Safety issues in bulk material handling can often lead to personal hazards, increasing downtime, decreasing production, and compliance problems. Safe, productive, and profitable operations incorporate safety by design into their daily operations.

What Are Hazards of Work with Conveyors?

conveyor belt guardingBulk material handling includes massive machinery moving massive amounts of product. For this reason, operations are held to a very high standard of safety with regulatory oversight including by OSHA and MSHA.

Particular safety concerns near conveyors and rolling components include:

  • Material spillage and fugitive dust
  • Confined space entry
  • Extra dust and debris caused by brute force to remove material from walls
  • Entanglement, abrasion, and crushing near the moving belt, the drive system and belt-tensioning devices

Safety by Design: Spillage and Dust

Most operators understand that housekeeping is necessary. They also know that the less they need to do, the better. When done properly, housekeeping maintains production while restricting workplace hazards. When done improperly, or when load zone conditions create excess housekeeping, an operator’s troubles can quickly compile.

Basic housekeeping will include removal of dust and debris, often with vacuum cleaners and ventilation systems. However, as is widely known, these mechanisms don’t always achieve complete cleaning and clearing of areas. Dust can still settle and hide in places that are hard to reach or see. Water-based housekeeping systems likewise can be only temporary solutions.

The answer to eliminating spillage and dust – and drastically reducing housekeeping – is having equipment that contains material before it becomes a housekeeping issue.

Benetech’s MaxZone Modular Skirtboard and Belt Support System seals the load zone to reduce airborne dust, preventing product loss and spillage while improving material flow. The system allows operators to establish properly aligned transfer point chutes and center loading with components such as internal wearliners, idlers, impact and support beds, belt guards and cleaners, and inspection doors. The result is much greater dust abatement.

The system also can be retrofitted to accommodate and enhance an existing system as an economical solution to sealing and protecting the load zone. Because of the modular design, components can be replaced without special permits or extended shutdowns, as well as with no welding or hot work.

Benetech’s XN Liner further reinforces dust and spillage control by protecting the sealing system and chute work from wear and tear.

A conveyor belt that contains spillage and dust has proper idlers as well. When an operator needs to replace a roller, Benetech’s Drop & Slide Idler can be fully dismantled, inspected, and serviced by one person from one side of the conveyor. When retracted, the roller unit slides out from under the conveyor belt for easy inspection or replacement without raising the belt or removing adjacent idlers.

Safety by Design: Confined Space Entry

In addition to total control of spillage and dust, safety by design includes greater confined space safety while the operation also reduces the need for confined space entry.

According to OSHA’s definition for general industry, confined space:

  1. Is large enough to enter to perform work
  2. Has limited or restricted means of entry/exit
  3. Is not designed for “continuous human occupancy”

Confined spaces at bulk material handling facilities often include work near tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, and areas of the transfer chute and conveyor belt. Injuries and fatalities in confined spaces remain a threat despite the regulations now established to avoid these hazards.

Eliminating the need for confined space entry is the only sure way to achieve safety, but if confined entry remains required for repair, cleaning, or inspection, proper system design can greatly reduce the risks. Safety by design also will ensure a method is in place for workers to be rescued in case of an emergency.

As this article notes, “one of the best ways to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities is to eliminate hazards and minimize risks early in the design or re-design process and incorporate methods of safe design into all phases of hazard and risk mitigation…” A thorough planning process is critical.

Benetech engineers approach the design of each load zone component with total safety in mind, including:

  • The ability to service the MaxZone system externally without entry into confined spaces
  • An external adjustment mechanism for the XN Liner while it is in the conventional position inside the skirtboard
  • Drop & Slide Idler frames that need only 8” of width when 6” rollers are used in confined spaces

Safety by Design: Excess Debris with the Force of Work

When material accumulates on chute walls, operators may tend to remove it right away with brute force to maintain production. This however can create other problems, particularly the release of extra dust and debris into the working environment.

Product quality can become compromised, housekeeping can increase rather than decrease, equipment can abrade and wear faster, and compliance can fail. Above all, the health of personnel can be threatened.

Operators with a commitment to safety by design will:

  • Slice material from walls rather than apply brute force
  • Identify and avoid causes of material build-up
  • Evaluate and implement cleaning systems such as conveyor belt washers and pneumatic air cannons

Safety by Design: Policies and Procedures

A thorough safety plan prevents entanglement, abrasion, and crushing near moving components such as the conveyor belt, the drive system, and belt-tensioning devices.

The load zone should include proper safety guards for machines, particularly those that include pinch points where clothing, hair, a body part, or another object can get caught, (e.g. near the head and tail pulleys).

A safety-based load zone will further provide:

  • An easily seen and heard warning system to alert workers to conveyor operation
  • Guards on start buttons to prevent accidental activation
  • Easy-to-access emergency stop controls that require manual resetting for resuming operation
  • Protected ceilings for underpasses
  • Proper hazard warning signs throughout the work area

Load zone personnel also should:

  • Never climb, sit, stand, or walk on the conveyor belt
  • Notify management if a safety, housekeeping, or maintenance issue becomes apparent
  • Receive periodic training on load zone and conveyor belt safety

Benetech: Your Ally in Bulk Material Handling

Benetech’s engineers devote as many resources to ensuring plant safety as to supporting a steady material flow. To learn more about how your operation can establish a work environment that is as safe and compliant as it is productive and profitable, contact us at to speak with a specialist.

Posted in Conveyor Belts, and Material Handling