be assessed when the machine is actually installed and functional. If a machine is assessed at all stages of its design and installation cycle, this can help verify its productivity as well as its compliance and safety.

5. Training and Protective Equipment

People are the most important factor in making safety decisions. Industry 4.0 needs technical engineers who can design a safe productivity-enhancing system, with a deep understanding of new technologies, processes and current safety standards. Machine safety fixtures and procedures are essential, and demand appropriate personnel to carry them out, who can be either professional consultants or your own trained safety executives. Proper training and instruction must be given to machine operators for any equipment before starting to use it, as all machinery is different in its operating techniques and safety features. The training should be individually assessed and tailored to the worker to ensure they are fully capable of carrying out the required tasks.

Personal safety equipment should always be worn wherever necessary, including safety glasses and cut-resistant gloves. Proper footwear is also required to protect workers' feet from falling objects, and should have closed and reinforced toes and slip-resistant soles for wet or slippery environments. Job specific protection must also be supplied, such as breathing masks to protect against airborne hazards, or face shields for welding.

6. Ergonomic Design

As well as smart functions, machine design itself is getting smarter, and safety features can be factored in that help prevent physical or repetitive strain to the human body. Modern machinery can now be constructed that is capable of adapting to a broad spectrum of physical types and ages, including reduced repetitive motion and ambidextrous features, easier lifting, and more ergonomic design to avoid awkward body placement.

7. Machine Safety Fixtures

Machinery is generally provided with safety guards to protect the operator from ejected debris and/or sparks, as well as barriers to prevent any contact with cutting tools or moving parts. These barriers should only be removed when the machine is out of service, when repairs or maintenance are being carried out by authorised personnel. Machines must not be used if any damage is detected to safety guards, nor should they be bypassed for any reason.

8. Isolation Devices

Whenever any cleaning or maintenance is required, workers must be protected against any unexpected start-up, actuation or dissipation of stored energy that might cause them injury, including power reconnection. This means that some form of isolation switch must be incorporated into the equipment, with EU directives stipulating "clearly visible devices" that can separate the machine from all its energy sources.

9. Maintenance and Fault Detection

Sticking to machine maintenance schedules is vital to give peak operating performance, and for prevention of hazards such as overheating, breakdowns, jams, blockages and dull blades. Safety can be greatly increased by integrating sensory devices that will provide closer monitoring, earlier fault detection and consequently faster control measures. Connected networks mean that a machine doesn't have to physically break down before the fault is detected, but can sense potential malfunctions such as fluid leaks, vibration or abnormal changes in temperature. Big data analytics offer real-time understanding of safety anomalies, stoppages or shutdowns, as well as machine trends, compliance and workplace behaviours.