From food processing and bottling plants, to automotive manufacturing and construction sites, conveyor belts today are like veins to many industrial units’ anatomy. They efficiently transport materials and goods within the site in almost the same manner nutrients are distributed throughout the body. But just like when blood vessels are pushed to a dangerous extent and fail to keep up with excessive intake, the increase of demand for this technology and human-machine interaction gives rise to occupational safety risks.
Between 2005 and 2008, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reported 48 serious conveyor-related injuries in Ontario that cost an average of 68 workdays and $7.3 million. In that same period, the Ministry of Labour recorded two (2) fatalities. These accidents mostly occurred during cleaning, maintenance on a moving conveyor, recovery of a jammed article, and normal production activities like sorting and packing.
But what could have have gone wrong that turned an otherwise ordinary workday into a horror story?
Last June, an 18-year-old Lavington worker got caught in a conveyor belt and was later pronounced dead. In 2011, a meat processing plant employee in Toronto became injured after his arm was pulled into still-moving conveyor cogwheels. A 31-year-old worker in Alberta was pulled into conveyor drum pulleys and sustained serious injuries in that same year.
What did these victims have in common? They were all cleaning a conveyor one way or another.
Being an essential machine for industrial production, it’s no surprise that the need to keep it in optimum condition poses some conveyor hazards. Lifting of guards to provide better access for cleaning, dismissing basic lockout procedures, or rashly reaching into a running belt to remove a caught item are conveyor safety no-no’s but are unwittingly committed even in the presence of safety labels. Come up with a long list of reasons behind these slip-ups, but one can argue that it’s all a gap in training and constant awareness.
Employers must not throw workers into the water and expect them to swim immediately. It’s important for every employee working with and around conveyor systems, especially those who clean and maintain it, to undergo training using industry standards on conveyor safety. Site-specific refresher sessions conducted by experienced supervisors and appropriate safety signs and posters around the workplace play a big role in keeping everyone mindful of safety procedures.
Stepping up to the plate doesn’t stop there.
In 2010, a tubular steel manufacturer in Ontario pleaded guilty and paid a hefty sum of $140,000 for not securing conveyor guards which could have prevented a bundle of tubes from striking one of their workers. In Carberry, Manitoba, a business also pleaded guilty and was fined $50,000 in 2012 after a 15-year-old boy straddled a moving conveyor belt, fell and got pulled under the metal brace resulting in bone fractures and internal injuries. Workplace Safety and Health “found there was no safe way for workers to cross the belt.”
Conveyor guards didn’t get their name for nothing. It is designed to prevent transported objects from falling and to protect people from pinch points and the objects themselves, making it an imperative safety device. And if the conveyor system occupies a significantly large space, constructing a throughway that may run along or cross over or under the belt is also a must.
Industrial resources like conveyors are great tools that allow for faster and more efficient production. However, informed care must be taken to prevent accidents that may harm the operators and workers in its vicinity. After all, a company is only as strong as its greatest assets — people.
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