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Finding solutions to machine safety challenges

29 April 2019

Glenn Moffat highlights some of the most common machinery safety challenges facing food processors, both large and small, and he offers some proven solutions for dealing with them. 

An effective safety management programme for both equipment and operators will not only help UK manufacturers meet the latest legislation – which may well be subject to change again post Brexit. However, it should imbue a safe working culture throughout the organisation.  When implemented as part of an overall business strategy, it can also improve productivity by introducing the use of safer, more efficient manufacturing components which reduce machinery downtime.

SMC supports many of its manufacturing industry customers and their tier one suppliers with advice on how best to use the findings of a Risk Assessment. These results can be used to identify and mitigate potential machinery and operator safety problems before they become a serious issue for the organisation or its workforce.

Safety challenges 
The most important first step for any manufacturer looking at machinery safety issues is to understand what it means for them as an organisation. While some major manufacturing operations have set up their own Site Safety Specifications, it is more often the case, particularly among SMEs, that they are not even entirely aware of all pertinent legislation and what they have to do to meet this. Increasingly tight safety legislation means no business can afford to ignore this, particularly given the increasingly widespread use of machinery and components from overseas suppliers where production standards are not as rigorous as those in the UK. 

Food safety is also a factor. If a component or system fails which results in contamination of the food being processed or packaged that can cost a company dearly not only in monetary terms but in brand reputation damage as well.

Every responsible business also has a duty of care to employees working on the production line to ensure not only that the equipment they are using is safe but that the working methods used are too. Appropriate training and its enforcement are critical to delivering this.

Competition has never been greater across the global manufacturing industry and there may be  a temptation to cut costs and corners when it comes to machinery safety as an instant gain.

To combat this SMC offers a unique partnership-based approach to customer relationships that takes a long-term view to solving your machinery and operator safety challenges – not just a quick-fix solution to an immediate issue.

Working in conjunction with a customer’s own Risk Assessment exercise, the Machinery Safety Solutions Strategy focuses on four core elements of the manufacturing process:

• Equipment safety and productivity – identify the pneumatic products and control systems key to optimising safety and productivity throughout the manufacturing operation from ingredient processing to finished product packaging.

• Operator usage and maintenance – assess all aspects of operator usage and machinery. maintenance in the manufacturing chain and improve practice and resource deployment through PUWER training and partner seminars.

• Change attitudes – devise and implement routes to optimise new thinking and attitudes to machinery safety and maintenance within the management, workforce and sales team.
• Embed safety management values – build an understanding of the business’s safety management policy to ensure best practice across all aspects of the manufacturing operation and engineering staff training.

Based on the results of this comprehensive data collection exercise, SMC will work with its customers to  work with you to develop a durable business solution to meet its machinery safety management issues with defined goals and the right team of people to deliver them.

Best practice advice
For example, a major UK-based snack manufacturer has devised its own set of Safety Standards which are implemented throughout its manufacturing plants. These standards are reviewed regularly and SMC has advised on best practice in relation to pneumatic control systems on the production lines.

In this environment with pneumatic control systems, dumping of air is a common way to stop unsafe movement in an emergency. This is done by fitting a pressure relief valve in the system but what happens if the valve develops a non-visible fault? The machine won’t stop as it is meant to and the consequences could be very serious. While a single safety valve system is acceptable under current legislation and this can be monitored if necessary, SMC advised the customer that the failure risks can be mitigated simply by fitting a dual channel monitored safety dump valve. This provides immediate back-up in the event of the failure of one of the valves and the monitoring will maintain the machine in a safe state until the failure is resolved.

As a result of this review, the customer has dual channel monitored safety valves fitted on all new machinery installed on the production line and onto older machines as they are upgraded.

To book an initial free, no-obligation consultation which includes a site visit and assessment and an outline report on your Machinery Safety Solutions Strategy, please email

Glenn Moffat is a safety specialist at SMC UK.

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