Ghost in the machine: Protect yourself from injury

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Safe use of machinery lands in top 10 most frequently issued workplace inspection orders by Ontario Ministry of Labour

Hazard Alert - Work safely around guardrails - please print, post, and encourage discussion in your workplace

Illustrated chart of examples of mechanical hazards

Based on a 2012 safety inspection blitz by the Ministry of Labour, machine guarding and lockout was one of the top ten most frequently issued orders in the workplace. Here are some real-life scenarios of machine safety incidents.

  • A worker was oiling a conveyor belt while it was running. The shaft, located in an out-of-the way room, rotated so slowly you could barely see it move. The worker didn’t notice his pant leg becoming entangled with the shaft, which was heavily coated with sticky paint. By the time he felt the fabric of his coveralls tightening around his ankle, it was too late. He was working alone, and all he could do was hold on as his leg was torn off below the knee. 
  • A production worker was pinned by a control arm and pulled into a box-packaging machine where he suffocated, despite coworkers attempts to rescue him. The 31-year-old man was married with two children.
  • An experienced worker became entangled in an unguarded roller machine and was crushed to death in a matter of moments. She left behind a husband and two small children.

“Unfortunately, these types of horrific incidents continue to occur,” says Jerry Traer, WSN Program-Training Specialist, “which is why you need to regularly refresh your knowledge and awareness about the safe use of machinery.”

More than 350 amputations in Ontario

Improper or non-existent guarding and lockout of machines and equipment can result in disfiguring injuries, amputations and death. 

In the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) Statistical Supplement to the 2010 Annual Report the following information was reported for 2009:

  • 2,171 lost time injury claims (LTIs) for caught in or compressed by equipment 
  • 427 LTIs for rubbed or abraded by friction, pressure or jarred by vibration 
  • 361 amputations 

WSIB 2010 data shows that LTIs for guarding and lockout rank in the top four causes of injuries, however, the injuries tend to be more severe than any other cause of injury.

Young David Ellis’s story is a tragic reminder of the importance of machine guarding and lockout. David had just finished high school and took a temporary job in a bakery to save up for university in the fall. In the summer of 2000, the 18-year-old was removing cookie dough from an industrial mixer when the machine was activated – something guarding and lockout could have prevented. He was drawn into the mixer and died six days later of massive head injuries. It was only his second day on the job. 


His family has created a foundation and, as you can see in the video Will You Think of Dave?, often speak publicly at events and schools to help educate others about the importance of workplace health and safety.

Cleaning, maintenance, removing jammed items most dangerous

Illustration of worker reaching through machine guard

The most common activities in which injuries and deaths occurred involved cleaning a drum or other part of a conveyor, conveyor maintenance, regular activities such as sorting or packing near a conveyor and recovering a jammed item from an unguarded pinch point hazard. Health and safety inspectors take a “zero tolerance” approach to any contraventions found under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Tips on how to prepare for a Ministry of Labour inspection blitz on safe use of machinery

Before the inspector’s visit 

  • Check your incident experience in relation to the inspection blitz topic
  • Review the sections of the Act and regulations that may apply 
  • Determine whether you currently meet or exceed minimum legal requirements
  • Consult with your Ontario health and safety association for specific information and services that may help you prepare – often online webinars are available
  • Review inspection blitz-related material prepared by the Ministry
  • Discuss compliance strategies with your Joint Health and Safety Committee, and Health and Safety Representative

During the visit 

  • Ensure all required documentation is available to inspector
  • Ensure supervisor and health and safety representative are available
  • Ensure workplace parties co-operate with inspector

What the inspector will verify 

  • Compliance with the OHSA and its regulations 
  • Health and safety programs and policies relative to inspection blitz topic
  • Internal Responsibility System – self reliance
  • Training requirements and any deficiencies 
  • Record of injuries, including blitz-associated issues
  • Workplace-specific hazards related to the blitz awareness campaign 

Note: Inspectors can legally enter a project or workplace at any time without warrant or prior notice (OHSA section 54(1)(a)). The inspector will show ministry identification; it is illegal to hinder, interfere or obstruct an inspection.


WSN Energy control lockout procedure posted on website

Workplace Safety North has posted its policy with regard to safe use of machinery, Energy Control – Lockout, and has made it available on its website as a template for other organizations. The policy applies to all WSN staff, visitors and contractors, including North Bay and Sudbury offices, Ontario Mine Rescue, and field staff visiting member firms. 

“The purpose of the policy is to prevent injury and ensure WSN workers, visitors and hired contractors are adequately protected when performing lockout-tagout procedures such as equipment maintenance,” says Traer. “The machinery and equipment must be de-energized, locked out to a zero energy state, or provided with an adequate temporary protective device or process, so that the equipment is safe to work on. The policy also outlines responsibility and authority for staff, as well as training requirements, and consequences for not following procedure.”

Illustrations courtesy of Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) and Commission de la santé et de al sécurité due travail du Québec (CSST).  

Related information

MOL health and safety inspection blitzes: Nov 3-Dec 14, 2014 Machine guarding inspection blitz 

Free Resources

Machine Safety: Prevention of mechanical hazards – Fixed guards and safety distances – Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) and Commission de la santé et de al sécurité due travail du Québec (CSST).  Informative, illustrated booklet 

Workplace Safety North information videos

Hazard Alerts

Please print relevant topics for your industry, post and encourage discussion in your workplace

Inadequately guarded firewood processor results in amputation

Millwright pinned in machinery while adjusting components

Machine ejects two 16-foot 2x4s in a wall 70 feet away

Lumber grader’s arm caught in rollers of grading table

Close call for belly-dump operator (mining)

Work safely around guardrails – never reach through or over top