Technical and industrial progress of the modern world led to the situation where hundreds of thousands of workers interact with various mechanisms on the daily basis at their workplaces. Due to the fact that early mechanisms lacked defensive systems, the rate of injuries and lethal accidents at workplaces worldwide was comparatively high. Gradually, the increase of safety standards at factories and industrial facilities resulted in significant reduction of accident rates. Nevertheless, the persistent presence of mechanical hazards at workplaces obliges the owners of industrial facilities to introduce constant safety training initiatives. Such initiatives, backed up with the update of equipment and machinery according to the latest safety standards, pursue the aim of preventing fatal industrial accidents of the past. This paper analyzes the nature of mechanical hazards along with their quantification and the discussion of typical strategies of their prevention and reduction of the risks for workers. Moreover, it analyzes four examples of mechanical hazards, identifying the reasons for their occurrence, evaluating associated damages, and proposing appropriate preventive strategies. One presumes that such an analysis is beneficial for both workers and owners of industrial machinery because of identification of the aspects of technical hazards and propositions of strategies for their prevention and mitigation.
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Identification and Quantification of Mechanical Hazards and Strategies for their Prevention
Mechanical hazards are mostly associated with various mechanisms that have moving parts dangerous for people in the case of a direct contact or exposure to the influence of the produced mechanical force. Experts claim that mechanical hazards have a wide range of sources and may include threats of various natures. Among them are rotating shafts, pullies, sprockets, gears, hard surfaces moving together, scissor or shear action, moving or stationary sharp edges, and cable and hose connections (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, n.d.). As a result, machine operators and other members of personnel should be attentive when approaching to or interacting with these mechanisms along adhering to basic safety instructions. As a result of such interactions, the identified parts bear the risk of entangling, crushing, severing, cutting or punching, slipping or causing falls (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, n.d.), friction or abrasion, high-pressure fluid injection, stabbing, and other (Health and Safety Executive, n.d.). Such a wide nature of mechanical threats led to striking statistics of incidences of fatal and non-fatal injuries at workplace. About 14,000 workers were killed on the job yearly 43 years ago, and the rates were gradually reduced from 38 to 12 fatal injuries a day (United States Department of Labor, n.d.). Despite the fact that statistics demonstrate the benefits of introducing advanced safety measures at industrial facilities, it is better to support positive tendencies and achievements in this sphere.
One of the critical benefits of mitigating f mechanical hazards at workplaces is their classification with further introduction of defensive technical updates and further industrial safety training initiatives. Thus, experts propose classifying mechanical hazards into several types, including rotating machinery, tools, cutting tools, magnets, glassware, projectile launchers, and robotic equipment (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, n.d.). The character of the movement and the aspects of interaction with human tissue or cloth with further outcomes validate the necessity of such a classification. For instance, machinery with rotating parts can catch loose clothing, hands, or hair; uncovered parts of such machines may fly off, increasing additional injury risks, especially for eyes (Physical hazards, n.d.). Consequently, the best possible prevention strategies include covering of the rotating parts, check of the stability of the equipment before usage, wearing special uniforms and eye-protecting glasses and headphones. At the same time, in some cases it is impossible to grant the safety of workers by means of protection equipment, which is why persistent safety instructions are the best way for assuring safe operation of the equipment. Such devices are mostly tools and cutting instruments, which require caution when operating, regular check for damages preventing proper functionality, and timely substitution of blades. Along with this, the best strategy for protecting workers from mechanical injuries caused by robotic equipment is the creation of separate areas for robotic machinery (Figure 1).
The enclosure of industrial robots is the most beneficial protective measure at factories because it completely restricts the access of workers to especially hazardous zones with automatic machinery. Similarly, workers require safety training in order to operate robots safely in the case there is a need for their repair or technical service. Consequently, the adherence of the personnel to identified safety measures leads to positive outcomes both for employees, machines, and owners of the factories. The reason for this is that workers avoid injuries and lethal accident, machinery operates without breakdowns, and factory owners do not have to pay compensations for moral and physical damages. Therefore, adherence to the basics of industrial safety in terms of machinery hazards is beneficial for the stakeholders of factories and plants with technical equipment. At the same time, in the case the workers and the administration of the industrial facilities do not follow the described guidelines, they may face dramatic outcomes endangering their labor ability and even lives.
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The Analysis of Industrial Accidents
The analysis of the industrial accidents involving mechanical hazards demonstrates that despite the increase of safety requirements at various plants and factories, there are numerous cases leading to lethal outcomes.
Accident at the Western Sugar Factory
The first example of the accident involving mechanical hazards occurred in 2014 at the Western Sugar Cooperative factory. Anfesa Marie Galaktionoff, a woman aged 28, was a mechanics helper working the day shift from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m; she eventually fell into a piece of industrial equipment (Lowell Chronicle, 2014). The officers of Lovell Police department arrived in order to investigate the circumstances that were associated with the missing worker. Soon, they discovered that Galaktionoff, working alone, had fallen into a piece of industrial equipment, which was a part of an enclosed filtration system (Lowell Chronicle, 2014). Since the system was enclosed and filled with filtrating water, it was impossible for the worker to avoid death.
Evaluating the damages from the accident, there is a need to state that the primary damage was the loss of life of the worker. Despite the fact that the factory had no economic damages from the accident, its occurrence raises concerns regarding the aspects of mechanical hazard protection policies at the Western Sugar Cooperative factory. Thus, it is evident that even though the refining system was enclosed and its major part was presented outside the factory, it did not prevent the worker from falling into the system. Thus, the company should review its safety standards and policies and implement additional courses allowing the workers to increase their industrial safety competences. Moreover, the administration of the factory is obliged to evaluate the threats coming from the refining mechanisms and assure that the entrance ways of the refining system have protecting nets. Such nets or shields would protect people and big objects from falling into the system. Similarly, the workers should be obliged to work in pairs when interacting with different mechanisms, including the ones of the refinery system. In the case workers are accompanied by a colleague during such operations, the possibility of reducing health and life-threatening risks drastically decreases because of the possibility to provide a rapid response. As a result, the rate of lethal incidences at the workplace reduces because the introduced measures would allow protecting health and lives of the workers.
Industrial Accident in Ionia
The accident occurred at Ventra Ionia Main in Ionia also involves the interaction of a mechanism with a worker, leading to fatal outcomes. A woman employee aged 57 got caught in a robotic machine during the work at an automotive stamping facility (Lansing State Journal, 2015). Eventually, the nearby personnel attempted to save the worker and freed her from the machine, but she died afterward. Consequently, the outcome of a mechanic hazard was the death of the worker when being on duty. It is evident that the accident occurred when the worker approached the dangerous machinery and got caught by it. This situation could only happen in the case the robotic equipment had no protecting shields preventing workers from contacting with it when it operates. This evidence is supported by the fact that several co-workers freely came to the machine in order to save the victim.
It was possible to prevent the accident if the company paid special attention to modern regulations and safety standards associated with the use of robotic equipment. In this sense, the administration had to install protecting shields detaching the areas with robots from contacts with workers. Moreover, the company should have paid more attention to the increase of industrial safety and mechanical hazard awareness of the personnel. As a result, qualified and efficiently trained workers would never approach a robot that is switched on and busy performing operations.
Industrial Accident at Volkswagen Production Plant
The analyzed case of the accident occurred at Volkswagen also involves a robot killing a worker. However, unlike the previously discussed example of a mechanical hazard, the factory had significantly higher industrial safety standards. Thus, a 22-year-old individual, who worked as a contractor setting up the stationary robot, was grabbed by it and smashed against a metal plate (“Robot kills worker at Volkswagen plant in Germany”, 2015). Analyzing the case, one should notice that the fatal mistake was not caused by a human factor. It was purely a problem of programming. This judgement is supported by the analytical evidence demonstrating that “the robot … can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process” and “operates within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them” (The Guardian, 2015). At the same time, the analysis of the case demonstrates that another contractor was not harmed by the machine even though he was standing near the victim.
The accident that occurred at the Volkswagen factory enriches the range of issues associated with mechanical hazards in the future. Among them is robotic programming and the assurance of the software stability during operation. The reason for this need is the fact that the robot, which fatally injured the worker at the Volkswagen plant, was not programmed when it started operating in the area. As a result, the employees who perform servicing and repairing works of robotic equipment should completely shut down the machines before performing their duties. This measure would allow avoiding the cases of unexpected operation of the machinery and exclude the possibility of applying mechanical power towards the personnel. Along with the previously discussed policies assuring safety regarding mechanical hazards of robotic nature, the aspects of adequate programming and power management would allow increasing the working safety of the employees.
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Industrial Accident at Buck Company
The analyzed accident, which took place at Buck Company, also involves the case when a suddenly switched machinery killed a worker performing servicing of the equipment. Thus, Fred Poston Jr. was working inside a molding machine when it “somehow turned on and fatally injured him” (Robinson, 2016). The machine involved in the accident was a sand mixer on which Fred Poston Jr. was doing maintenance work. It is reported that his leg was caught inside the molding machine (Robinson, 2016), which is why he had no possibility of escaping fatal injuries. A local Lancaster EMS medical unit responded to the accident immediately, providing advanced support care, but it was not successful and the employee died. During the investigation, the witness stated “there was no indication of foul play. It appears by all accounts to be accidental” (Robinson, 2016). Therefore, it becomes clear that the accident that led to the accidental death of an employee was avoidable.
The analysis of the cause-consecutive details of the case allows stating that it was possible to prevent the death of the worker in the case he checked the stability of the equipment. Moreover, the most beneficial strategy in such cases is to shut the machinery down before initiating any operation involving direct interaction with its parts. These measures should be obligatory for all workers operating autonomous mechanisms, especially those that lack defensive shields and human interaction detectors. Thus, such detectors shut down the moving parts of the machines if they catch cloth, human tissue, or hair, saving not only lives but also health of the workers. As a result, even in the case the workers fail to adhere to safety instructions, the machinery has stopping systems to avoid the injury of the personnel.
Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to conclude that in the predominant part of cases of workers interacting with mechanic hazards and getting injuries, the major cause is safety instructions malpractice. The reason for this assumption is that the victims of the analyzed cases entered unsafe areas with operating automatic machinery and performed their work on contacting power-supplied equipment. Similarly, in some fatal cases, the workers refused the assistance of their colleagues, who may have had a possibility to support and save them according to the instructions. Therefore, industrial facilities require imposing strict regulation policies regarding the adherence of the personnel to the basic safety instructions involving mechanical hazards. Such policies would be beneficial for health and lives of workers as well as save the reputation of the companies’ authorities. It becomes possible because guaranteed safety of the personnel at the workplace is the demonstration of the administration and managers’ adherence to the principles of safe labor and human rights.
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Summarizing the presented information, the paper concludes that rapid development of various industries requires that industrial facilities introduce strong mechanical hazard protection policies. Among them should be the steps towards updating the equipment in order to obtain its safest versions and assurance of the presence of protection shields restricting the access to moving parts. Moreover, the personnel is obliged to monitor the machinery and assure that it works properly before initiating specific working tasks. Similarly, the administration of the companies should oblige workers to learn about mechanical hazard related initiatives and assure their adherence to safety instructions. Furthermore, the analysis of the case studies serving as examples of mechanical hazards allows stating that modern trends require that the administration of the facilities is more attentive to robotic machinery. One suggests that robots should operate in specific areas with restricted access of the personnel in order to avoid injuries and lethal outcomes. Similarly, the most important aspect of work with any machinery is the rule that the workers should shut down the equipment before performing servicing procedures. Lastly, the administration should impose an advanced system of teaching and monitoring the adherence to safety regulations in order to validate the described guidelines in various industrial setting. Consequently, the proposed policies would allow mitigating typical problems of mechanical hazards as well as avoiding their occurrence.