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Safe Belt Conveyor Design

Personnel are the single most important resource of any mine or industrial operation, and ensuring their safety and security should be the top priority of any conveyor belt design.

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Three important elements of conveyor safety are proper training, guarding, and policies and procedures.

Engineers and designers should endeavor to incorporate safety improvements that will maintain or improve the functionality of the conveyor systems.

On the whole, conveyor design has seen relatively little change over time, but industry and regulatory standards regarding workplace safety and accountability have undergone a dramatic overhaul. Restrictions regarding lifting, requirements for lockout / tagout / blockout / testout, regulations on confined-space entry and a host of other safety procedures have been established. However, businesses also face growing pressure to increase output and provide a more continuous production stream, posing a potential safety hazard.

Conveyor belt design can be used to help ensure worker safety by including new industry standards such as barrier guards and mechanisms to allow easier cleaning or maintenance of conveyor components. Employees should also be trained to understand potential safety issues and to meet all qualification requirements.

Barrier Guards

One of the keys to the safe operation of conveyor belts is to protect personnel from the system's various moving parts. To this end, many conveyor systems incorporate barrier guards, or area guarding, around any potential pinch points with which personnel could come into contact. These barrier guards should ultimately cover the entire accessible length of the conveyor belt. Barrier guards should be designed for easy installation and removal to allow for authorized service personnel to perform required functions safely and efficiently, as well as to ensure the guards are returned to place when the work is completed.

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Effective guarding depends on the size of its openings relative to the distance from the hazard it is guarding against.

Maintenance During Operation

With many conveyors operating around the clock, scheduled downtime is at a premium. Nevertheless, equipment can fail or problems can occur that will create even greater losses of the productivity, emergency cleanup and repair requirements, making it necessary to implement repairs whenever possible.

Many safety standards around the world recognize that certain maintenance procedures must be performed while equipment is in operation, providing exemptions from rules that would normally require operators to shut down the conveyor belt for servicing. These exceptions place a strong emphasis on awareness and are written specifically to allow only trained and authorized personnel to perform such maintenance.

More recent safety standards, as specified in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) document ISO/EN 14121, have moved away from task-specific exemptions in favor of risk-ranked rules. These new standards look at the comparative risk of injury for servicing equipment during operation versus when equipment is stopped and locked and tagged out, favoring whichever procedure is considered to have the least risk of injury.

Some conveyor belt system components, such as belt cleaners, require frequent service to maintain optimal efficiency. Belt cleaners are crucial for the continuous operation of conveyor belts because of the role they play in controlling fugitive materials and carryback. But most operations prohibit servicing these components during operation because of safety concerns, making them difficult to maintain.

However, both belt cleaners and other critical components can be designed to allow them to be safely serviced while conveyors are in operation. Specialized tools can be designed and service techniques can be taught to develop authorized maintenance employees or service contractors who can safely service certain components while the belt is running.

Topics: Belt Conveyor Safety

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