BACKGROUND: Metal fabrication workers experience high rates of traumatic occupational injuries. Machine operators in particular face high risks, often stemming from the absence or improper use of machine safeguarding or the failure to implement lockout procedures. METHODS: The National Machine Guarding Program (NMGP) was a translational research initiative implemented in conjunction with two workers' compensation insurers. Insurance safety consultants trained in machine guarding used standardized checklists to conduct a baseline inspection of machine-related hazards in 221 businesses. RESULTS: Safeguards at the point of operation were missing or inadequate on 33% of machines. Safeguards for other mechanical hazards were missing on 28% of machines. Older machines were both widely used and less likely than newer machines to be properly guarded. Lockout/tagout procedures were posted at only 9% of machine workstations. CONCLUSIONS: The NMGP demonstrates a need for improvement in many aspects of machine safety and lockout in small metal fabrication businesses.