Lightweight cleaner pole enhances conveyor safety

Flexco's universal lightweight cleaner pole.

Flexco’s conveyor experts have developed a universal lightweight cleaner pole that is delivering much-needed relief for maintenance workers at mine operations. Safe to Work writes.

Reducing the impact that manual handling of heavy objects has on workers is an ongoing aim of mining companies as they strive to improve their safety performance.

Manual handling accounts for 30 per cent of Australia’s workplace injuries, according to Safe Work Australia, a statistic the mining industry is determined to lower.

For workers in the conveyor sector, a manual handling activity that has historically caused concern is when they are required to carry heavy cleaner poles.

In general, workers are required to manually remove the entire cleaner pole for maintenance every 12 to 16 weeks during conveyor shutdowns and then must re-install it.

Weighing more than 75 kilograms in some cases, cleaner poles can cause considerable stress on the bodies of workers during manual handling.

Flexco Australia has focussed on reducing the health and safety risks that the manual handling of cleaner poles pose for workers.

The company’s development of a solution accelerated when it was engaged by a Pilbara iron ore company to design a lighter pole.

“The safety department of the company acknowledged it as an area where improvement was needed and asked if we could design a lighter pole,” Flexco Western Australia manager Adam Wright tells Safe to Work.

From late 2017, Flexco spent six months on research and development of the new poles, before designing a solution that was up to 60 per cent lighter than the standard mild steel and stainless steel cleaner poles already being used.

Flexco trialled the lighter poles at sites in some of Australia’s harshest mining environments for almost a year to ensure they were structurally sound and met all safety requirements.

The company’s team finished the trial period convinced that the product was easier to lift, carry and install, giving operators an opportunity to introduce safer lifting procedures on site.

Flexco commercially launched the newly-named Universal Lightweight Cleaner Pole in July, much to the delight of the mining companies it works with.

“They could not believe what we had done. I can’t say the lighter pole alleviates all of the safety risks of the previous poles, but it has certainly reduced the risks of manual handling that lead to an incident,” Wright says.

While safety was the first priority in the development of the new cleaner pole, a by-product of the project that improved operational efficiencies emerged for Flexco.

The company’s heavy duty specialist and engineer that developed the pole realised they could also build a universal face plate design that supported a variety of primary and secondary cleaners.

“The new face plate means that users can put mostly all Flexco components that they want on the poles,” Wright says.

“Previously, numerous standard poles were needed in stock at sites, now they only need one for each belt width because the majority of our cushions and components fit on the new lightweight pole.

“The versatility of the plate makes it easier to stock the poles in the case of unscheduled downtime.”

The value of the universal plate is an added bonus of the lightweight pole that will streamline how they are used, improving the productivity of conveyor operations.

But for Wright and Flexco, the key value of the lightweight poles will always be the way they enhance the safety of the operations the company works at.

“Our value is that safety is No 1 – that’s why no one pushed back when we committed to designing a lighter cleaner pole. It was needed in the marketplace and was something that we wanted to bring to the market first,” Wright concludes.

This article also appears in the Oct–Dec edition of Safe to Work.