Crossing Over Conveyors

In the 21st century many companies have gone to great lengths to improve efficiency, product flow, and reduce ergonomic stress on the employees by installing conveyor systems.

These newly installed conveyor systems may work as intended, but workers may now be bending down to pass underneath the moving conveyors, or even using unsecured plastic steps, step ladders, or boxed product to actually step over the moving conveyor. As occasionally happens, people resolve one set of problems, but have created others.

Conveyor systems have essentially revolutionized industry. Conveyors are now common pieces of equipment. Occupational health and safety professionals cheer the instillation of conveyors to reduce musculoskeletal disorders from repetitive lifting and handling materials. They are effective and truly work.

Yet, they are hazardous. Amanda Loudin in her DC Velocity 2009 article “Have You No Standards?” stated “Between 9,000 and 10,000 accidents—and 30 to 40 deaths—are attributed to conveyors each year.” They are effective yet present a clear hazard to employees who are working on or around them. Often the equipment is well guarded, has emergency stop features, and lockout programs are in place. What might not be considered is that now the usual worker aisle ways are blocked and no provision has been made for worker movement necessary to do their jobs, or to egress the area.

Now what to do? First, to the basic safety law of the land… the OSHA standards. The above article by Amanda Loudin makes the argument there isn’t a truly effective standard concerning conveyors from OSHA. Some application might be found in the following:

1910.23(c)(1) Every open-sided floor or platform 4 feet or more above adjacent floor or ground level shall be guarded by a standard railing (or the equivalent as specified in paragraph (e)(3) of this section) on all open sides except where there is entrance to a ramp, stairway, or fixed ladder. The railing shall be provided with a toeboard wherever, beneath the open sides. ,1910.23(c)(1)(i) Persons can pass, 1910.23(c)(1)(ii) There is moving machinery, or 1910.23(c)(1)(iii) There is equipment with which falling materials could create a hazard.

1917.48(a)(2) An elevated walkway with guardrail or equivalent means of protection shall be provided where employees cross over moving conveyors, and suitable guarding shall be provided when employees pass under moving conveyors. (a Marine Terminals standard)

What we are left with is the broad application of language from the OSH Act of 1970, commonly known as the General Duty Clause:

(a) Each employer --

(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; 

So although it is clear that employers have the obligation to protect employees from the hazards of conveyor systems, methods, limitations, and implementation is largely left to the employers.

There are wonderful cross over stair systems available as a solid solution to the problem of access, and the crossing of the conveyor without putting oneself at risk. They can be added at key access points allowing workers to safely climb up and down standard stairs with appropriate standard railings and toe boards. The types and materials used to construct conveyor cross over systems is huge. A simple internet search for “crossover stair system” will yield a multitude of choices. There is a solution out there. By using conveyor crossover stairways people can comfortably and safely walk over conveyors, machinery, duct work, or other obstacles, with minimal risk of injury.