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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Recent tragedies put the spotlight on conveyor safety: 5 steps you should know

Conveyor systems are essential for moving goods quickly and efficiently and are a common sight in manufacturing and service facilities. So common that people may not be fully aware of the dangers they present, says WSPS Senior Consultant Stephanie Smith.

“I think the hazards of conveyor systems often get overlooked,” says Stephanie. “But we know from incidents just how hazardous they can be.” Stephanie points to two recent incidents involving conveyors that resulted in convictions and fines for employers for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Learning from recent incidents

In the first case, an employee working alone tried to fix a conveyor belt that was slipping off its pulley by applying belt dressing between the belt and the pulley while the conveyor belt was still moving. Hours later, the worker was found deceased. An investigation by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) revealed the conveyor was in motion without a guard to prevent access to the head end of the machine at the time of the incident. The company was charged with not ensuring there was a means to safely apply belt dressing while the conveyor was in motion, as required under section 196(2)(a) of Ontario Regulation 854, Mines and Mining Plants, contrary to section 25(1)(c) of the OHSA and fined $200,000.

In the second case, a temporary help agency worker suffered injuries while attempting to adjust product on a bread conveyor. The court found that the conveyor had rotating rollers and gears that were not equipped with guarding or devices to prevent access to its pinch points. The court found that the employer failed to ensure that measures and procedures prescribed by section 25 of Ontario Reg. 851, Industrial Establishments were carried out at a workplace contrary to section 25(1)(c) of the OHSA. The employer was fined $57,000.

“Based on the MLITSD’s investigation, unsafe work practices and a lack of guarding on the conveyor led to these incidents,” notes Stephanie. “Preventing them in your workplace comes down to appropriate guarding, much greater awareness of the hazards conveyors pose, safe work procedures, and effective training.”

5 steps to preventing injuries on conveyors

Stephanie outlines five steps your workplace can take to better protect workers who use conveyor belts. Sage advice for employers, considering the MLITSD’s current Materials Handling Initiative, running now until March 31, 2025.

1. Understand the legislative requirements for conveyor systems (and other machines). These can be found in Regulation 851 under the OHSA, sections 24-35 (machine guarding) and sections 75-76 (lockout and control of hazardous energy).

2. Carry out a risk assessmentLook at the equipment, identify hazards, and understand how people will interact with the machine (i.e. what tasks are being done on or around the equipment?) Ask questions to help determine your control measures, such as:

  • What type of conveyors are you using, and what are their unique hazards?
  • Where are the in-running nip/pinch points? A nip/pinch point is a place where it is possible for a body part, article of clothing or an object to be caught between moving parts or between moving and stationary machine parts.
  • Where else can workers be entangled, drawn in, or crushed?
  • Can the product fall off the sides of a floor conveyor or overhead conveyor and strike a worker?
    Are e-stops within easy reach of where operators are working (i.e. loading and unloading areas, inspection areas, etc.)?
  • What steps need to be taken if the conveyor becomes jammed? Or when maintenance occurs? Or when cleaning the equipment? Do you have a lockout/tagout system in place for conveyors?
  • Do employees need to move from one side of the conveyor to another? Or across a room full of conveyors? How will they do that safely?
  • Is misuse possible – removal of guards, or climbing onto or going under conveyors?

Stephanie shared a recent workplace tragedy that drives this point home, “Someone recently died after going under a conveyor to pick up an air pod and getting caught up in the conveyor system. If you can reasonably say that employees may duck under the conveyor, you have to guard underneath.”

3.    Control hazards using the hierarchy of controls. Engineering controls include fixed guards and safeguarding devices such as light curtains or interlocks. Administrative controls include warning signs, startup signals, and safe work practices. Ensure guards are in place for all moving parts of the drive system and where hazards such as in-running nip, drawing-in, trapping and crushing are present.

“Don’t assume the conveyor systems you purchased come with the necessary guards,” warns Stephanie. “It’s up to the employer to ensure appropriate guards are in place. Talk to the manufacturer and go online for information. If you need help, reach out to a WSPS Consultant.”

Create safe work practices in conjunction with the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) and put them in writing so there is documentation of how the job is to be carried out. Safe work practices can include:

  • pre-shift inspections to ensure machine guards are in place and functioning
  • reporting missing guards to the supervisor immediately
  • never removing guards or safety devices
  • never walking on, climbing on or ducking under the conveyors
  • never wearing loose clothing, jewellery, long hair, around conveyors
  • de-energizing the conveyor and locking out before removing jams or debris, or performing maintenance

4. Train supervisors, workers and maintenance staff. Ensure everyone fully understands the hazards, the purpose of the guards and safe work practices, and what can happen if guards are missing or removed or safe work practices are not followed. Create a list of dos and don’ts that can easily be remembered. Check out WSPS’ new Conveyor Safety resources for employers, supervisors and workers.

“Make sure your messages are getting across,” says Stephanie. “Don’t just talk to people; show them what you mean and get them to show you.” That advice also applies to pre-shift and supervisor inspections. “At one workplace, I noticed a guard was missing around an in-running nip point. I asked the worker operating the conveyor and the supervisor if they saw anything wrong. Neither one noticed the missing guard even though training had been provided.”

Stephanie suggests augmenting classroom training with visual images. For example, – a photo of an in-running nip point without a guard, and a photo with a guard. “When people can visually make connections, they have a better understanding of what is right or wrong.,”

5. Inspect the conveyor on a daily basis. Make sure all guards and safeguards are in place. Are guards still functional? Have people made adjustments that would make the guards ineffective? Do the belts have enough tension so they won’t slip, and are they in good condition? “Over time, the splicers that hold the belt together can begin to peel upwards, creating new hazards,” explains Stephanie. “This could lead to them grabbing an employee’s glove or causing a cut injury.”

How WSPS can help

Consulting services

Our consultants can carry out a risk assessment of hazards on your conveyor systems, make recommendations for machine safeguarding, and more. Connect with a consultant with your questions and concerns.



The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.

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Categorized in: WSPS