Because of the size of their material cargos, the speed of their operation and the amount of energy they consume and contain, conveyors have shown to be a leading cause of industrial accidents, including serious injuries and fatalities.
A report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the United States examined conveyor accidents in metal/nonmetal mines recorded over the four-year period from 1996 to 2000. The MSHA report listed the following worker activities related to those accidents:
- Working under or next to poorly guarded equipment
- Using hand or tool to remove material from moving rolls
- Trying to free stalled rolls while conveyor is moving
- Attempting to remove or install guards on an operating conveyor
- Attempting to remove material at head or tail pulley while belt is in operation
- Wearing loose clothing around moving belt conveyors
- Not blocking stalled conveyor belt prior to unplugging (both flat and inclined belts) as energy is stored in a stalled conveyor belt
- Reaching behind guard to pull V-Belt to start conveyor belt
An analysis of the document, covering a total of 459 accidents of which 22 were disabling and 13 were fatal, shows 192 (42 percent) of the reported injuries (including 10 fatalities) occurred while the injured worker was preforming maintenance, lubricating or checking the conveyor. Another 179 (39 percent) of the reported injuries (including 3 fatalities) occurred while the subject was cleaning and shoveling around belt conveyors.
The MSHA report found no differentiation in the likelihood of accidents based on age, experience, or job title of the accident victim.
A preliminary study of 233 fatal mining accidents in the United States during the years 2001 to 2008 revealed that there were 48 fatalities in 47 incidents involving conveyors. The data were compiled from reports by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The activities most frequently listed as leading to the conveyor—related fatalities were listed as Maintenance—e.g., replacing idlers or belting or clearing blockages with 35 percent (or 17 deaths)—or with Cleanup—e.g., shoveling or hosing spillage or clearing buildup at an idler second with 27 percent (13 deaths). Many of these fatalities resulted from the victim becoming caught in the moving belt by getting too close to an unguarded pinch point or working on a moving conveyor.
In South Africa, the Conveyor Belt Systems Safety in Mines Research Advisory Committee’s report examined more than 3000 accidents (including 161 belt conveyor fatalities) between 1988 and 1999. In findings that echoed the above-cited MSHA report, the document noted that “people working on moving conveyors, inadequate guarding and ineffective locking out stand out as major causes of conveyor accidents.” According to the report, injuries most frequently result from people working at the tail pulley, head pulley, idlers and loading chute.