Most factories and assembly plants have at least one conveyor belt and we’re so used to seeing this piece of machinery that we can easily forget that working with a belt involves some risks. Just as with any other sort of mechanical equipment, working on or with a conveyor belt means that workers have to follow rules and guidelines in order to keep themselves and their colleagues safe.
It’s a managerial duty to teach employees how to work around the belt safely and how to operate it. Whether it’s a smaller model or a large chain conveyor belt, staff members need to know how to move around it and how to deal with emergencies if they arise.
There are some basic rules that all workplaces must adhere to if they use conveyor belts, and here are a few of them:
A loud signal – unique to the belt – should be sounded before it’s started up.
There should be emergency stop buttons within easy reach of every worker, especially workers at the more remote areas of the belt.
These stop buttons should be specially wired so that they can’t start up the belt again until the actuator switch has been manually reset to run in the ON position.
If screw conveyors are being used, these must be behind guards so that workers don’t have access to or come into contact with turning parts.
If employees are working beneath conveyors in any parts of the factory, then there must be guards to stop objects falling from the belt and these areas must be clearly signposted.
When the belt is undergoing maintenance or repairs, it must be rendered inoperable and flagged with highly visible DO NOT OPERATE signs.
Visitors to the factory or site may not have had the same training as the workers, so they should always be accompanied by experienced management and also have a safety briefing.
Other important guidelines
Only allow qualified or authorised people to repair or maintain the belt and make sure staff never sit on or ride the belt; if anyone sees unsafe practices then they should alert the worker and a supervisor immediately. The guards around the belt are vital because they protect workers from chains, gears and other moving parts.
Cleaning or repairing the conveyor belt should only be performed when the belt has been completely inactivated and loads should never be placed on a stopped belt.
Everyone should know where all the start and stop controls are and these locations should always be in clear sight and unobstructed. Likewise, the area around the conveyor belt should always be free from spills, tripping hazards and any other debris or obstructions.
PPE is also vital
All workers on or near the belt should have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – gripped gloves, safety glasses, back supports and non-slip shoes are examples. They should also tie back long hair, wear close-fitting clothes and keep fingers out of reach.
Good lifting technique is also important, to avoid both long-term injuries and sudden injuries or accidents that could put people at further risk.