Protecting Workers from Conveyor Belt Injuries
July 26, 2021
Conveyor belts are indispensable in the manufacturing and distribution of all types of goods. However, workers who perform tasks around conveyor belts risk bodily injury every day. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than 9,000 serious conveyor belt accidents each year. Many of these accidents result in permanent hand injuries.
Conveyor belt systems are dangerous because they move continuously at speeds of up to 10 feet per second. If loose clothing, hair, or jewelry gets caught in a moving conveyor belt, the consequences can be deadly. In addition, the machinery and gears of conveyor belt systems typically contain many pinch-points, which can quickly crush or amputate a worker’s fingers, hands, or arms. If the conveyor belt system is not equipped with adequate safeguards, employees can easily suffer injury even if they are doing their best to be careful.
What are the Most Common Types of Conveyor Belt Accident Injuries?
The most common types of injuries caused by conveyor belt accidents include the following:
- Hand and finger injuries
- Arm injuries
- Broken bones
Hand injuries are among the most frequent type of injury caused by conveyor belt accidents. The treatment of a hand injury can be very complex, costly, and long in duration. It often involves surgery by a hand specialist as well as ongoing physical therapy. This is because the hand is a very complex body part with 27 bones. All of the hand’s bones, nerves, tissues, and tendons work together in an intricate arrangement to allow various types of movements. Conveyor belt accidents that result in damage to any one of correlational parts can make it difficult or impossible to do simple tasks required for work or daily living.
What Standards Regulate the Design and Use of Conveyor Belts?
There are a number of standards that regulate the design and use of conveyor belts in order to prevent injuries to workers. National standards are listed below.
Safety Standard for Conveyors and Related Equipment
This standard outlines the proper procedures for designing, constructing, installing, inspecting, maintaining, and operating conveyor belt systems in order to minimize hazards to workers. The standard covers dozens of types of conveyor belt systems and specifies the use of safety features, such as machine guards, interlock devices, and clear labeling of all stop-and-start mechanisms.
General Conveyor Safety Requirements
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require conformance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) requirements and add other provisions that include but are not limited to the following:
- Audible warning signals that sound immediately before the conveyor belt starts moving.
- Emergency stop switches that prevent the conveyor belt from moving again until the stop switch has been reset.
- Lockout-tagout systems that must be activated during repairs to prevent injury to maintenance workers.
- Additional safety provisions for aisles, crossovers, and passageways.
Since conveyor belt designs vary, each conveyor system must be evaluated carefully to determine which safeguards and energy control mechanisms are needed. Local municipalities and equipment manufacturers may specify additional measures to ensure safety of workers who perform tasks at or near conveyor belts. These measures may include safeguarding by distance or the use of horns, lights, or other means to make workers aware of the dangers present.
How can Conveyor Belt Injuries be Prevented?
Employers and manufacturers can prevent conveyor belt injuries by following OSHA, ANSI, and ASME standards and ensuring that equipment sold, distributed, and used includes all necessary safety guards. In particular, employers can prevent accidents by doing the following:
- Ensuring that conveyor belts never run at excessive speeds.
- Regularly inspecting and performing maintenance on all equipment.
- Providing adequate safety training for all workers.
- Instructing workers and supervisors to ensure that conveyor belts are not overloaded.
Manufacturers can prevent accidents by producing, selling, and distributing conveyor belts that are free from mechanical defects, include all necessary machine guards and safety features, are properly assembled, and contain adequate warnings about their operation and maintenance.
Workers’ Compensation and Conveyer Belt Accident Injuries
Employees can obtain money to pay for conveyor belt injuries by filing for Workers’ Compensation benefits, regardless of fault. This money can be used to pay for medical expenses and lost wages. In the case of an amputation injury, Workers’ Compensation may also provide an additional specific loss payment. Surviving family members who have lost a loved one in a conveyor belt accident may also be eligible for death benefits. However, Workers’ Compensation rarely provides full and just recovery for all damages resulting from a conveyor belt injury. In a number of workplace accidents, third parties may also be held accountable for damages.
The lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have helped many victims of conveyor belt accidents. Three important cases the firm has handled include:
- $1.475 million-dollar recovery for a fractured wrist. The worker’s right hand got stuck in a conveyor belt drive shaft when they reached down to check the tension on a belt that was out of alignment. It was found that the manufacturer of the conveyor belt failed to interlock a fixed guard for the machine’s power transmission gearing. As a result, this guard was actually five feet away from where it was supposed to be at the time of the accident. Due to the injury, the employee was unable to work for a number of years after the accident.
- $425,000 settlement for injured food production worker. The employee suffered fractured fingers and painful degloving trauma when their left hand got caught between two conveyor belts. It was determined that both of the conveyor belts were defectively designed because they did not meet OSHA standards. The client obtained a full and just settlement for their medical expenses, lost wages, and the loss of range of motion in their left hand.
- $350,000 settlement for production operator. A 50-year-old employee was injured while overseeing operation of a conveyor belt. After noticing that the conveyor’s discharge door had opened and spilled production material onto the floor, they attempted to sweep up the material when their right hand came in contact with the conveyor belt’s screw auger. The client subsequently suffered partial amputation of several fingers. It was found that multiple third parties failed to ensure that a safety guard was properly installed, which would have prevented the accident.
Conveyor belt injuries similar to these cases are fairly common. In addition to preventing employees from returning to their chosen line of work, the loss of function due to a severe hand injury can hinder a person’s ability to perform simple daily tasks.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Work Tirelessly to Protect the Rights of Injured Conveyor Belt Accident Victims
Hand injuries due to conveyor belt accidents have life-altering consequences, which is why it is important to seek legal representation. The Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have experience protecting the rights of workers who have suffered traumatic hand injuries. If you or someone you know has been in a conveyor belt accident, call 800-222-USWA (8792) or complete an online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.