Innovate for Conveyor Safety

A company in Sparta, Wisconsin, is facing a $150,000 fine because an employee suffered several fractures in his pelvis, leg and both hips while performing maintenance on a conveyor last year. Could the company have prevented this tragedy by following OSHA's conveyor safety standard? Probably not, because OSHA doesn't have a conveyor safety standard ? unlike the standards for cranes and lift trucks. Of course, there's the General Duty Clause, section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, that requires companies to maintain a safe environment in their plants, and there are safety considerations in ANSI/ASME B20.1 Safety Standard for Conveyors and Related Equipment, sponsored and published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

That's about it. Since the '70s, consultant George Schultz has called for a conveyor safety document from OSHA, to no avail. Schultz's proposed standard would cover both safe equipment and safe personnel, as well as maintenance.

Unfortunately, OSHA probably will not devote any time or resources to conveyors, and certainly not to a standard. OSHA limits its effort to guidelines ? and ergonomics guidelines, at that.

With no standard in sight, conveyor safety has become the responsibility of two associations: the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association and the Conveyor Product Section of Material Handling Industry. CEMA, for example, has a safety program that offers labels, posters and videos at www.cemanet.org.

OSHA comes close to a safety standard for conveyors with the Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) standard, CFR part 1910.147. This standard was promulgated in 1989, and OSHA tells me that its enforcement is being updated. While lockout/tagout applies to all types of machinery, it is especially applicable to conveyors. The original standard says things like, "The amount of detail in a procedure for shutting down a simple conveyor with a single source of power and single feed or discharge points could be much less than the procedure for shutting down a long assembly line conveyor with multiple feed and discharge points and multiple power sources."

The lockout/tagout standard is most easily visualized when you think about a conveyor system with workstations that are spread throughout the plant. Nevertheless, even a single conveyor can be the cause of a lockout/tagout accident.

Absent standards, innovation in conveyor design is a better approach to safety. Modularity, flexibility and speed do not necessarily detract from safe operation of conveyors. Neither does that staple of conveyor selection, reliability. Conveyor suppliers can provide equipment that is modular, flexible, fast and safe, as well as offer maintenance support and single-source shopping.

An example of innovation in design is the Accuzone accumulation conveyor. It combines a belt conveyor with a standard roller conveyor. The result is an accumulation conveyor that prevents packages from sliding on an incline or decline.

The Conveyor Products Section of Material Handling Institute will spotlight innovation at the NA2004 show with its presentation "Applying Conveyor and Sortation Systems: What Are the Options?"

Relying on suppliers for both conveyor design and installation gives you more options to choose from. The newest option in conveyor application comes in automatic identification technology for tracking packages through the system. Conveyor suppliers are experimenting with radio frequency identification (RFID) for greater accuracy in read rates.

RFID is another area where innovation will improve both conveyor efficiency and safety ? by assisting the "human element" in the material handling productivity formula.

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