Conveyor safety is essential in a food processing facility.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 39,100 people operated conveyor belts in 2012. These people make sure product loads and unloads correctly, grab product off of a moving conveyor, and align product correctly on the belt.
It’s rare to find a medium-to-large sized food processing facility that does not have people working near conveyors. They are an essential part of any efficient processing plant.
The Dangers of Conveyors
While conveyors are common place in food processing facilities, they still pose a major safety concern for your employees. Improper usage, poor training, and lack of safety procedures contribute to employee injuries around conveying systems.
Approximately 35 percent of work-related injuries from 2008 to 2012 were because of conveyor belts, and $218 million was spent on workers’ compensation claims for those accidents, WorkSafeBC reported.
Conveyor belts move at speeds of up to 275 feet per minute, and may start and stop without warning. One loose piece of clothing, jewelry, or hair could easily get trapped in a conveyor belt and seriously injury, if not kill, a worker.
Improving Conveyor Safety
The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association (CEMA), an organization of leading designers, manufacturers, and installers of conveyor equipment, has established 12 standards for improving conveyor safety. Following these standards should be the starting point for your conveyor safety training.
Do not climb, sit, stand, walk, ride, or touch the conveyor at any time
It seems self explanatory, and almost not worth mentioning, but monkeying around on or near a conveyor is a recipe for injury. Climbing, sitting, walking, riding, or touching the conveyor, especially when in use, not only can cause injury to your employees, but can damage your conveyor as well.
Do not perform maintenance on conveyor until electrical, air, hydraulic and gravity energy sources have been locked out and blocked
Proper lock-out, tag-out procedures should be followed before any maintenance is performed on your conveyor. Sometimes technicians get too confident in their ability to perform maintenance procedures on a conveyor without going through the process of locking out all electrical and other energy sources. One miscalculation could result in serious injury or death. Always lock-out, tag-out before performing any maintenance on your conveyor.
Operate equipment only with all approved covers and guards in place
The manufacturer provides covers and guards for employee safety – and protect you from components and points that pose the highest risk of injury. Ensuring all cover and guards are in place before operating the conveyor is for your safety.
Lock out all power and block gravity loads before servicing
In similar fashion with performing maintenance on a conveyor, follow all lock-out, tag-out procedures before servicing any part of the conveyor. Failure to do so may cause the conveyor to start up while technicians are in dangerous positions in, around, or under the conveyor.
Ensure that all personnel are clear of equipment before starting
Always be sure that everyone is clear of the conveyor before starting it up. Many factories install warning horns to alert employees when the conveyor is about to become active. While a great and inexpensive upgrade, it is beneficial to train employees to make sure everyone is clear.
Allow only authorized personnel and trained personnel to operate or maintain conveyors and accessories
Proper training on the operation and maintenance of a conveyor is essential for employee safety. Allowing unauthorized or untrained personnel to use or maintain the conveyor often results in injury. There are two reasons for this:
- The safety of your technician
- Only trained and authorized personnel know how to properly maintain a conveyor to operate at peak efficiency.
Keep clothing, body parts, and hair away from conveyors
Clothing, body parts, and hair can easily get caught in the moving parts of a conveyor, and lead to serious injury or death. Workers should keep all hands clear of the conveyor. Loose hair and clothing should be tied back to keep it clear of moving parts. Ties should be secured over the shoulder or tucked in. Long sleeves should be rolled up. These simple rules can be the difference between safety and injury.
Clean up spillage around tail pulleys, idlers, and load points only when the power is locked out and guards are in place
It’s important to keep the area around your conveyor clean and free of debris and liquid. However, cleaning should never be done with the conveyor is powered and operational. Doing so can result in serious injury. Follow all lock-out, tag-out procedures before cleaning around a conveyor.
Do not modify or misuse conveyor controls
Conveyor controls go beyond a simple on / off switch. They include the controls necessary for the safe operation of your conveyor. Under no circumstances should the controls be modified or altered by any unauthorized personnel.
Ensure that all controls and pull cords are visible and accessible
In the case that a conveyor needs to be stopped for an emergency, all controls and pull cords should be easily accessible and visible so anyone working in the area can reach them.
Do not modify or remove controls, guards, interlocks, warnings or other safety items without manufacturer’s approval
The manufacturer includes controls, guards, interlocks, warnings and other safety items for a reason. If those items are included on your conveyor, it’s because the manufacturer has located a safety risk in that area of the equipment. Removing those items without the manufacturer’s approval not only puts your employees at risk, it likely will void any warranty you have on the equipment.
Report all unsafe conditions
Create a culture within your plant where employees report all unsafe conditions to the proper personnel. Doing so will allow the proper steps to be taken to clear up unsafe conditions and reduce the risk of employee injuries.
Following the CEMA’s twelve standards will improve conveyor safety for your employees. You can download a poster with these safety standards, as well as images, on the CEMA’s website.