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Safer sorting and grading on conveyors

Information about risks and solutions for sorting and grading vegetables on conveyors.

Background information

Many types of vegetables are sorted and graded from slow moving conveyor systems. The sorting and grading process is necessary to ensure certain sizes of vegetables that are free from blemishes are packed for sale in supermarkets and stalls. The speed and width of the conveyor depends on the type of produce. The width often determines how far workers have to reach out in front of their bodies to retrieve vegetables.

Examples of tasks that are performed include manually sorting tomatoes, cauliflowers, carrots and cucumbers.

Queensland statistics for the vegetable growing industry:

  • 58% of injuries are caused by sprains/strains
  • Deaths and serious injuries only account for 3% of injuries
  • 62 work days is the average time off work for sprain/strain injury
  • The average cost of a sprain/strain claim in the vegetable growing industry is $9107
  • $4 726 503 is the total cost to the Queensland vegetable growing industry for sprain/strain injuries. (Source: Queensland employee injury database. Data current as at May 2007).

What are the issues?

  • Some conveyor widths cause workers to adopt awkward postures which include significant forward bending, reaching and twisting of the shoulder.
  • Workers often complain of shoulder and neck discomfort from excessive reaching and maintaining awkward body positions.
  • Workers mostly perform this task manually without any mechanical assistance.
  • The task is repetitive and can be performed for significant amounts of time for example, up to two hours without a break of any kind.
  • Repetitive movements of the wrists can cause muscle tendon and nerve damage.

Tips

Most effective solutions

Elimination, design i.e. re-design the work area, use of mechanical aids

  • Automatic, electronic sorters to eliminate some of the sorting or grading task.
  • Install a fence so workers cannot excessively reach forward.
  • Design conveyors that are narrower to prevent forward reaching.
  • Raise the height of the worker by using adjustable stands (be careful though as this may introduce a slip, trip/fall hazard).
  • Ensure good housekeeping in the workplace (e.g. clear walkways in good condition, remove produce from floors, clean up spills immediately).

Less effective solutions

Administrative – job rotation, training, written procedures. These are less effective than elimination or design solutions because they rely on people to do the right thing.

  • Workers work in pairs on opposite sides of the conveyor and each sort half of the conveyor closest to themselves.
  • Rotation to different jobs (workers need to be using different parts of their bodies for rotation to be effective. Just rotating someone to another position on the line may not reduce the risk).
  • Safe work procedures (these should be done in addition to other controls, don't rely on them as a stand alone solution).
  • Task specific training - how to perform the job safely including the steps to be followed and solutions to be used such as job rotation, use of platforms etc. You could use your safe work procedures as the basis for this training.
  • Training in safe lifting techniques is not an effective solution for manual tasks.