Machine Guards or Guardian Angels?

The work of buyers, sellers and manufacturers of machine guards and rear mesh is really all about improving workplace safety.

But how common are occupational fatalities, and to whom do they occur? To find out, I started by reviewing 27 pages of statistics from the Swedish Work Environment Authority – namely the list of all those who have lost their lives during the course of their work in Sweden in the years 2008-2020. Although Sweden has no more than ten million inhabitants and safety is something that is high on the agenda, there are a lot of accidents in our workplaces.

100 deaths from falls and machines

I could quickly see that truck drivers and farmers were two particularly accident-prone professions. But since we manufacture machine guards and rear mesh, I wanted to take a closer look at this. How many people actually die in accidents involving machines, robots and conveyor belts? And how many die when something falls on them? In the last 13 years: about 100 people.

The types of objects that fall on workers vary. Trees, in forestry work, are by far the most common. But there are also people who perished under falling ceilings, walls, gates or pipes. One individual was killed under a container, others under a concrete pillar, a light, an antenna, a crane, a beam, shafts, a hay bale, cereals, an excavator bucket, a load unit, a silage bale, a silage roller and a paper roller (larger model used at paper mills). Yes, it’s a long and macabre list. In other cases, goods or cargo (ranging from timber to pallets) had fallen on the driver from the truck trailer, excavator or loader. Yet it is not on trucks and machines that our rear mesh is mounted, but on warehouse racks.

Two warehouse workers on the list

I could only find two warehouse workers on the long list of occupational fatalities: one collided with a train on New Year’s Eve and the second involved a Bobcat skid steer. So neither had been struck by falling goods.

Let us hope that, rather than just being a coincidence, there is such a good safety mind-set in Swedish warehouses that precautions have already been taken to ensure that goods cannot fall down into the aisle behind, which is something that can of course happen if, for instance, a forklift driver places a pallet too far back on a rack or knocks down a pallet already on the rack.

Hopefully this means that warehouses are no longer using DIY rear mesh made from materials that were actually designed for something else entirely and which had never undergone load and impact testing.

At the same time, only a small proportion of all accidents are fatal. Physical injuries to workers and damage to goods are far more common, and these were not accounted for in this set of statistics.

Deaths Involving Machinery and Robots

What are the statistics for fatal accidents involving machines, conveyor belts and robots? Unfortunately, the list of occupational fatalities over the last 13 years is long:

  • Concrete goods worker, 21 years old, pinned between industrial robot and conveyor belt.
  • Cleaner, 38, accident with pick-and-place robot.
  • Process operator, 24, pinned in production machine.
  • Hardening technician, 54, pinned between track and portal cell.
  • Plastic goods worker, 57, pinned in industrial punch.
  • Crusher operator, 62, pinned in conveyor belt.
  • Farmer, 44, struck by feed mixer blades.
  • Sawmill worker, 60, caught in machine.
  • Sawmill worker, 23, caught in chain conveyor.
  • Driller, 20, caught in a drill.
  • Paper goods worker, 38, pinned between roller and beam.

Pinned machine operators

This tragic list also includes several machine operators who had been pinned in a packing machine, CNC machine, between paper rollers; caught in “machine”, “rolling machine”, “with arm in conveyor belt”, along with someone who was crushed by a metal fixture and someone who was fatally injured in a forging press.

The statistics do not say anything about the circumstances of the individual cases, but, with so many accidents involving machinery, one naturally wonders whether these workplaces truly had appropriate and properly installed machine guards?

Different from industry to industry

Looking at occupational fatalities in Sweden in the 2010s, the number is highest in construction (90), followed by transport and storage (83), agriculture, hunting, fishing (75) and manufacturing (57). The industries with the fewest fatal accidents in the ten-year period were the hospitality industry and information and communication sector, with two deaths each.

As I am writing this, I hear the voices of those fortunate enough to not have experienced the above: But shouldn’t everyone be able to feel safe at their workplace? In cases where all that’s missing are a few mesh panels, the choice should be simple – rather make sure that you have rear mesh or machine guards you can trust, than putting all your faith in your guardian angel.

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to install machine guards and rear mesh in pre-existing environments, since Garantell’s products are made to measure. So let us hope that, in 2021, those of us in the industry can contribute to fewer workplace accidents across Europe. After all, that is the ultimate purpose of our work – no matter if you develop, manufacture, sell, purchase, assemble or market the products!

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