Not-So-Great Moments in Safety: Fan Blade Guarding

Fan Blade Guarding

Not-So-Great Moments In Safety

Jill James

Jill James

Chief Safety Officer

Jill James brings an unrivaled perspective on risk, regulation and liability. With 14 years of experience as a Senior OSHA Safety Investigator with the State of Minnesota, and nearly a decade in the private sector as a safety program manager, Jill is a passionate advocate for training ROI.

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What’s the hazard here? Rotating parts would be the safety terminology. However, getting stuck by one of those fan blades would not be pleasant! The question is, could a person get struck by those blades, based on what we see in this photo? Yes, and that blue guard rail gives us a tip. The guardrail could be on a work platform or runway which passes under and near that fan. Or, the guardrail could be from an aerial or scissor lift which has brought an employee into the hazard area. How close is too close to be from unguarded fan blades? The answer is 7-feet. The 7-foot rule applies to the proximity of the employee to the fan blades. While this fan appears to be mounted on a ceiling and the ceiling-to-floor height maybe greater than 7-feet, the fan blades still need guarding if that blue guardrail is part of a permanent walkway for employees, meaning they have access or exposure to the hazard. If the blue guardrail belongs to a mobile piece of equipment such as an aerial or scissor lift and guarding the fan is unfeasible, then treat the rotating fan as an energy source that needs to be locked and tagged out in order to prevent an employee from making contact with the hazard. 

How can this hazard be corrected? Yes. Fan blades with the employee exposure described previously must be guarded with a guard having openings no larger than ½” unless of course you are protecting employees through locking and tagging out the fan.  

Any laws around this? Yes! 29 CFR 1910.212(a)(5) Exposure of blades states: When the periphery of the blades of a fan is less than seven (7) feet above the floor or working level, the blades shall be guarded. The guard shall have openings no larger than one-half (1/2) inch.

Conversation starters: How about a safety committee activity where the group goes in search of fans! There are ceiling fans, fans on stands, fans built into walls, fans in coolers, fans on machines, find them all and access the guarding and the potential for employees to be exposed to blades. While you are at it, remember to look for electrical hazards on the fans too. Look for electrical cords with cuts, or strain relief hazards with a cord being pulled from the fan housing, if the fan is powered by a cord with plug-end, ensure it has a ground pin or that the ground pin hasn’t broken off.