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Global machine safety standards – Protecting people, spurring markets

Illustration | Bosch Rexroth AG
Marginal Column

It seems as though humans and their machines are becoming ever more similar. A rise in productivity, however, also increases the complexity associated with integration – and the hazards, too.


The safety concepts for modern machinery intend to reduce this latent risk to a minimum. Protecting people is a principle that is being implemented ever more consistently in norms and standards, all around the planet. As a result, the ability to guarantee machine safety that is not only in line with standards, but economical, too, has become the admission ticket to international markets.

Anyone who cannot keep the pace here will be left out in the cold. On the other hand, the stony terrain of machine safety can also prove to be fertile ground for new technologies, since more stringent regulations accelerate innovation. If one observes the machine as a whole, within the overall process, both safety and productivity can profit.

Machine safety around the world

Its global dimension makes the topic of machine safety so challenging for manufacturers and importers. Almost all the industrial countries, both established and emerging, have introduced the most varied safety standards in the past few decades and then have updated and tightened up those standards. Diversity prevails not only among the standards themselves, but also in the procedures for gaining access to markets.

The European Union has adopted a liberal model that puts its faith in the sense of responsibility held by the manufacturers and importers. They declare, on their own accord, that the product being delivered complies with applicable regulations. Thus manufacturers bear greater responsibility, but can also enter the European market quickly and without a lot of red tape. The manufacturers must have their own, comprehensive inspection expertise and shoulder great liability in case of an incident. Observance of the regulations is regularly monitored by the EU authorities.

Access to markets in the USA is relatively open, but strict requirements for occupational safety can be a stumbling block. When sending products across U.S. borders, the manufacturer has to prove that it has met safety requirements. When putting products into service, however, a safety seal issued by a certifying body is obligatory. Moreover, local occupational safety authorities may impose additional requirements.

China and Russia, by contrast, employ a restrictive concept, based on product accreditation with obligatory certification. The government – usually in the form of the customs offices – checks for compliance with these rules when products reach the market. There is no question that this type of certification has advantages. It allows for stricter supervision and stops potentially unsafe products right at the nation’s frontiers. It relieves manufacturers of the need to maintain their own examination and inspection expertise and reduces their liability in the event of damage or loss.

llustration | Bosch Rexroth AG

Different standards for different realities

Bureaucratic effort and the time required are high and market entry can be delayed. Over and above this, the manufacturer has to disclose technical knowledge to the certification office. The standards themselves are just as diverse. Developing these so that they align with both practical applications and technical realities is not always simple, as Chris Tettero confirms. “Drafting a standard is one thing, but implementing it in a specific project is something quite different.”

At the Ministry for Infrastructure and the Environment in the Netherlands, Tettero is with a team responsible for the safety of locks, weirs and moveable bridges. For five years now, he is co-working on an update of the Dutch safety standard that is to replace the current standard, more than 10 years old. He sees risk assessment as a central task. “In my opinion the owner and the manufacturer have to discuss things face-to-face.”

The system of standards adopted by the European Union serves, worldwide, as a model and a blueprint. This does not mean, however, that observing European standards will automatically guarantee access to every market. “In Brazil, many safety standards correspond to European norms, but in some areas they are considerably more stringent than in the EU,” explains Rodrigo Rodrigues who, as the representative of Bosch Rexroth in Brazil, consults with the national safety boards. The new NR12 regulation, for instance, mandates retrofitting existing machinery. For some types of equipment, such as presses, there is no grace period.

China, too, has adopted many European standards into the “Safety of Machinery” regulations; more than 400 international standards were adopted as national guidelines. However, these standards are often no longer congruent with the current European regulations or, in some cases, have been significantly modified by Chinese authorities. Thus importers have to expend considerable energy on certification and approval. The dimension is illustrated by the one million imported machine tools and countless components destined for the Chinese mechanical engineering industry. That volume was reached a few years ago and is continuing to climb. But Chinese manufacturers active on global markets are also aware of the problem. If they want to export their machines to Europe, the USA or Brazil, then they have to fulfill widely diverse demands in those markets.

“For us, as a responsible technology partner, the topic of machine safety is right up at the top of the agenda – in development and quality management, but also as an added value for our customers,” emphasizes Fowai Lau, chief executive at Bosch Rexroth in China. With an internal series of meetings entitled “”Safety on Board for Managers”, which took place in Beijing for the first time in February of 2013, the fundamental principles of machine safety are being firmly anchored in the company.

The global array of divergent models for market access and for safety standards is a great challenge, especially for smaller and medium-sized vendors. Anyone who wishes to be present in all the interesting economic regions will have to do a juggling act – and practice patience! Trends toward harmonizing standards are visible, but the mills of foreign bureaucracies, with their differing cultures and needs, grind very slowly. In spite of that, modern machine safety will assert itself around the world because – in addition to its key assignment of protecting people – it also boosts convenience and productivity. Integrated industry, too, would be inconceivable without modern machine safety.

Safety on Board

llustration | Bosch Rexroth AG

With its intrinsically safe products, expert advice, and concrete transfer of knowledge, Bosch Rexroth has for years now supported machine manufacturers and end users as they live up to their responsibilities for protecting people and machines. This achieves both compliance with standards and efficiency. Training programs tailored especially to the individual needs of foreign markets keep users up to date. Our experts, on hand all around the world, take a holistic view of safety. In this way, they achieve not only enhanced safety but also improved performance and ergonomics, reduced downtimes, and greater flexibility.

One example is the modernization of a rolling mill in Wickede, Germany. Safety specialists from Bosch Rexroth provided consulting support to the user and programmed the safety controls for the three systems built by different manufacturers. (See the article on page 18.)

Comprehensive information on intelligent and economical realization of machine safety can be found here: www.boschrexroth.com/machinesafety