Safety risks in bulk material handling are present and real, and the consequences can affect an entire facility. Establishing a culture of corporate safety becomes just as important as maintaining material flow and customer service.

Safety starts at the top and continues through all personnel, and when led with consistent practice and policy, it can have far-reaching effects for both success and morale. Workplace safety helps prevent personal injuries, plant shutdowns, lost production, regulatory fines, increased liability premiums, and, in some cases, expensive lawsuits.

To create a culture of safety, plant professionals should:

  • Ensure proper conveyor training onsite
  • Reduce confined space entry
  • Eliminate hot work for service and repair
  • Avoid other potential risks associated with bulk material handling and rolling components

Culture of Safety: Onsite Conveyor Training

ConveyorsWithout the proper precautions, conveyor accidents can occur far too easily in bulk material handling. Just a few of a facility’s conveyor hazards can include:

  • Moving-belt abrasions, which can injure workers’ hands, arms, or other body parts if they come into prolonged belt contact. Friction, damage, and particles that become embedded in the belt’s surface also can further increase its abrasiveness. Contact with an adjacent structure can create structural damage and heat as well, which in some cases can cause fires or explosions in combustible-material environments.
  • Drive-system entanglements, as well as those between the belt and pulleys and rollers, which can result in a worker’s hands or fingers getting caught in nip or shear points on conveyors. These types of injuries happen most often when workers manually clean conveyor belts, although workers have also been injured simply by walking on or near conveyors.
  • Crushing in belt-tensioning devices – in particular, when using counterweights to maintain belt tension, which creates a hazard under the counterweight and other tensioning mechanisms. Catastrophic injuries can occur if the belt breaks during maintenance. Area guarding is essential.
  • Severing of screw conveyors in processes involving fine materials being transferred over short runs. The screw points used to move materials pass the fixed parts of the conveyor tube, and these shear points create severing and drawing-in hazards. Access doors for inspection and service of screw conveyors can often create challenges as well.

As noted in this article, plant professionals should be aware of the do’s and don’ts to maintain proactive workplace safety when operating conveyor systems:

  1. Do keep clothing, hair, and body parts clear of the conveyor. Hair should be tucked back, jewelry removed, and baggy clothing avoided.
  2. Do give a warning signal before starting the conveyor. Employees should know what the signal means and the dangers of not steering clear when they hear it.
  3. Do know the location and proper use of stop/start buttons. This is particularly true of the emergency stop in case something goes awry.
  4. Do make sure all employees are trained for the conveyor area, including those who don’t use the conveyor belt. Personnel should receive periodic refresher training as well.
  5. Don’t stand or climb on the conveyor (a common hazard). Besides the obvious risk of injury, this can also damage the entire system.
  6. Don’t remove conveyor guards. When personnel take conveyor guards off for maintenance, they expose machinery and other dangerous parts. If this must be done, ensure systems are locked and, afterward, guards are correctly re-installed.
  7. Don’t ignore problems with the conveyors. Even if an issue seems minor, a supervisor should be alerted right away.
  8. Don’t modify controls without permission. Also ensure that personnel know not to modify conveyor controls without proper authorization.

Culture of Safety: Less Need for Confined Space Entry

Permit-required confined space entry can be found throughout a bulk material handling operation (e.g. bins, vessels, vaults, pits, hoppers, equipment housing, silos). These spaces often have walls that converge inward and slope downward, making them unsuitable for occupancy. However, workers may need to enter them using restricted entries and exits.

Maintaining an operation’s permit-required confined space safety compliance is critical, and not just because of the substantial OSHA fines that can be levied for not doing so. If confined space entry is not properly managed and monitored, negative outcomes can be:

  • Asphyxiation
  • Trapped workers
  • Explosions and fires
  • Electrical and struck-by hazards
  • Danger from exposed live wires, excessive heat, and unguarded machinery
  • Death

(Information about compliance duties for confined space safety can be found in OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910 Standards for General Industry.)

Depending on an operation’s level of compliance, if the facility is inspected by OSHA, a compliance officer will inquire how the operation plans to identify permit-required confined space entry and whether non–permit-required spaces will be inspected for dangers that would qualify them as needing a permit.

Before personnel can enter a confined space, the areas should be assessed for:

  • Proper oxygen content
  • Toxicity
  • Flammability
  • Explosive hazards
  • Any other physical hazards

These spaces must be identified, and all plant professionals must be informed about them and their associated risks. In addition, a confined entry must have outside the space a trained attendant who maintains contact by phone, two-way radio, or visual verification. This OSHA form identifies what a confined space entry permit must address.

Culture of Safety: No Hot Work

Plant work involving gas or electric welding, brazing, cutting, or other flame- or spark-producing operations – including in confined spaces – raises risk, requiring personnel who perform it to have additional permits.

In addition to creating fire and burn hazards, hot work can serve as ignition sources for combustible dust that can produce dust fires and catastrophic explosions.

Because of the risks associated with hot work, operators should aim to eliminate it for equipment and procedures that do not require it. Engineering controls are the first choice in achieving this goal. If hot work must remain in particular areas, safety precautions for it should be diligently followed.

Culture of Safety: Avoidance of Other Risks

The bulk material handling environment presents dynamic possible risks. Where certain areas may be secure, others can be overlooked. This makes a comprehensive job hazard analysis integral to an operation’s sustained viability.

Other hazards-in-waiting can include:

  • Storage design that can lead to container collapse, contamination and spillage from uneven filling, weak inlet or discharge valves or gates, or unexpected flow patterns
  • Entrapment and engulfment in silos or bins because of walking across the top of stored material within a container, particularly one holding finer materials such as grain
  • Fugitive dust that becomes respirable and penetrates the nose, throat, and lungs

Reinforcing Your Culture of Safety

As discussed, establishing corporate safety policies and procedures involves awareness of hazards (including conveyor hazards), proper and consistent onsite training, and avoiding dangerous conditions, designs, and practices.

It also involves the inclusion of facility-wide solutions that are precisely engineered to contain dust, allow external maintenance, and keep conveyor components clean while optimizing material flow.

Benetech dedicates its greatest resources to supporting customers with solutions for safe production and work environments including:

We also provide onsite training classes centered on leading workplace safety concerns such as compliance, dust management, emergency preparedness and response, and equipment and process specifics.

Building and maintaining a culture of safety in bulk material handling ultimately reinforces the spirit and efficiency of an operation with a desire to make the most of each day. Engineering controls should be used where possible to eliminate problems at the source.

In the end, a culture of safety is a culture of achievement and prosperity.

Benetech: Your Ally in Bulk Material Handling

Whether your operation is beginning or updating a plan for greater workplace safety, the experts at Benetech can advise you on the engineering, procurement, and construction of solutions that make you compliant while enhancing production. To learn more about the workplace safety resources available to you, contact us at to speak with a specialist.

Posted in Material Handling