When to replace equipment due to safety considerations

The condition of the equipment that employees use or operate in an industrial setting can directly affect a company's productivity.

It can also put workers' safety at risk. Here are six things that should factor into any decision about equipment replacement timelines.

1. Reports from employees about unusual equipment behavior

A safe workplace should have procedures for reporting and investigating equipment malfunctions. Regular training informs employees about which channels to go through for sounding the alarm.

It's essential to look into issues that employees bring up. Firstly, proactiveness could signal when it's time to replace equipment by highlighting patterns. For example, if initial investigations didn't indicate that something was amiss, but there are three reports about the same issue in a month, a closer assessment is warranted.

2. Injuries and fatalities

On-the-job accidents and deaths are causes for concern in any workplace. Depending on the circumstances, these incidents can lead to fines, negative press coverage and plummeting employee morale. Malfunctioning equipment can also make these issues more likely to happen than they'd be if the product worked as expected.

In one incident at a Canadian concrete manufacturer that killed one man and left another with broken bones all over his body, sources said a piece of equipment functioned unusually, and it could have caused the incident. It's ideal to catch critical issues before they lead to such consequences.

When equipment causes worker harm, or something suggests that it might, it's a compelling reason to choose a replacement.

3. Equipment that's past its average lifespan

The documentation that comes with pieces of industrial machinery often gives guidance about how long the equipment should perform under typical circumstances. For example, forklifts last about seven years on average, equalling from 10,000-12,000 hours. Factors such as harsh environments and excessive usage amounts can cause a forklift to go out of commission sooner.

It's crucial for companies to be aware of equipment lifespans and whether usage patterns at the workplaces in question could cause deviations from the norm. Sometimes, a characteristic associated with a particular equipment component could create decreased life expectancies. If the undercarriage of a crawler tractor has a track that's tighter than manufacturer specifications, for instance, the lifespan can go down by as much as 70 percent.

4. Excessive wear on protective equipment

Many workers in industrial settings wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like goggles, hard hats and ear plugs. Industrial regulations about PPE state that employers and employees have distinct responsibilities to uphold.

As a start, employees maintain their PPE, but the employers must verify that the PPE maintenance has occurred. Plus, employees need to notify their employers of PPE damage or inadequacy. Then, employers pay to replace the PPE unless the worker loses it or intentionally ruins the gear.

If an employer notices that PPE is abnormally worn or a worker reports it as such, the workplace should invest in replacements. Doing so can enhance safety, and it gives the impression that the company cares about the well-being of its employees.

5. Equipment that causes ongoing slowdowns or stoppages

Statistics show that the average manufacturing plant deals with 800 hours of annual downtime. At specific plants, the expenses connected to a stopped assembly line can be tens of thousands of dollars per minute.

There may be cases when equipment has not yet posed a safety risk, but it behaves in ways that cause operations to halt or slow down. Even the minutes needed to reboot a machine during troubleshooting are precious and can rack up extra costs.

Plant managers should keep tabs on the average output of the workforce and its equipment, then tell supervisors and safety personnel if unusual declines happen. Although it's not true in every case, tools that start showing time-intensive symptoms and disrupt the workflow can soon cause safety issues as well.

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can compile statistics and offer preventive maintenance strategies. Analysis tools can also highlight characteristics suggesting other things causing issues.

6. Inspections revealing dangerous issues

In the United States and Canada, there are national and state or provincial laws dictating the inspections of most equipment. Although regulatory officials handle periodic checks, the people who operate the machinery must check it before and after use.

If an inspection by a regulator or operator reveals a problem that could cause a safety issue, it's time to replace the equipment. Moreover, the people who evaluate it daily must learn about unusual wear patterns to understand what constitutes a problem.

Regular replacements can keep workers safe

Equipment replacements are not the only things that increase worker safety, but worn and outdated equipment increases risk factors.

The signs covered here help companies know when to invest in new necessities.