Conveyor Safety Guards, Danger Zones and Injury Prevention
Prevent pinches, nipping and crushing accidents
Conveyors that are designed, tested and installed the right way are safe. They don’t cause a disproportionate amount of injuries and reduce ergonomic strains that can cause longer-term musculoskeletal injuries. Like any other machinery, however, conveyors come with hazards. A conveyor can be dangerous if people are allowed to touch certain moving parts. It’s best to always cover and guard those components.
Don’t remove safety guards and covers
Anywhere a moving part could be accessed by anyone should be shielded from access
Conveyor guards help shield hands, fingers, clothes and hair from moving parts. Ideally, none of the underlying machinery should be accessible from a running conveyor system. You should eliminate long hair, jewelry and loose clothing for people who work around or who visit areas with operating conveyors, as these things can be pulled into the mechanism, but the primary defense should always include guards and covers.
People remove guards for a variety of reasons — and none of them are good. They take them off for maintenance, which is fine so long as the conveyor is locked and tagged out. They remove them for access, which means that people are able to reach places they shouldn’t. They remove them for speed of work, which can be disastrous. Types of common injuries can include crushing, lacerations, muscle injuries, broken bones and more. In severe cases, these dangers can be crippling, may cause loss of limbs or even be fatal.
People think conveyors are “safe” because they typically run slowly, but they are powerful machines to be respected.
One reason conveyors may have inadequate guarding is that used or cobbled-together systems aren’t correctly reassembled. Be sure that your conveyor has its guards and covers. Always operate your conveyors only when safety guards and covers are in place. What are some hazard points?
Guarded by location
Hazards that are guarded by location may include overhead conveyors, where operators physically can’t reach into the machinery, or systems that run in a guarded area where people (other than maintenance staff) aren’t present.
Overhead and ceiling-installed systems
While safety guards aren’t as critical for these areas, it’s best practice to include them. Side guards are usually standard for these conveyors. If there is ever a chance the conveyor will be moved and re-used on the floor, then it’s best to have the guards in place. Aside from safety, these guards can help reduce dust and airborne debris exposure. For floor-mounted conveyors that pass overhead, but are still within reach from the floor, underside pans are recommended to help prevent people from reaching into the system’s idlers or pulleys.
Belt conveyor head & tail pulley nip point guards
Nip point accidents happen when people, clothes or hair are caught between the tail or head pulley and the conveyor belt. These pulleys are located at the ends of a belt conveyor section. Because they drive an entire length of a conveyor, these pulleys are powerful and can cause frightful injuries. Head pulleys return the belt to the underside of the conveyor. Tail pulleys return the belt to the top of the conveyor (the load side). Nip point guards help prevent these accidents and should never be removed.
Belt tracking shouldn’t require constant tweaks
There are times when the guards are removed for ease of maintenance. If the belt isn’t properly tracked, your maintenance crew will remove guards every time they work on the system. If this happens too frequently, it’s possible that they will simply leave the guards off.
Belts tend to lose tracking for a number of reasons, including:
- Incorrect weights conveyed on the system
- Incorrect running speeds
- Lack of consistent maintenance
- Improper belt tension
- Inadequate belt cleaning
These root causes can increase the number of times your guards are removed. Addressing them makes your system run better while reducing the number of times a pulley must be accessed, which helps avoid this type of injury. See your conveyor’s technical documentation for detailed adjustment instructions.
You may want to fully enclose these and other pulleys if the conveyor is located in high-traffic areas, or people have frequent interactions with it.
Side, drive and chain guards
Drives aren’t frequently maintained and should always be covered if they are within reach of people.
Guards protect workers from rollers, gears and idlers, any of which are capable of injuring anyone unfortunate enough to have hair, clothes or appendages pulled into them. Removing guards should require tools and time to discourage removal, but won’t impede normal maintenance. Part of your inspection and maintenance process should include checking these guards. Injuries can range from mild (burns due to scraping against the belt) to severe (pulls and crushes).
Unqualified people shouldn’t clear jams
Untrained individuals should never be asked to clear conveyor jams. If someone is going to interact with the conveyor in any way that involves its moving and guarded components, that person should be trained and qualified. If people are going to work on the conveyor at all, lockout-tagout and other safety procedures should always be followed.
Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.