Conveyor Systems and Safety Concerns


Conveyor systems come in many different shapes and formats.  From straight conveyors to curved conveyors, inclined, declined and serpentine, one thing remains constant:  misuse of the conveyor systems can lead to injury.  With all the commotion of the container cleaning equipment, liquid fillers, cappers and other packaging machinery, conveyor systems can sometimes be taken for granted.  While manufacturers take a great number of precautions to make the conveyors safe, some common sense is still required in the operation and maintenance of the systems.
During the manufacturing of a conveyor system, the architects of the system will take a number of steps to reduce the risk of injury to those operating the conveyors.  First and foremost, each and every manufacturer should make sure that guards are in place for all moving parts of the conveyor drive system.  This means sprockets, sprocket chains, shafts, gears or other moving parts.  Guarding these moving parts reduces the chance of an inexperienced or distracted worker from becoming entangled in the machinery during the work day.  In addition to guarding moving parts, almost all manufacturers will provide some type of guarding for what are known as "pinch points", at least those that can be guarded.  One example of a pinch point would be where a dead plate connects two conveyors.  The point where the conveyor belt and dead plate converge is a pinch point.  However, guarding covering this point would cause the conveyor system to lose its ability to efficiently move product.  For this reason, safety meetings and informational brochures for those working with the conveyor system are extremely important.
Other, common sense steps can be taken to increase the safety of any conveyor system.  The manufacturer will include guiderails with the conveyor system that are adequate for stabilizing the products to be moved.  These guiderails keep product from falling off the side of the belt conveyors as they are moved from packaging machine to packaging machine.  Properly located emergency stop buttons can also be included on a conveyor system to quickly and easily cease operation of the conveyors if an issue arises.  
Once the conveyors are on the production floor, the time arises for the operating company to take the reins of the safety program.  Operators of conveyors or any packaging machine should not service the machinery without following the exact lock-out procedures set up by company's safety officer, which will almost always include disconnecting the power prior to servicing.  Of course, all employees operating the conveyors should be made aware of the systems load capacity and should take care not to exceed the same.  Loose, long hair, dangling jewelry and loose clothing should also be avoided while operating the conveyor system.  Each of these items increases the chances of a pinch point incident and eventual injury.
Finally, operators of a conveyor system for a packaging line should perform simple, routine maintenance on a daily basis.  At the end of the production day, or at the end of each shift if running 24 hours a day, the operators should wipe down or wash down conveyor systems (depending on the type of system, not all are wash-down type systems). This would include removing any dust and debris from the conveyor belt and from any points along the conveyor where debris might collect (think again of the deadplate).  Proper manufacturing combined with education and training of the operators of the conveyor system can ensure a long, useful life for both the conveyors and the operators.