Conveyor System Safety 101

In 2014, 21-year-old Candace Carnahan was working her summer job at a paper mill near her Canadian hometown. One day she took a shortcut that she had seen many others take before: She stepped over a conveyor belt.

Carnahan’s foot got caught in a pinch point and was pulled into the machine. The conveyor kept running for a few seconds, until a co-worker heard her screams and pushed the manual stop button.

But not before Carnahan’s toes had been severed by the conveyor. Her left leg later had to be amputated.

As with all machinery, conveyors are only as safe as the people using them. Let’s review some common sense safety rules and standards:

Don’t Tread on Me

Workers should never sit on, stand on, climb on, walk on, or otherwise misuse a conveyor — ever.  This includes reaching into, climbing over or crawling under the conveyor when it’s in motion.

While this rule may seem fairly obvious, disregarding it is one of the most common causes of injuries involving conveyors.

(Note: The only possible exception to this rule is during maintenance or repair, and then only by qualified technicians.)


Conveyors that are loaded beyond capacity can overheat and malfunction, leading to damage and the potential for accidents due to falling goods. Make sure all workers are aware of the safe operating capacity of every conveyor. Managers must enforce this safety standard — for the good of the workers and the equipment.

Keep Your Guard Up

A conveyor has many moving parts, such as gears, chains and belts. These can pose a serious hazard if exposed. Which is why a conveyor should never be operated without guards and covers in place to keep out clothing, extremities, and any foreign objects.

In addition, conveyors should never be loaded over guards or railings, as this increases the risk of clothing getting caught in the rollers.

Be aware that, even with guards in place, conveyors are capable of catching dangling extremities, clothing and hair. Long hair should always be tied back or kept under a cap whenever working near a conveyor. In addition, clothing should not be baggy, and ties and loose jewelry should be removed. Workers should only touch materials on the conveyor, not the conveyor itself.


Control Training

All workers should be properly trained in how to stop the conveyor in an emergency. Controls should be easily accessible and easy to use.

Conveyor manufacturers recommend that all employees read and understand the conveyor system’s user manual. According to the MK Technology Group, “Any machine’s manual is its bible, and a conveyor is no different. The best way to be sure about proper conveyor use is by knowing and abiding by the contents of the manual – during use and service alike.”


Warning labels alert workers about particular hazards and safety practices. Accurate, up-to-date warning labels should be posted on all conveyors and components, where workers can easily see and read them. In particular, make sure that motors and rollers are well labeled with safety information; these are two of the most hazardous components of any conveyor system.

Leave It to the Pros

All maintenance and repair work should be carried out only by trained, fully qualified repair people. They’ll be sure to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures and block or disengage all power sources to the conveyor (electrical, hydraulic, air, gravity).

Even the best technicians are occasionally injured by a malfunctioning machine. Untrained staff should never attempt a conveyor system repair.

The folks at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, a Canadian health and safety association, offer the following additional advice to employers:

Canadian Occupation Safety

MK North America