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How to use a conveyor safely: 10 things every operative should know
When it comes to working with conveyor belts, there are no shortages of rules and regulations. And with good reason. Staff training and compliance is vital, yet accidents and injuries can still happen.
To help you stay safe and keep you moving, we’ve summarised the key safety points that every conveyor operative and site manager needs to know.
1. Training, training and more training
Knowing how to operate a conveyor belt properly helps to get the job done more quickly, but learning doesn’t stop once you’re on the job. Whether you are new starter, a temporary worker, or a highly-experienced contractor, adequate – and regular – training is vital to keep you and everyone else safe onsite.
And because health and safety laws change, it’s also important to keep up to date with the latest policies and procedures. If everyone has been given the same information, it’s easier to work together more effectively, and this will reduce safety risks. Remember that untrained staff should never operate a conveyor belt.
2. Be prepared
Do you know what to do in case of an emergency? Before it is switched on, it’s vital to know how to stop a conveyor in an emergency. Keep emergency stop buttons and/or grab wires clear of obstructions, so they are clearly visible to everyone, and test the stopping procedure before using the conveyor.
The area around the conveyor belt is important too: help prevent injury by keeping it clear of debris and tripping hazards. Where a conveyor passes over work areas, aisles, or walkways, suitable guards must be installed to protect everyone working in and around the equipment. Never remove the guards or supports, except for when maintenance is being carried out; they are there for a reason! Take note of all signs, posters and safety information provided.
3. Get your kit on
Ensure that you are wearing the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the task and work area.
Always wear a hard hat, safety shoes, and ear defenders, and if you are handling bulky or hazardous materials, ensure you have gloves with a good grip and safety glasses. Tie back and tuck in long hair, and keep loose clothing and jewellery away from the conveyor belt.
Remember, even though the conveyor is doing most of the heavy lifting, you’ll need to keep health and safety precautions in mind. If you need to do any of the hard work, a back support may help.
4. Know your conveyor
There are a wide variety of conveyors on the market, and although most operate on the same principles, each type of conveyor comes with its own potential hazards.
Our advice? Know your conveyor. Make sure you are aware of all the elements of this particular conveyor, how it works, what the main hazards are (a comprehensive risk assessment is really useful here), and what you need to remember to stay safe. Find out where the manual is kept, and read it.
5. Keep your eyes (and ears) open
Focus is always essential: not taking enough notice of what you’re doing because you’ve “done it all before” can be more of a safety hazard than inexperience.
Use an audible warning signal before starting the conveyor, and ensure you can see the conveyor when you are operating the controls.
Look out for things that could cause hazards – regular visual checks are really important and should be carried out by all operatives. And listen out for any sounds other than the normal operational noise of the conveyor, which could be a sign of a jam. If you see or hear something unusual, stop and isolate the conveyor before checking out the issue. If in doubt, call the service team for support.
6. Don’t overload it!
However busy you are, it’s necessary to take care when loading material onto the belt. A conveyor likes to move a steady, even load. Never load a stopped conveyor or overload it while it’s running.
Ineffective loading or overloading can cause material to spill off the sides and build up around the conveyor. This can increase the risk of the equipment overheating, and can also damage it by causing jams and breakdowns. The seconds you save by rushing to empty your bucket are nothing compared to the hours incurred by an avoidable breakdown.
7. Know the nip points
A nip point (or pinch point) is a hazardous area of a conveyor belt, created by two or more rolling parts of a machine moving toward each other or where one rolling part meets a stationary part, increasing the risk of injury.
For example, nip point hazards can occur at locations such as drive drums, rollers, and carrying and return idlers, which can easily draw in clothing, tools, fingers or limbs, depending on the power and speed of the conveyor.
While guards should always be fitted to prevent access to dangerous points of a conveyor, it’s vital to know where all the nip points are, so you can take extra care to avoid risks to the safety of you and your colleagues at these locations.
8. Keep it clean
It may sound obvious, but keeping equipment clean is a key safety factor. To help prevent accidents and injuries, make sure you watch for material jams, build up on rollers, and debris in the area under and adjacent to the loading/tail section of the conveyor. Also, remember to check the boxed-in area underneath the conveyor on a weekly basis.
Get into the habit of keeping the conveyor and surrounding area clean and tidy, and you’ll improve the life of the machinery and reduce the risk of breakdowns, not to mention the undue stress and downtime costs they cause too.
9. Check and double-check
As well as a regular, scheduled service programme conducted by qualified engineers, it’s vital to carry out daily and weekly maintenance checks on your conveyor belt to keep it working correctly. Please refer to your operation manual for these checklists. In fact, depending on usage, you may even need to perform routine checks between significantly-sized loads.
Work systematically from the checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything. You’ll need to check elements such as electrical components, as well as the motor and gearbox, frame and belt, supports and safety guards.
And never use a conveyor showing signs of damage, modifications, and improperly installed or missing parts.
10. Call the experts!
There may be an issue that isn’t covered by routine maintenance checks or simple fixes that you can carry out yourself, as outlined in your operators’ manual. If your conveyor breaks down or you have any other issue that you need help with, call the support team, who can walk you through repairs. If the problem can’t be solved over the phone, a qualified technician will be dispatched straight to your site to carry out repairs to get you back up and running.
For further information on keeping operatives safe and minimising the risks associated with working with conveyors, take a look at the Coveya Knowledge Base, or visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.
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