ESS talks the importance of conveyor safety

It pays for mine site staff to be safe around conveyors, a fact ESS Engineering knows too well. Australian Mining finds out more about the company’s extensive conveyor safety training process.

Carryback, spillage and hang up of materials are all issues that plague the safe running of conveyors at mine sites. While safety training is important across all aspects of a mine site, conveyors can be particularly dangerous, especially when unguarded.

Material fines from conveyor return runs can also cause mistrackings and blockages in head chutes, leading to an increased chance of accidents.

Bulk handling and conveyor safety specialist ESS Engineering is well aware of the dangers surrounding conveyors.

The company has established extensive training services to ensure operators remain compliant and aware of any issues that could arise.

ESS training allows operators to recognise and address the root cause of issues surrounding conveyors that contribute to the escape of material from the system, whether it’s an issue with skirting, tracking, belts, ploughs or a combination of different things.

According to ESS accounts development manager and training instructor Tom Stahura, there are usually some telltale signs to look (or sometimes listen) for.

“If we can eliminate headaches in one area, then that maintenance team at a plant can focus its energies and resources on other issues that are making the plant work at less than optimum efficiency,” Stahura says.

“Operators look out for indicators like spillage, belt centralisation and unusual noises like squeaks to try and systematically work their way through to the root cause of what’s going on.

“Certain signs can help to determine what’s causing the spillage; whether it is on the walkway, underneath the conveyor, in a single localised area, or spread along the entire length of the conveyor, for example.”

Stahura delivers conveyor training courses at mine sites alongside colleague Ken Minch, a fellow account development manager and trainer. Typically ranging in duration from a half-day to two days, these courses cover a variety of modules, with safety typically being the first topic of conversation. The longer courses also incorporate site visits for trainees to firmly establish the tenets of best practice. The training can also be tailored around the knowledge of the trainees in question, whether they’re newbies or old hands.

“It’s a great thing to be able to do these site walks with the trainees and actually have a look at these issues that they have raised in the classroom in person,” Minch explains. “This allows us to conduct a brainstorming session so they can apply what they’ve learnt and solve the issue onsite.

“We’ll have conversations with the staff over some of the ways to find the root cause of conveyor problems.”

Conveyor safety levels have improved over the last decade but injuries and fatalities can still occur and there’s always room for improvement. An American mine safety report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration found that 91 fatalities were recorded in the United States between 2002 and 2012. Closer to home, meanwhile, the mining industry averages out to around nine fatalities a year, according to a 2013 report by Safe Work Australia.

“We look at inefficiencies that may be there and try to come up with some scenarios on how to solve those,” adds Stahura. “As with anything, it takes a good bit of input and background to identify the true root cause without relying on knee jerk reaction that you may have when you first see something off.”

While site safety is of paramount importance, training mine site staff to recognise maintenance and safety issues with conveyor systems isn’t just beneficial for worker health and safety, but for the bottom line as well.

Instilling the ability in staff to correctly identify prospective maintenance issues with conveyors reduces the prospect of downtime through both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance shutdowns.

As Minch puts it, better performing conveyor systems not only improve production but also lead to happier and more productive maintenance and production personnel.

“They’re not having to clean up the same mess every shift or the same broken piece of equipment that’s been regularly damaged through material loss and poor performance,” Minch concludes.

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Australian Mining magazine.

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