Conveyor safety: Going beyond guarding

By |  October 31, 2018
A conveyor can create a host of regulatory issues depending on its location on a mine site. Photo courtesy Mine Safety Assistance LLC

A conveyor can create a host of regulatory issues depending on its location on a mine site. Photo courtesy Mine Safety Assistance LLC

Never underestimate your conveyors’ regulatory vulnerability, especially when it comes to safety.

Unless you follow all of the Mine Safety & Health Administration’s (MSHA) standards relating to the operation of conveyors, you are leaving yourself open to a wrath of safety issues.

From initial raw feed to finished stockpiles, aggregate plants move materials by conveyor belt systems. Conveyors are found within, over, under and through your processing plant, and they are the necessary component to complete the continuity of your circuit. We think of conveyor guarding to be the primary element to consider for safe operation, but guarding the conveyor’s head, tail and V-belt drives is just the beginning of conveyor compliance.

Guarding guidelines

Guarding must follow the MSHA standard. The compliance formula is not defined in the 30 CFR, but in MSHA’s “Program Policy Manual” under 56.14107, it says, “This standard is to be cited when a guard at conveyor locations does not extend a distance sufficient to prevent any parts of a person from accidentally getting behind the guard.”

Think about that. If I can get any part of my body to contact the moving machine part, then I need to build a better guard.

Make sure guards are substantially constructed to withstand all conditions they will be subjected to during operation. Keep guards securely in place, and do not allow their condition to create a hazard by their use.

Are the basic requirements for conveyor safety straightforward? Think again. Conveyors are, by far, the one piece of equipment that can generate more violations than any other component. In fact, there are at least 18 MSHA standards for mechanical and 10 electrical standards that are required to operate a conveyor safely.

Depending on a conveyor’s location, it may bring a host of other regulatory issues. Walkways or travel ways may be required to access inclined conveyors. When this is the case, you are required to install railings or emergency stop cords to prevent people from falling onto the conveyor while it’s in motion, as well as outboard handrails and possible additional guarding.

If your conveyor length cannot be seen from the starting controls, you will be required to provide an alarm system to warn people of impeding movement of the conveyor.

Also, lubrication points on the conveyor should be easily accessible to keep people from accidentally contacting moving machine parts. In case of elevated conveyors, it may require fall protection for maintenance of bearings, rollers and belting.

If your inclined conveyor is not provided with anti-back-rolling devices, it could create hazards associated with falling materials or unexpected movement of materials. Additionally, housekeeping and safe access is imperative when working around or near conveyors. Slips, trips and falls may occur during routine upkeep.

Performing work during maintenance or repairs will require you to not only lock out and tag out the electrical power to the conveyor, but ensure it is blocked against hazardous motion.

Keeping your conveyor belt clean of debris is also important. When materials stick to belting surfaces, they can release fines to the ground by means of scrapers, plows and return rolls. This will require miners to be near the moving parts for cleanup. Once you require people to be in an area, it is imperative that the location is safe to perform the assigned task.

The bottom line

Conveyors and their components can be a magnet for unwanted violations and injuries. You can provide a safer workplace by knowing the regulations and training your employees to be competent in your ever-changing environment.


David R. Brown is CEO of Mine Safety Assistance LLC, a consulting firm based in Mesa, Arizona. Brown spent 20 years as a miner and more than 16 years with MSHA as an inspector and supervisor.

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