One of the most common questions I'm asked about learning space design in technology workspaces is the spacing of plant and equipment. On most occassions this question is propositioned with statements about being provided a new facilty, installing a new piece of plant or the excitement of purchasing contemporay CAD/CAM equipment. The commonality and frequency of this topic highlights the void of research surrounding workshop design in educational facilties. Needless to say, the scarcity of resources from c.1960s onwards results in dangerous workshops that leave both students and teachers exposed to physical and physcological hazards. This is not to say that more offical documents are not available. To the contary, there are many, but without a wholistic understanding of occupational health and safety, they are both cumbersome and timely to find and use.
My initial response to clients, as with many aspects of occupational health and safety, is, have you done a risk assessment? Clients usually sigh with bitter disappointment. You know the look, the one you you make after realising you've mismeasured a critical cut. The change in the conversation is immediate and equally embrarassing. But this is typical of our consideration of design factors in all aspects of workshop design and procurement. The spacing of plant and equipment must be considered prior to the design of the overall space or, in the case of learning space refurbishment, to the accuquition of the plant and equipment. Only a risk assessment can help the 'workspace designer' understand most of the aspects and impacts on the surrounding space and processes. The remaining aspects, which should be minimal, can only be found through ongoing use and continual improvement or in the case of an OHS professional, experience.
"My initial response to clients is... have you done a risk assessment?"
Conducting a Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is the methodical evaluation of risk based on each hazard associated with the plant or equipment. For it to be effective, the risk assesment must be comprehensive and involve key stakeholders related to the procurement, use, maintenance and disposal of the item. At the very least, it must be conducted by someone familar with the plant or equipment and its associated processes. For those unfamilar with compiling a risk assessment, your respective government department should have templates for the most common plant and equipment used in schools. If time or workload presents an issue for completing a risk assessment then it's wise to hire a professional OHS consultant like Andrew Nicholls Design & Associates to help.
A risk assessment should be task specific eg. MIG welding. Each related procedure should be associated with its respective safety aspect eg. ergonomics, lighting, electicity, fumes etc. The assessment of risk (the impact) should then be evaluated using an objective rubric for the frequency of likelihood and the severity of consequence. While completing the assessment, there are a number of considerations to account for.
Effective risk assesssments are conducted based on two mindsets. Firstly, the judgment of impact is based on existing conditions, controls and practices. This ensures that the assessment is current and relevant. Basing a risk assessment on the possiblities of 'to be' fittings, procedures or cultures is hazardous and exposes your school to litigation with instant guilty findings. Put simply, if the control doesn't exist, you can't assess it. Secondly, the evaluation of impact must be judged with a vigliant, if not pessimistic, mind. This is particiularly relevant in schools as students do not perceive risk in the same way as a 'reasonible person' does and teachers cannot be everywhere or see everthing all of the time. For these reasons, a risk assesor must understand that to err is human and the law does not forgive.
In the process of risk assessing the hazard zone required for plant and equipment, consideration needs to account for:
- context and use
- the major hazard(s) present
- operational factors
- materials handling
Context & Use
A primary consideration for a hazard zone is the use and context of the plant or equipment. Context focuses on the location of the plant or equipment. Answering this simple question should then allow for the generation of more complex questions that the risk assessment should help resolve ie. Where is it located? Is the space used by teachers, students or a technician? What are the access and egress points?
The purpose of the plant and equipment will be heavily influenced by the material it will process and by whom it will be processed. This is particularly relevant to the preparation of full materials such as hollow section and bar steel, timber boards and sheet based products. Further material requirements are discussed later in this article.
"Put simply, if the control doesn't exist, you can't assess it."
Once the risk assessment has identified the critical hazards (ungaurded blades, electrical points, spinning parts etc), appropriate distances should be allocated to ensure anyone but the operator is in proximity of the hazard. A typical distance should be slightly longer than the average human reach or arm length, approximately 700-800mm. Appling viligent thinking, the hazard area should be lineary measured longitudinaly, lateraly and normally out from the extremities of the hazard.
Operational factors account for any movement of the plant or equipment eg. travel of a blade, swing of an out-rigger table. These areas need to be used to adjust the original hazard areas. Again, the measurements need to be measured in a longitudinaly, lateraly and normally linear fashion out from the extremities of the moving part.
Lastly, the manual handling and processing of materials needs to be considered. This should include stock material delivered from suppliers and work produced by students. The hazardous work zone should account for a major proportion of the material's stock length. For example, if the school commonly orders 5.7m timbers which it pre-cuts to 2.5m lenghts, then a suggested hazard zone would be 5.7m on one side of the saw and 2.5m on the other.
In the case of a thicknesser, consideration needs to be given to the length of the board to be processed. If the common processing length is 2m then the hazard zone should be 2m for the board and 0.8m entry and exit cavities.
A table of common stock lengths is provided below as a guide. Your local supplier of materials will be able to provide a more accurate list of measurements. Naturally, a cost to benfit analysis should be conducted to assess whether it is more economical to have the material pre-cut by a supplier. Although this may increase the cost of your materials, it can assist reduce the need for large hazard zones.
|Board - Dressed All Round|
|Board - Rough Sawn|
|Refer to supplier|
|Panel - MDF|
|Panel - Whiteboard|
|Ply - Structural|
|Metal - Steel|
|Sheet - Hot Rolled|
|Sheet - Galvanised|
|Sheet - Painted (Colourbond)|
In addition to the physical size of materials, consideration should also be given to the by-products created by the various manufacturing processes ie. welding, cutting, grinding, milling etc. In such cases, additional engineering controls may help reduce the need for hazard zones that could occupy valuable workshop space.
Once the hazard zones have been identified, the hazardous areas around machinery should be identified with black and yellow chevron tape. Safety zones for through traffic should additionally be marked with plain yellow tape. Above all, ensure floor markings are keep simple and easy to follow. Suppliers of safety products will be able to provide additional information about how to prepare surfaces for their tapes and signs.
Remember to Review and Evaluate
Last but not least, every learning space should be reviewed and evaluated as frequently as practicable. Commonly, this usually translates to every two to three years. In this process, it important to analyse the use of machinery and the most commonly processed materials. Consideration should also be given to the servicing or strategic replacement of plant and equipment.
For more information about risk assessing your workshop, contact Andrew Nicholls Design & Associates.