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Workers caught in conveyor belt system

In October 2020, a worker suffered serious arm injuries when he was caught in a conveyor belt system.

In a separate incident, a young worker received significant degloving injuries to both hands after being pulled into a conveyor system.

Preventing a similar incident

Plant is a major cause of workplace death and injury in Australian workplaces. There are significant risks associated with using plant and severe injuries can result from:

  • its unsafe use
  • exposure to unguarded moving parts of machines
  • falls while accessing, operating or maintaining it.

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
  • idlers, drive belt, conveyor drums and other nip points give can trap people
  • machine components that process and handle materials or product (i.e. move, flatten, level, cut, grind, pulp, crush, break or pulverise materials).

Conveyor incidents can occur in situations where hazards around moving parts and nip points are not identified, people are rushing to get a job done, and/or they haven’t been adequately trained in safe work procedures.

Unsafe use or exposure to unguarded moving parts of plant and machinery is dangerous and can lead to serious injury or death. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has duties under Work Health and Safety 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, so they are free of health and safety risks. At the design or planning stage of a product, there is greater scope to design out and eliminate potential hazards or incorporate risk control measures 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 someone’s body) enters the danger zone and stops a machine. Photoelectric light beams, laser scanners and foot pressure mats are examples of these safety 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 such as:
    • lock out/tag-out procedures to ensure the plant is isolated from all energy sources and cannot be operated while maintenance or cleaning work is being done. This must be done before accessing any parts of the plant for maintenance or cleaning work.
    • providing information, training, instruction and supervision to workers who use the plant to protect them and adopting safe work procedures that support the information provided
    • consulting workers to obtain feedback on the plant and work processes being used
    • signs to warn people of a hazard.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable PPE, for example: breathing protection, safety shoes, hard hats, 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.

More Information

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury?

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