Gear guards for plating barrels
We process small lots of parts by barrel plating in 30 inch long by 14 inch diameter horizontal barrels. Our barrels are pulled by platers along an overhead hoist rail. The drive gear is at the back of the tank away from the operator. We recently had an OSHA inspection and the compliance officer said that the gears were a potential pinch point and should be guarded under the Machinery Guarding regulations. We may be fined for this. Does anyone have any prior experience with similar OSHA guarding issues and plating barrels?William T. Miller
- Dayton, OH USA
It's not always easy to accept, but the purpose of machine guarding is not to protect the careful, attentive employee; rather it is to protect the careless ignoramus. The thing is, every one of us is a careless ignoramus on certain days, like when we've just had a bad argument with a spouse, or the baby is home with a fever.
I've seen simple V-saddle type gear guards used on plating barrel installations--they've been available for decades--but I have to say that they struck me as pretty much "safety neutral" in most cases. In other words they looked like they contributed little to safety in the best case, while perhaps creating an illusion of such, and offered a hazard of their own in the worst case by increasing the 'snag zone'.
Your way, keeping the gear drives away from the operator, sounds like a far better approach. However, while you describe the gears as being on the opposite side of the tanks from the operators, the question of whether anybody is in that area remains to be answered. If you have a bunch of parallel lines and the operator of line 2 can easily wander into the gears of line 1 or line 3, well, it didn't help much to put them on the far side, and the least you should do is install guarding of some sort. But if they are truly in an area that is only entered for service when the line is down, and you have work rules to that effect, I don't see any hazard and I can't see gear guards accomplishing anything but making things worse.
The inspector is only human, and if s/he will be establishing a precedent that improves safety, s/he will want to do so. But if you can convince him/her that the citation is likely to increase a safety hazard in your shop or will establish a precedent that may pose a safety hazard in other shops, you should be able to get out of this one.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
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