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Safety Success Stories: The Case of the Missing Light Curtain

Nov 08, 2023
Closeup of a takeup reel in a manufacturing facility

Manufacturing environments contain unique hazards that you may not find in other industries. If these hazards are not properly addressed, they can have tragic consequences. This fact was brought home for an underwater cable manufacturer after it experienced a fatality at one of its facilities when a worker was pulled into a piece of machinery.

At these facilities, large spools of cable are manufactured and stored on reels. After the cable is assembled, it is fed onto a take-up reel and sent off to be prepared for shipping.  The manufacturer reached a point where cable was being shipped out so quickly that workers had to jostle the cable back and forth on the take-up reel to ensure it was in the right location.

The Incident

The incident in question involved a worker using shrink wrap to help them jostle the cable onto the take-up reel. The worker wrapped the shrink wrap around the cable until in created a loop that the worker used as a handle to jostle the cable into place. As the reel was rolling, the worker left the cable, and while standing next to the take-up reel, their foot became entangled in the shrink wrap loop. The loop pulled the worker into the take-up reel. Since there were no brakes or emergency stops on the take-up reel, it kept rotating, resulting in a fatality.

After the incident, the manufacturer needed a way to address the risks and hazards associated with take-up reels to prevent similar incidents in the future. That’s where Tim Page-Bottorff, M.S., CSP, CIT, senior consultant and executive advisor at SafeStart, came in. Page-Bottorff found that a risk assessment had not been conducted on the take-up reels. There was also no machine guarding in place to prevent the reel from stopping if a worker stepped into it, or an emergency stop with brakes to keep the cable from moving forward.

The Solution

After inspecting take-up reels at different facilities and using a risk matrix from the ANSI B11-TR3 standard, Page-Bottorff and the organization assembled a team consisting of a safety professional, a third-party consultant (Page-Bottorff), an engineer, an operator and a mechanic. This team conducted a risk assessment on every piece of equipment in the facility. The risk matrix helped the team estimate risks according to the probability of the occurrence of harm and the severity of harm. They made recommendations on a path forward based on the hierarchy of controls.

The team recommended that light curtains be installed on each take-up reel to introduce the stopping of the mechanism. However, the reels of cable were so heavy that they would continue to rotate even if the light curtain was engaged. Therefore, brakes and clutches would also be needed to stop the movement of the reels. Every piece of equipment would also need to be equipped with an emergency stop to stop the mechanism completely. This would also prevent the cable from loosening on the take-up reel and potentially hitting nearby workers.

The Outcome

Prior to the installation of the recommended machine guarding, there were 15 OSHA recordable injuries involving this machinery. There has not been an OSHA recordable injury associated with machine guarding since these measures were put in place. The manufacturer also used the same risk assessment matrix to improve other aspects of their business, including quality and productivity.  

“What’s best about this is that we got employee involvement, employee ownership and management buy-in,” says Page-Bottorff. “Without the collaboration, I honestly don’t think that we would have been able to come up with a solution.”

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