All new conveyors inevitably succumb to the punishing bulk handling environment and begin to slowly degrade. They will eventually require more time and labor for maintenance, and the time between outages will continually shrink as the costs of operations will climb. The ongoing degradation is also accompanied by higher risks of injuries or fatalities as workers are more often called on to clean and maintain the conveyors and to fabricate short-term fixes to long-term problems.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for example, the highest prevalence of accidents involving conveyors are near where cleaning and maintenance activities most frequently take place—namely, the take-up pulley, tail pulley and head pulley.
Total replacements are cost-prohibitive, so to remain compliant and meet ever-increasing production demands, companies must make unavoidable upgrades and repairs.
Improving efficiency and reducing risks associated with conveyors can be done by using a hierarchy of control methods for alleviating hazards. The consensus among safety professionals is that the most effective way to mitigate risks is to design hazards out of the component or system. This usually requires a greater initial capital investment during development than short-term fixes will cost, but it delivers more cost-effective and durable equipment.
Hierarchy of Controls Engineers should be forward-thinking, designing products that exceed compliance standards and enhance the customer’s ability to make upgrades cost-effectively and easily by taking a modular approach to design. Designing hazards out of conveyors entails alleviating hazards to improve safety.
But the methods used to protect workers can vary. In many cases, more than one control method might be needed and they might be lower-ranked controls. However, lower-ranked approaches are best considered as support measures rather than solutions in and of themselves.