6 easy ways to ensure conveyor safety

Apr 10, 2017

assembly line with saladsDon't let emergency stop buttons and pull cords lull you into a false sense of security. They're the conveyor equivalent of the engine oil light on your car's dashboard: If the light goes on - or you're reaching for the emergency stop button - it may be too late.

"Being able to reach the emergency stop does not mean you are safe," says WSPS machine safety specialist Michael Wilson. "Safeguarding is about protecting you from getting to the hazard itself, or stopping the hazard before you can reach it. An emergency stop achieves neither."

Applying the hierarchy of safeguarding controls

Michael recommends six types of solutions to ensure conveyor safety. "Our first step would be to approach any risk through elimination or substitution," said Michael. They sit at the top of the hierarchy of controls, a concept that ranks types of solutions from most to least effective. Here's more on each of the six types.

  1. Elimination
    Ask yourself these questions. Can we automate the process? Separating people from the process reduces the risk. Can we eliminate pinch points and other hazards when sourcing a new conveyor system? During the design phase, can we reduce the frequency of under-conveyor clean-ups, conveyor maintenance, removing jams, and other risky activities?
     
  2. Substitution
    Can we replace dangerous equipment with safer equipment? Is your maintenance department still using that nasty chemical cleaner, or have they replaced it with a less hazardous cleaner? It may not clean parts as well, but may be less harmful to the people who have to use it.
     
  3. Engineering controls
    This is where safeguarding comes into play. Buying equipment? Make sure the manufacturer meets the CSA's recently revised CSA Z432-16, Safeguarding of Machinery. Adding guards to existing equipment? Follow the standard.

    When do you need a guard? Think MAC (Moving Parts + Access + Consequences). Can a person reach around, under, through, or over? Don't confuse deterrent devices, such as guardrails, with safeguarding. Deterrent devices can reduce the probability of access to the danger zone but won’t totally prevent access. That's what safeguards do. Also, consider designing equipment in a way that allows routine maintenance tasks to be performed without removing guards.
     
  4. Awareness
    Keep employees aware of hazards. These devices can raise awareness among even the most distracted employees:
    • lights, beacons, strobes
    • computer warnings
    • signs
    • restricted space painted on floor
    • beepers, horns, labels
    • posted procedures
       
  5. Administration
    Use administrative controls, like safe work procedures, to ensure the safe and correct use of the equipment. Options include:
    • safe job procedures
    • safety equipment inspections
    • training
    • lockout during maintenance
    • work flow planning and design
       
  6. Personal protective equipment (PPE)
    While protective headgear, safety glasses, hearing protection and other forms of PPE reduce the risk of injury or damage, they're the least effective control.

    "I once worked with someone named Jason," says Michael. "He didn't like the way his safety glasses cut into the side of his head. Rather than find a different pair, he broke off the arms, drilled through the lenses, and with twist ties hung the armless glasses from the baseball hat he always wore. To anyone walking by, it looked like he was wearing the glasses, but they offered no protection. Watch out for the Jasons."

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