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Modifications to machine can introduce unforeseen safety risks into its operation



One of the main concerns of packaging machinery manufacturers is not knowing exactly how a customer will use the machine once it is installed and the service technicians have departed.

Some of the challenges include:

  • Owners changing or modifying the machines without the manufacturer's knowledge after installation and testing;

  • Owners defeating or removing safety devices such as guards, interlocks and warning systems;

  • Failure to perform proper maintenance;

  • Job procedures or job tasks that are not compatible with the machinery involved.

Making machines run faster and more efficiently is the main reason why machinery is frequently modified. The owners do not necessarily take into account what ramifications those modifications have on the overall safety of the machine. Of course, not all end users have this mindset, but you might be surprised how many do. Production pays the bills; safety doesn't.

Of course, employers are concerned with the overall safety of the personnel who work on or around their machinery. Nobody wants anyone to get injured. However, it is alarmingly common for those same safety minded end-users to modify machines for efficiency purposes, running production with guards off, interlocks defeated and personnel reaching into the moving machines.

In our litigious society, the machinery manufacturer can be sued even if the accident on the machine was caused by modifications made to the machine by the owner. Some states allow comparative fault or contributory negligence actions to be brought against the end user, some do not. The machinery manufacturer still must spend time and legal fees to show the accident was caused by modifications to the machine that they knew nothing about. Even then, they may not always be dismissed from the case.

In an ideal world, all packaging machine owners would inform the machine manufacturer of any changes made to the machines. These modifications on the plant floor can affect the safety features of the machine. If not corrected, a simple change can lead to haunting injuries.

If you contemplate modifications to your machinery, it would be prudent to contact the manufacturer. Even the slightest alteration may have an adverse effect on some safety features already incorporated into the machine. On larger machines, which may have hundreds of pages of electrical ladder diagrams, what may seem a minor adjustment to increase machine speed could inadvertently affect the functionality of a safety feature elsewhere on the machine.

Keep in mind that the safety features of a packaging machine were designed based on a specific, intended use. A change in intended use may have unintended consequences.

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