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Because conveyors are so essential yet so elemental in the materials handling environment, your employees can be lulled into a false sense of security.

The most recent information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) concludes that material movers were in the occupational group that experienced the highest number of days-away-from-work cases with 79,000 in 2007. Fortunately, this number represents a 7% decline from 2006, but there is still room for improvement. And, looking at BLS data by industry, warehousing had a median days-away-from-work of 14--double the national median.

Conveyor-related injuries, with the potential for shearing and nip-point injuries, represent an important part of these total numbers because these injuries are frequently severe, involving crushing or amputation of extremities and limbs.

From a regulatory perspective, OSHA 29 CFR 1910 contains no specific regulations related to conveyor safety and training. But you should be familiar with several other relevant standards: OSHA does address machine guarding in 1910.219, Mechanical Power-Transmission Apparatus, as well as 1910.212, General Requirements for All Machines.

In addition, the general industry standard does contain language that covers other materials handling equipment. That means that OSHA generally cites the general duty clause when investigating conveyor-related injuries and incidents.

Protecting employees

Guarding is a major issue with conveyors. As required by OSHA 1910.212 and 1910.219, conveyors should be guarded to prevent employee access to power transmission and other moving parts. Areas to focus on include the drive system, end rollers, take-up rollers and, in some cases, the belt itself.

Under certain conditions, ASME B20.1-2006, Safety Standard for Conveyors and Related Equipment, requires emergency stop devices to be installed on conveyors. Many companies follow the best practice of installing emergency pull cords connected to safety-rated switches on all conveyors so that employees can easily stop the conveyor in the event of a malfunction or emergency.

Part of the guarding evaluation process should be to examine your employee policies, too: Are they allowed to wear loose clothing, long hair or jewelry when working near conveyors? Any of these mundane items can be caught by conveyors' moving parts and cause serious injuries. And be sure to evaluate your facility for pathways so you can install gates or stairs so crossing employees aren't tempted to take a shortcut by climbing over or under conveyors.

Elevated conveyors can also expose employees to falling objects if materials get pushed off. Conveyor railing is essential in jam-prone areas. Also, you'll want to install netting as an additional precaution to catch materials. Be sure to evaluate heavily traveled areas or places where employees must walk or work beneath conveyors to determine whether rails and netting should be installed.

Regardless of the conveyor height, jams can be hazardous. Plan and document your jam-clearing process in advance, and be certain your employees are properly trained before a jam occurs. Tools needed to clear a jam can be as simple as a pole and ladder or as complicated as a scissor lift or lifeline system with lanyard and harness. It's up to you to anticipate what will be needed and include all possible acceptable jam-clearing tools and equipment in your procedure.

Finally, conveyor servicing and maintenance should also have clear written policies in effect. In most cases, these functions--along with jam clearing--should be performed when all the conveyor's energy sources are properly locked out. Over-eager employees might attempt to service or maintain the conveyor while it is running so as to not disrupt material flow, but that is a shortsighted and hazardous approach.

Be sure you have fully evaluated and identified all energy sources and validated the lockout/tagout procedures before allowing employees to use them. And be sure to avoid the common mistake of overlooking pneumatics on air-driven diverting conveyors.


Use the following best practices to evaluate whether your conveyors currently pose a hazard to your employees, and make any necessary improvements to safeguard your entire team.

1 Provide an elevated walkway with guardrails or gates wherever employees must cross over moving conveyors.

2 Provide suitable guarding wherever employees must cross under moving conveyors. The goal is to prevent access to moving parts that could pull hair, body parts or material into the equipment.

3 Always secure conveyor rollers and wheels in position. Transition points between conveyors should have a transition plate or guard to prevent the conveyor from pulling fingers into it.

4 Ensure all guards prevent access to moving parts so workers cannot reach around, under, through or over the guard. Use OSHA's guarding scale to determine the allowable opening size of the guarding.

5 Examine the space between the end roller and/or other high-tension rollers and the conveyor belt. Guard this gap to prevent nip-point injuries.

6 Verify that your conveyors with electrically released brakes are constructed so the brakes cannot be released until power is applied. Also, the brakes should automatically engage if the power fails or the operating control is returned to the "stop" position.

7 Check that all controls are accessible, functional and properly labeled. Emergency stop devices must be readily accessible to stop the conveyor during an emergency. Use emergency pull cords that use a safety-rated switch--and be sure to test and inspect the pull-cord systems as the manufacturer requires.

8 Perform all scheduled preventive maintenance and conduct periodic inspections--this is critical for ensuring that the conveyor system functions properly and safely. In particular, you'll want to verify that all guards and other safety devices are in place and functional.

By James P. Kaletta, Safety Management Solutions

James P. Kaletta is president of Safety Management Solutions, a Chicago-based safety consultancy. Contact him at or 773-935-8326.
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Title Annotation:SAFETY TIPS
Author:Kaletta, James P.
Publication:Material Handling Product News
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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