In March 2020, a worker died after being trapped in a conveyor system at a workplace.
These findings are not yet confirmed. Investigations are continuing into the exact cause.
Preventing a similar incident
There can be significant risks associated with using fixed plant, including conveyor systems and associated equipment. Conveyors are used in a range of industries including; agriculture, manufacturing, logistics and construction. Hazards likely to cause injury include:
- rotating shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets or chains
- belt run-on points, chains or cables
- crushing or shearing points such as roller feeds and conveyor feeds
- machine components that process and handle materials or product (i.e. move, flatten, level, cut, grind, pulp, crush, break or pulverise materials).
Unsafe use or exposure to unguarded moving parts of plant and machinery is dangerous and can lead to serious injury and death. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has duties under WHS legislation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the provision and maintenance of safe plant.
Higher order risk controls include designing plant or structures to be without risks to the health and safety of any person. Eliminating potential hazards at the design or planning stage of a product enables the incorporation of risk control measures that are compatible with the original design and function requirements. However, if it's not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, it should be minimised using the hierarchy of controls. This can be achieved by doing one or more of the following:
- Isolation – separate workers either by distance or physical barrier. For example: constructing a booth from which the plant can be operated remotely.
- Engineering controls – including modifications to equipment. Guarding is essential to prevent workers coming into contact with moving parts. Examples include;
- a permanently fixed guard if access to parts of the plant is not necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning (for example, distance guards on a feed chute)
- an interlock guard if access to an area is necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning. An interlock guard is connected to the plant's operating controls, so the plant can't operate when the guard is open. The guard should not be able to open or be removed until the moving parts (i.e.cutting blade) have stopped. Similarly, when an interlocked guard is re-closed the machine should not automatically restart
- a fixed guard, which can only be altered or removed with a tool not normally available to the operator
- a presence sensing system which detects when a person (or part of a person's body) enters the danger zone and stops a machine. Photoelectric light beams, laser scanners and foot pressure mats are examples of these type of guards. They rely on sensitive trip mechanisms and the machine being able to stop quickly.
- Administrative controls – if risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls for example:
- installing a lock out/tag-out system to ensure the plant is isolated from its power source and cannot be operated while maintenance or cleaning work is being done or prior to accessing any parts of the plant
- dissipating or restraining any stored energy
- providing information, training, instruction and supervision to workers who will use the plant that is necessary to protect them from risks arising from the use of the plant including the development of safe work procedures that support the information provided
- consulting workers to obtain feedback on the plant and work processes being used
- use signs to warn people of a hazard.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable PPE, for example: breathing protection, hard hats, gloves, aprons and protective eyewear.
Administrative and PPE control measures rely on human behaviour and supervision. When used on their own, they tend to be the least effective means of minimising risks. Control measures should be reviewed regularly to make ensure they effectively work as planned.
In a five year period up to February 2020, 173 workers' compensation claims were accepted relating to workers being trapped by a conveyor in the manufacturing industry.
Between July 2014 and March 2020, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland was notified of 39 events involving conveyor related incidents in the manufacturing industry. In the same period, 139 statutory notices were issued by WHSQ for injuries sustained by, or managing the risk of, a plant conveyor injury.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2017, a company was fined $20,000 after a worker's hands were drawn into the rollers of a large industrial machine. The worker sustained de-gloving, crushing and multiple amputation injuries.
The investigation revealed that during daily start-up duties on the machine, workers were required to hand-feed materials between the rollers before it was operational.In order for work to be done this way, the company authorised workers to bypass a malfunctioning light curtain on the machine. When operating correctly, the curtain ensured the machine would stop if workers attempted to physically access the rollers during operation.
With the light curtain rendered ineffective, the machine could be started while hands were in the 'draw-in/crush' zone.
In 2015, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker sustained multiple fractures and soft tissue damage when his arm was drawn into a conveyor. The investigation revealed the worker had observed a problem with the conveyor while it was being shut down and used his index finger to feel where the belt was grabbing at the tail drum. The worker's arm was drawn into the conveyor when he was distracted by a colleague. The investigation further revealed guarding on the machine had been removed during maintenance and not replaced.
- How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Managing the Risk of Plant in the Workplace Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Machine guarding - film
- Guide to machinery and equipment safety (PDF, 1.46 MB)
- Australian Standard AS/NZS 4024.3610 Safety of Machinery: Conveyors - General requirements (subscription required)
- Working safely with conveyors – film (Worksafe NSW)