Share this article

People get injured, not machines. A machine can injure the operator. But the operator cannot injure the machine. A machine will always be a machine. A machine, if not handled safely, can kill you.

The state of most machines in Zambian companies pose many health and safety risks to workers. Most companies in our country have obsolete machines. These machines have been modified beyond recognition. They can’t even be operated using the manufacturer’s manual! Such machines have machine controls which are dysfunctional. Machine sensors no longer work. Operators use shortcuts to operate these machines. They have memorized what to do. No Standard Operating Procedure exists.

These machines have control buttons which are damaged. You will find that the control panels are cracked. Missing bolts and nuts are never replaced. In certain cases, bolts and nuts are replaced with ropes and wires to tighten machine parts. Electric cables run around the machine loosely. They are not properly secured. Some of them are not even properly insulated. This makes these machines very unsafe.

It’s not that most machines in Zambia are in an unsafe state but they are also operated unsafely. These machines are not cleaned regularly. They are over-used. Product spillages are never cleaned. Oil leaks are never sealed. The waste generated by the machine is left to accumulate. These machines are rarely inspected. They are poorly maintained. Sometimes correct spares needed to repair the machine are never available. This forces the maintenance workers to use quick fix methods simply to get the machine back into production as quickly as possible. For instance, instead of using correct bolts and nuts to tie the machine, ropes and wires are used.

Machine safety is a responsibility of both the manufacturer and the end user. The most effective way to make a machine safe is to incorporate safety in the design of the machine. Therefore, manufacturers are required by law to ensure that they do everything practically possible to make the machine safe for the user. In this article, my focus is not on what the manufacturer should do but what the user should do. Users, in this case, include both management who procure the machine and the shop floor workers who work with these machines.

Safety with machines for the user starts by acquiring a safe machine. Safety must be guaranteed at every phase of the life of the machine which include designing, installation, operation, maintenance and finally discarding once the machine is permanently out of service. You need to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential safety and health hazards that the machine may create and identify control measures to manage them.

The key to machine safety is to ensure that you have a safe machine. A safe machine ought to have safe machine controls. Machine controls help the operator to safely control the machine and make it do what he or she wants it to do. For the operator to safely operate the machine, the machine must be fitted with easily-to-reach controls, clear markings and adequate warning signs.

Safe machine controls must be easy-to-reach and easy-to-use. This means that the operator must not struggle to reach a particular control button. Machine controls should not allow the machine to operate accidentally. Accidental start-up of the machine is one of the leading causes of workplace accidents.

Machine controls must move in the same direction as the motion being control. If you want the machine to rotate clockwise, the control switch should be able to rotate in the clockwise direction to activate the rotation. Similarly, if you want the machine to move up, the control switch should move up to activate the upward movement. Matching the direction of the controls and the direction of the intended motion prevents the operator from making operational errors which might result in accidents.

Machine controls must be standardized with varying modes, shapes, colours and direction of movement to prevent operating a wrong control. Lack of standards causes confusion during machine operation. All the machine controls must be clearly labeled to show what they do. Last but not the least, every machine must have a safe means of isolating it from the main source of power.

All the machine controls must be maintained in a good working condition. Damaged controls must be repaired or replaced immediately. Never de-activate machine safety devices. Modern machine comes with safety features such as sensors, emergency buttons, machine guards and interlocking guards. These safety devices are put on the machine for a purpose. Do not destroy them. Don’t operate the machine using safety devices such as stopping a machine using a photoelectric sensor instead of using a normal stop button. 

The general advice to both operators and maintenance workers is that a machine will always be a machine.  A machine can’t tell the difference between bones and stones. It can crash both bones and stones in the same way. Never become too familiar with your machine. Play with people, not machines. Always be alert and observe safety. Always use right tools and wear correct PPE. Conduct safety checks on your machine before you start operating it. Always ensure good housekeeping.

Avoid leaving the machine unattended to. Monitor the machine instruments and gauges closely. Avoid changing machine settings unnecessarily. Avoid over-speeding the machine. Don’t force the machine to function beyond its capacity. Operate and maintain the machines safely. Don’t just work, work safely. Until next week, stay safe. Zambia needs you.

The author is the CEO of SafetyFocus, a leading safety company in Zambia. For your daily safety tips, like our Facebook page on

For your comments, contact the author on cell 0955 179267 or email:

Mark Kunda—Safety Consultant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: