Conveyors are a vital piece of a manufacturing operation. They are a crucial piece of automation that can help increase efficiency and productivity across the plant floor through connectivity and smart technology.
However, they are also a common cause of costly — and severe — injuries. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports over fifty workplace fatalities a year where conveyors are cited as the primary cause. It is also estimated that conveyor injuries cost U.S. businesses and employers millions of dollars annually.
Therefore, it is extremely important to highlight best safety practices when working with this integral piece of material handling equipment. “Conveyors are moving pieces of equipment and, as such, employees need to practice strong safety measures around them,” says Steve Kuczkowski, the Service Manager at conveyor systems manufacturer Dorner Manufacturing. While all conveyors are not created equal — some move slowly, while others can move as quickly as 275 feet per minute, and some are even constantly stopping and starting — they all have one thing in common: they are all a safety concern.
The design and function of conveyor belts make them a natural cause for concern in the manufacturing industry. One of the most prominent risks associated with conveyors is the threat of something — or someone — getting caught in the belt.
“All moving conveyor belts pose a danger as jewelry, employee ID cards, clothing and hands can get caught in them,” says Kuczkowski. “Employees should remove any loose clothing, jewelry or items that could get caught when working with them; long hair should also be tied back to avoid getting caught in the conveyor’s belt.”
Other safety tips to keep in mind in order to avoid a conveyor accident include:
• Always making sure the motor disconnect is locked out.
• Only allowing trained personnel near moving conveyors.
• Not removing or tampering with safety divides.
• Keeping personnel clear of the conveyor before starting.
Another prominent safety consideration is pinch points — defined as any point where it is possible for a person or part of a person’s body to be caught between the moving parts of a machine, or between the moving and stationary parts of a machine. This also includes the threat of getting stuck or caught between materials or product on the machine. With conveyors specifically, a common pinch point is where the belt meets the spindle.
Another conveyor-specific pinch point to be wary of is the overhead guide where a worker could get a hand stuck between the guide and the product being put on the conveyor.
One way of defending against workplace injuries is a reoccurring and extensive education on conveyor safety protocol, and the machine itself.
By fostering a company culture dedicated to safety, it will be possible to avoid many accidents of this nature. Prior to working alongside a conveyor, it is best that an employee be fully trained on the conveyor’s operation and design. For example, a key aspect of this training would be an emphasis on safety features of any particular machine.
“Employees need to be fully trained on the operation and safety features, such as the emergency shutoff, on any conveyor system they will be working with,” says Kuczkowski. “This step is vital to ensuring they have the proper knowledge, expertise and awareness of the conveyor and its performance standards.”
However, one the biggest challenges related to conveyor safety isn’t the training itself, but is, instead, the employee’s ability to remain focused and maintain compliancy. A well trained but complacent staff is one prone to mistakes.
“Many accidents are caused by people letting either guard down when working on equipment,” says Kuczkowski. “Work can sometimes become repetitive, and that can lead to a momentary lapse in focus and judgment — and that can result in an accident.”
Safety is something that needs to be reviewed regularly, in order to keep it fresh and on top of workers’ minds. For example, a proficient and experienced worker may establish a routine for a job, which may start to take safety for granted. Therefore, it is best to consider safety, particularly conveyor safety, as an ongoing experience.
“The best way to avoid accidents is to conduct ongoing safety seminars with employees on the equipment they work on,” advises Kuczkowski. “Take time to review safety procedures and policies and highlight the best way to interact with equipment.”
It can take as little as thirty minutes a month, but the results are lasting. Not only does consistent emphasis on safety foster a positive work culture, but a safer and more productive work environment for employees.
Another best practice when working with conveyors could be as simple as outfitting each machine with a simple manual highlighting safety procedures, diagrams of potential pinch points, locations of emergency shutoff switches and other significant considerations.
In order to mitigate the concerns often associated with conveyors, manufacturers should make sure that they and their staff are impeccably trained and aware of the safety concerns. For a more detailed list of all the specific regulations regarding conveyors, operators should visit OSHA at www.osha.gov.