Basics of machine safeguarding

Crushed hands and arms, severed fingers, blindness — the list of possible machinery-related injuries is as long as it is horrifying. There seem to be as many hazards created by moving machine parts as there are types of machines. Safeguards are essential for protecting workers from needless and preventable injuries.

A good rule to remember is that any machine part, function or process which may cause injury must be safeguarded. When the operation of a machine or accidental contact with it can injure the operator or others in the vicinity, the hazards must be either controlled or eliminated.

This document describes the various hazards of mechanical motion and presents some techniques for protecting workers from these hazards. General information covered includes where mechanical hazards occur, the hazards created by different kinds of motions and the requirements for effective safeguards, as well as a brief discussion of non-mechanical hazards.

Where mechanical hazards occur

Dangerous moving parts in three basic areas require safeguarding:

  1. The point of operation: that point where work is performed on the material, such as cutting, shaping, boring or forming of stock.
  2. Power transmission apparatus: all components of the mechanical system which transmit energy to the part of the machine performing the work. These components include flywheels, pulleys, belts, connecting rods, couplings, cams, spindles, chains, cranks and gears.
  3. Other moving parts: all parts of the machine that move while the machine is working. These can include reciprocating, rotating and transverse moving parts, as well as feed mechanisms and auxiliary parts of the machine.

Hazardous mechanical motions and actions

A wide variety of mechanical motions and actions may present hazards to the worker. These can include the movement of rotating members, reciprocating arms, moving belts, meshing gears, cutting teeth and any parts that impact or shear. These different types of hazardous mechanical motions and actions are basic in varying combinations to nearly all machines, and recognizing them is the first step toward protecting workers from the danger they present.

The basic types of hazardous mechanical motions and actions are:


  • Rotating (including in-running nip points)
  • Reciprocating
  • Transversing


  • Cutting
  • Punching
  • Shearing
  • Bending

Rotating motion can be dangerous; even smooth, slowly rotating shafts can grip clothing, and, through mere skin contact, force an arm or hand into a dangerous position. Injuries due to contact with rotating parts can be severe.

Collars, couplings, cams, clutches, flywheels, shaft ends, spindles, meshing gears and horizontal or vertical shafting are some examples of common rotating mechanisms that can be hazardous. The danger increases when projections such as set screws, bolts, nicks, abrasions, and projecting keys are exposed on rotating parts.

In-running nip point hazards are caused by the rotating parts on machinery. There are three main types of in-running nips.

  1. Parts can rotate in opposite directions while their axes are parallel to each other. These parts may be in contact (producing a nip point) or in close proximity. In the latter case the stock fed between the rolls produces the nip points. This danger is common on machines with intermeshing gears, rolling mills and calendars.
  2. Nip points are also created between rotating and tangentially moving parts. Some examples would be: the point of contact between a power transmission belt and its pulley, a chain and a sprocket and a rack and pinion.
  3. Nip points can occur between rotating and fixed parts which create a shearing, crushing or abrading action. Examples are: spoked hand wheels or flywheels, screw conveyors or the periphery of an abrasive wheel and an incorrectly adjusted work rest.

Reciprocating motions may be hazardous because, during the back-and-forth or up-and-down motion, a worker may be struck by or caught between a moving and a stationary part.

Transverse motion (movement in a straight, continuous line) creates a hazard because a worker may be struck or caught in a pinch or shear point by the moving part.


Cutting action may involve rotating, reciprocating or transverse motion. The danger of cutting action exists at the point of operation where finger, arm and body injuries can occur and where flying chips or scrap material can strike the head, particularly in the area of the eyes or face. Such hazards are present at the point of operation in cutting wood, metal or other materials.

Examples of mechanisms involving cutting hazards include band saws, circular saws, boring or drilling machines, turning machines (lathes) or milling machines.

Punching action results when power is applied to a slide (ram) for the purpose of blanking, drawing or stamping metal or other materials. The danger of this type of action occurs at the point of operation where stock is inserted, held and withdrawn by hand.

Typical machines used for punching operations are power presses and iron workers.

Shearing action involves applying power to a slide or knife in order to trim or shear metal or other materials. A hazard occurs at the point of operation where stock is actually inserted, held and withdrawn.

Examples of machines used for shearing operations are mechanically, hydraulically or pneumatically powered shears.

Bending action results when power is applied to a slide in order to draw or stamp metal or other materials. A hazard occurs at the point of operation where stock is inserted, held and withdrawn.

Equipment that uses bending action includes power presses, press brakes and tubing benders.

Requirements for safeguards

What must a safeguard do to protect workers against mechanical hazards? Safeguards must meet these minimum general requirements:

Prevent contact: The safeguard must prevent hands, arms and any other part of a worker’s body from making contact with dangerous moving parts. A good safeguarding system eliminates the possibility of the operator or another worker placing parts of their bodies near hazardous moving parts.

Secure: Workers should not be able to easily remove or tamper with the safeguard because a safeguard that can easily be made ineffective is no safeguard at all. Guards and safety devices should be made of durable material that will withstand the conditions of normal use. They must be firmly secured to the machine.

Protect from falling objects: The safeguard should ensure that no objects can fall into moving parts. A small tool which is dropped into a cycling machine could easily become a projectile that could strike and injure someone.

Create no new hazards: A safeguard defeats its own purpose if it creates a hazard of its own such as a shear point, a jagged edge or an unfinished surface that can cause a laceration. The edges of guards, for instance, should be rolled or bolted in such a way that they eliminate sharp edges.

Create no interference: Any safeguard that impedes a worker from performing the job quickly and comfortably might soon be overridden or disregarded. Proper safeguarding can actually enhance efficiency since it can relieve the worker’s apprehensions about injury.

Allow safe lubrication: If possible, one should be able to lubricate the machine without removing the safeguards. Locating oil reservoirs outside the guard, with a line leading to the lubrication point, will reduce the need for the operator or maintenance worker to enter the hazardous area.

Non-mechanical hazards

While this manual concentrates attention on concepts and techniques for safeguarding mechanical motion, machines obviously present a variety of other hazards which cannot be ignored. Full discussion of these matters is beyond the scope of this publication, but some non-mechanical hazards are briefly mentioned below to remind the reader of things other than safeguarding moving parts that can affect the safe operation of machines.

All power sources for machines are potential sources of danger. When using electrically powered or controlled machines, for instance, the equipment as well as the electrical system itself must be properly grounded. Replacing frayed, exposed or old wiring will also help to protect the operator and others from electrical shocks or electrocution. High pressure systems, too, need careful inspection and maintenance to prevent possible failure from pulsation, vibration or leaks. Such a failure could cause, among other things, explosions or flying objects.

Machines often produce noise (unwanted sound) which can result in a number of hazards to workers. Noise can startle and disrupt concentration, and can interfere with communications, thus hindering the worker’s safe job performance. Research has linked noise to a whole range of harmful health effects, from hearing loss and aural pain to nausea, fatigue, reduced muscle control and emotional disturbance. Engineering controls such as the use of sound-dampening materials, and personal protective equipment, such as ear plugs and muffs, can help control the harmful effects of noise. Also, administrative controls that involve removing the worker from the noise source can be an effective measure when feasible.

Because some machines require the use of cutting fluids, coolants, and other potentially harmful substances, operators, maintenance workers, and others in the vicinity may need protection. These substances can cause ailments ranging from dermatitis to serious illnesses and disease. Specially constructed safeguards, ventilation and protective equipment and clothing are possible temporary solutions to the problem of machinery-related chemical hazards until these hazards can be better controlled or eliminated from the workplace.


Even the most elaborate safeguarding system cannot offer effective protection unless the worker knows how to use it and why. Specific and detailed training is therefore a crucial part of any effort to provide safeguarding against machine-related hazards. Thorough operator training should involve instruction or hands-on training in the following:

  • A description and identification of the hazards associated with particular machines
  • The safeguards themselves, how they provide protection, and the hazards for which they are intended;
  • How to use the safeguards and why
  • How and under what circumstances safeguards can be removed, and by whom (in most cases, repair or maintenance personnel only)
  • What to do (e.g., contact the supervisor) if a safeguard is damaged, missing, or unable to provide adequate protection

This kind of safety training is necessary for new operators and maintenance or setup personnel, when any new or altered safeguards are put in service, or when workers are assigned to a new machine or operation.

Protective clothing and personal protective equipment

Engineering controls that eliminate the hazard at the source and do not rely on the worker’s behavior for their effectiveness offer the best and most reliable means of safeguarding. Therefore, engineering controls must be the employer’s first choice for eliminating machine hazards. But whenever engineering controls are not available or are not fully capable of protecting the employee (an extra measure of protection is necessary), operators must wear protective clothing or personal protective equipment.

If it is to provide adequate protection, the protective clothing and equipment selected must always be:

  • Appropriate for the particular hazards
  • Maintained in good condition
  • Properly stored when not in use, to prevent damage or loss
  • Kept clean, fully functional and sanitary

Protective clothing is, of course, available for different parts of the body. Hard hats can protect the head from the impact of bumps and falling objects when the worker is handling stock; caps and hair nets can help keep the worker’s hair from being caught in machinery. If machine coolants could splash or particles could fly into the operator’s eyes or face, then face shields, safety goggles, glasses or similar kinds of protection might be necessary. Hearing protection may be needed when workers operate noisy machines. To guard the trunk of the body from cuts or impacts from heavy or rough-edged stock, there are certain protective coveralls, jackets, vests, aprons and full-body suits. Workers can protect their hands and arms from the same kinds of injury with special sleeves and gloves. Safety shoes and boots, or other acceptable foot guards, can shield the feet against injury in case the worker needs to handle heavy stock that might drop.

It is important to note that protective clothing and equipment can create hazards. A protective glove which can become caught between rotating parts, or a respirator face piece which hinders the wearer’s vision, for example, require alertness and continued attentiveness whenever they are used.

Other parts of the worker’s clothing may present additional safety hazards. For example, loose-fitting shirts might become entangled in rotating spindles or other kinds of moving machinery. Jewelry, such as bracelets and rings, can catch on machine parts or stock and lead to serious injury by pulling a hand into the danger area.


Concepts and Techniques of machine guarding — OSHA publication 3067.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you, The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC DEC 2018-461
171-1146 (1/15)