An employee was inspecting a conveyor belt that recently had been adjusted. As he perused the setup, a rotating part of the conveyor caught his clothing. He was pulled into the machine and sustained injuries that sent him to the nearest medical center.
A combination of the right engineering-design and administrative controls could have prevented this all-too-common injury. The sad truth is that such injuries are 100% avoidable through identification and correction of a few risks:
Machine guarding — Guards on rotating parts including shaft ends are critical for employee safety. OSHA requires guards for all projecting shaft ends more than one-half the diameter of the shaft. You can avoid accidents by cutting shaft ends smooth and down to the proper length or capping them.
Emergency stops — When a button-style emergency stop is present, designers must put it in reach of the employees. It is only effective when an employee is in its immediate proximity. In an emergency, an employee can’t struggle to find it. In the incident described above, the conveyor was equipped with a button- style emergency stop that wasn’t immediately accessible. A cord and button e-stop assembly can be much easier to locate and activate in emergencies and is a far better solution when a button-style device alone isn’t enough.
A second consideration is ensuring protection on both the normal operating side and nonoperating side of the conveyor. In this incident, the conveyor inspection could have taken place on either side of the conveyor. So both sides required protection.
Proper dress code — Employee attire can be easily overlooked when it comes to safety. It was a primary contributing factor in this case when the running conveyor snagged the employee’s clothing. To avoid potential tragedies, workplace rules should ban loose-fitting clothing and mandate that shirts be tucked in. As I walk through many facilities, I commonly see untucked shirts even when they are required. Make no mistake: Untucked shirts have caused serious injuries. In addition, long hair and jewelry, including rings and necklaces, can be dangerous. Personal adornments like these should be removed when working around machines and conveyors.
Employee safety training — Employees should understand the risks of conveyors, the rules of the facility, and the consequences if they are not followed. Managers who communicate these expectations and hold employees accountable help keep awareness high and support a safe work environment. Training may not have completely avoided the injury in this incident, but it would have helped.
Investigators who look into these types of injuries commonly identify a root cause by answering one question: Is the conveyor unsafe or is the employee unsafe? The answer is almost always both. With most incidents, injuries arise from multiple factors. The key lesson to be learned is that you can minimize the chance of an accident by reducing and eliminating these factors with judicious design and well-conceived work rules.
— Joe Tavenner
Joe Tavenner CSP, CFPS, is a long-time Certified Safety Professional who works in occupational safety and design for safety. Got a question about safety? You can reach Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Leland Teschler.