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Why should you get involved in Standards Development?

2014 July 15
by Doug Nix

Committee groupIt’s now been more than 30 years since I first learned about standards, in the form of the Ontario Electrical Code. I was studying electricity and electronics in high school, and Steve Struk, the Electricity Teacher at Erindale Secondary School in Mississauga, introduced us to the rules. My first encounter with international standards was 25 years ago, when I was tasked with doing some environmental stress testing using a thermal, humidity and vibration chamber at Hammond Manufacturing in Guelph. Standards were, and are, an important part of engineering and technology, and they play increasingly important roles in business and occupational health and safety. Writing standards takes time. Lots of time. That time has to be provided by interested people and organizations who recognize the value that standards bring to their work and their businesses. Most people involved in standards committees are “paid volunteers”, meaning that they are volunteering their time, but their employers are paying them for the time they spend engaged in standards work. Some, like me, are true volunteers, where the time spent on standards work is given without any compensation except the knowledge that we are contributing some small part to making Canada a better place to live and work.

So why should you get involved in standards work? A recent SCC communiqué said it very well:

“SCC’s membership in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) provides Canadian business, government and consumer stakeholders with the opportunity to sit at the table of global experts making the rules that will then dictate the global trade agenda within their field. As a member of a committee developing an international standard, Canada becomes part of a community of national experts creating the standard they need, and can benefit greatly through greater involvement in the development process.

As a member on a technical committee at ISO or IEC, a business can influence the future of its market, get early access to cutting edge information and define its competitive environment internationally. Simply put: participation in international standards development provides Canadians with an opportunity to influence a document that could affect their lives or business in the future.”

Getting involved in standards writing is rewarding, challenging, work. Getting involved gives you a chance to contribute your knowledge and expertise to Canada’s future, and provides an “…opportunity to influence a document that could affect their lives or business in the future.”

Get involved. Contribute. It’s worth it!

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Acknowledgements: Standards Council of Canada
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Risk Assessment Blunders

2014 June 26
by Doug Nix

Analysis TeamUpdated 7-Jul-2014

Recently I read a blog post written by David Cant, called, “Are You Making These Risk Assessment Blunders?“. Writing in the UK, Mr. Cant spoke to some of the common kinds of problems that can occur when employers conduct risk assessments. Many his points are equally applicable to machine building:

  1. No Risk Assessment – This seems self evident, since you can’t work to control what you don’t know exists. Unfortunately, some liability lawyers have advised clients NOT to conduct risk assessments, on the basis that you can’t be blamed for something you knew nothing about. This position is changing, since risk assessment has become a fundamental piece of the machinery design process and is included in US, Canadian, International, EU, and Australian standards to name a few. What remains as a liability are poorly done risk assessments, and those can certainly hurt a company in a liability case. See Point 3.
  2. Not Properly Identifying Hazards – This is another big one. Machine builders sometimes fail to understand the hazards that are incorporated into their machinery, especially in the case of system integrators. Identification is the first step, analysis is the second step. Once the hazard has been identified, the assessors must analyze the hazard to understand the magnitude of injury that can occur, e.g., a paper cut, hearing loss, permanent musculoskeletal disorder, fatality, etc.
  3. Creating an inadequate risk assessment - If you “phone it in”, any knowledgable person will be able to see that, and you can be sure that prosecutors will bring that to the attention of the court! Any claim that is made will be refuted by a knowledgable person hired by the prosecution.
  4. Assuming Safety Because You Have a Document – A risk assessment report never protected anyone from harm. Actions based on the report are what protect people from harm. Simply completing a risk assessment and sticking the report in the design file fixes nothing, and going back to the liability discussion, will create problems when it becomes clear that a) You knew about the risks, b) You thought out mitigation measures for the risks, but c) You failed to act on your own recommendations.
  5. Not involving your employees – I would change this to read, “Not involving the customer or end user.” Getting a risk assessment done by an outside individual is likely going to result in a poor outcome, if that person does not work with the knowledgable people in your organization. If this is an internal risk assessment for a process used in-house, then you need the workers involved with the process to be part of the risk assessment team. You also need the process designers (electrical, mechanical, software, etc.). If this is a product development risk assessment, then you will need product designers, marketing or sales people, and end-users. In all cases you may also need outside experts to help with hazard analysis and mitigation, since you may not have the expertise in-house. A good example of this is the use of industrial lasers into processes.
  6. Assessing risk generically – this goes back to point 3 – a risk assessment has to relevant to the process, product or service that it describes. using a risk assessment developed by someone else for some other similar product, process or service limits your thinking to just what they decided was relevant. Better to start with a blank sheet, and only at the end look at other’s work to see if you may have missed anything they included.
  7. Doing the risk assessment after the machine has been designed, built and put into use – This is a common problem, and especially affects workplaces that buy off-the-shelf machinery and used machinery. Many machine builders are not familiar with risk assessment or the benefits to their products, their liability exposure, and their reputation in the marketplace, let alone the benefits to their customers. Conducting the risk assessment after the equipment is in use means that the first stage of the Hierarchy of Controls cannot be used. Since this is the only stage that can achieve 100% risk reduction, this is a HUGE loss. In addition, this means that any changes needed to mitigate risk require expensive changes when the machinery is already in production, compounding the expense with lost production. If you have no other option — for instance, you’ve taken over an existing business and no risk assessments have been done in the past, then late is better than never, but it should be a last resort and not the first choice. Special thanks to Douglas Florence for suggesting this added blunder!

All of this brings me to some important standards. The Canadian Standards Association released CSA Z1002, Occupational health and safety – Hazard identification and elimination and risk assessment and control, in 2012. This is a landmark standard, because it addresses workplace risk assessment. No other standards development organization has released anything quite like it. There are some innovative ideas in the standard, including the idea of “risk transfer.” This concept explains how risk is transferred from the developer or supplier of a product, process or service, called the “external context”, to the user organization, called the “internal context”, and then to the worker. At each transfer point, the risk should have been reduced so that the worker’s exposure is as low as possible, and certainly no higher than permitted by law.

In the machinery world, the “mother standard” is ISO 12100, Safety of machinery — General principles for design — Risk assessment and risk reduction. This standard affects many of the machinery safety standards developed worldwide, including CSA Z432 and the ANSI B11 standards, and is harmonized under the Machinery Directive as EN ISO 12100. This standard lays out the process for safe machine design and provides the framework for machinery risk assessment. A companion document, ISO/TR 14121-2, Safety of machinery — Risk assessment — Part 2: Practical guidance and examples of methods, provides guidance on how to conduct a risk assessment, and offers up some example tools that could be used for this purpose. In the US, ANSI publishes ANSI B11-TR3, Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction – A Guide to Estimate, Evaluate and Reduce Risks Associated with Machine Tools, providing solar guides to users of the B11 family of standards.

Need to know more? Contact me for information training and risk assessment work in your facility!

The History behind April 28th

2014 April 28
Comments Off
by Doug Nix
Poster showing a canary singing in a cage, reminding us of the canaries used in the past in coal mines to detect hazardous gases.

National Day of Mourning Poster

This post was written by Adam Wargon, Gecko Safety Inc., and originally posted on the CSA Communities of Interest.

April 28 has many names. In Canada, it’s the Day of Mourning. In the United States and the United Kingdom, it’s Workers’ Memorial Day. The International Labour Organization calls it the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Marked around the world, there’s confusion about its origins, even in Canada.

Around 1983, the health and safety director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Colin Lambert, and his long-time friend and fellow activist, Ray Sentes, came up with the idea of a day to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.

As a steelworker and miner in Sudbury, Ontario, Lambert was instrumental in having mandatory coroners’ inquests for all miners’ deaths in Ontario. He also lamented the contrast between the lack of recognition for miners and other workers who died because of their work, and the large public events for “fallen” police officers and fire fighters.

Lambert “floated the idea” with CUPE’s national health and safety committee, talking about a special day of recognition for workers killed and injured on the job, to be held on May 1 (celebrated as May Day in Europe and elsewhere). The committee endorsed the idea. At its 1984 convention, union delegates supported the proposal. Soon after, some CUPE locals started negotiating events, such as lowered flags and moments of silence.

In 1984 and 1985, CUPE representatives took the idea to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) executive and its national health and safety committee. Local unions also sent resolutions to the CLC.

In February 1986, the CLC announced the first Day of Mourning, coinciding with the first day of its convention that year. Rather than May 1, they chose the date when the Ontario legislature passed the country’s first workers compensation law, in 1914. The convention passed a resolution supporting April 28 as a day to “mourn for the dead and fight for the living.”

In 1990, Lambert and CUPE pushed for innovative ways to recognise the day. April 28 could be a “year-round series of public events”, not just a Day of Mourning. We can attract “broad public recognition for the day by adopting a universal, unthreatening symbol of worker safety, the canary.”

“The canary’s an appropriate symbol,” Lambert said. “It shows that today workers are the canaries — they are front-line protection for all of us.” The canary also showed up in the CLC’s new poster for April 28.

Lambert and others saw the potential for a day of “preventive action for workers which will be recognized by society in general.” They called on CUPE locals to have activities in the week heading up to the 28th. They sent a package with a new poster — introducing the canary symbol — and a special issue of the health and safety newsletter. There also was a workplace inspection checklist, and calls for locals to campaign for government recognition of the day, and to bargain or ask employers for a moment’s silence at 11 a.m. on April 28.

CUPE members and others responded with enthusiasm. The British Columbia CUPE health and safety committee had a “Spot the Hazard” campaign for workplace inspections. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Federation of Labour and CUPE produced tags with the canary symbol and “Day of Mourning, April 28”. They sold them with members of the local professional football team and the Boys and Girls Club, with proceeds to the Club. In Windsor, Ontario, more than 300 people marched to the Ministry of Labour to lay a wreath and release black balloons inscribed with “We came here to work, not to die”.

The campaign for government recognition paid off. In February 1991, the Canadian government passed a private member’s bill, naming April 28 as the “Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.” Provincial and municipal governments also recognize the day.

These efforts, and many others, inspired trade unions and health and safety activists and around the world. Monuments and plaques are some of the most common responses. There were so many by 2001 that Ed Thomas of Hamilton wrote a book about them — “Dead But Not Forgotten–Monuments to Workers.” The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) put some of his pictures on a web page (

The campaign for recognition of the day has been successful. Now what about the goals behind it?

Portrait of Adam Wargon

Adam Wargon, President, Gecko Safety Inc.

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