Best Practices for Staying Safe Around Elevator Buckets

Best Practics for Staying Safe Around Elevator Buckets

Elevator buckets are used to move materials vertically in a variety of industrial settings. They consist of a continuous line of buckets attached to a belt or chain that travels vertically in an enclosed lift. The buckets scoop up material at the bottom and release it out the top.

Common applications include:

  • Grain elevators in agriculture to move grain vertically into silos or for loading.
  • Mining operations to move ore, aggregates, or waste rock vertically out of mines.
  • Power plants to lift coal or biomass fuels.
  • Cement plants to lift raw materials.
  • Timber industry to lift sawdust and wood chips.

Elevator buckets provide an efficient way to move large volumes of materials vertically. However, they can also pose safety hazards if not properly used and maintained. Proper safety protocols are essential. And today let’s share our insights about some common issues of bucket systems and also some solutions!

Common Hazards

Elevator bucket systems can pose several safety hazards if not properly addressed. Some of the most common hazards include:

Moving Parts/Pinch Points

The moving belts, pulleys, gears, and other components of elevator buckets can create pinch points and entanglement hazards. Workers can become caught in moving parts, leading to severe crushing injuries or amputations. Proper machine guarding must be in place to prevent access to dangerous areas. Guards should fully enclose belts, pulleys, sprockets, chains and other moving parts.

Falls from Height

Workers face potential fall hazards when accessing the tops of elevator buckets for inspections, maintenance or clearing blockages. Falls from height can occur when working on top of the equipment or climbing ladders to reach the top. Fall protection systems should be implemented, such as guardrails around the perimeter or personal fall arrest systems.

Electrical Hazards

Improperly wired electrical components can pose shock, electrocution and arc flash hazards. Regular inspections of electrical wiring and connections are critical. Proper lockout/tagout procedures must be followed when performing maintenance to avoid accidental start-up. Electrical enclosures should be tightly sealed and clearly labeled.

Hazard Assessments

Conducting thorough hazard assessments is crucial for identifying and controlling risks associated with elevator bucket systems. These assessments should be performed by qualified personnel before the system is operated, and on an ongoing basis.

Some key hazards to assess include:

  • Moving parts – Elevator buckets, pulleys, belts, driveshafts, and other components pose risks of entanglement, pinch points, and striking injuries. Guards must be properly installed and maintained.
  • Falls – Open shafts, platforms, and stairs present fall hazards. Guardrails, restraint systems, and proper access must be provided.
  • Electrocution – Improperly wired electrical components can pose shock and electrocution hazards. Regular inspections of wiring and grounding are essential.
  • Confined spaces – Entry into bins, pits, and other restricted areas could expose workers to entrapment, engulfment, and hazardous atmospheres. Proper confined space procedures are required.
  • Noise – Operating elevator buckets produce high noise levels that require a hearing conservation program.
  • Dust explosions – Fine dust from agricultural products creates explosion risks that require special precautions.

Thoroughly examining the system and environment using safety checklists, process hazard analysis, and what-if analysis will help identify hazards. Input from operators, maintenance personnel and other stakeholders is also valuable.

Once hazards are identified, the next critical step is to develop and implement effective control measures. This may involve redesigning equipment, implementing safe work procedures, conducting training, and providing proper PPE. Controls should follow the hierarchy of hazard control, with elimination or substitution as the first line of defense.

Regular inspections, testing, preventive maintenance and audits must be conducted to ensure controls remain effective over time. Hazard assessments should be reviewed and updated whenever changes are made to the system or work processes. Maintaining robust hazard assessment and control practices is vital for safety.

Guarding

Guarding is an essential safety measure for elevator bucket systems to prevent injuries from moving parts. Proper guarding prevents accidental contact with hazardous points of operation, such as chains, sprockets, drive components, pulleys and belts.

  • All hazardous moving parts like drive shafts, belt drives, chains, sprockets etc. should be guarded to prevent entanglement. Guards must be secure and sturdy.
  • Access to dangerous areas should be restricted by guarding pinch points, open pits, platforms and walkways.
  • Guards should be attached using tamper-resistant fasteners.
  • Inspection and maintenance activities require temporary guard removal. Establish lockout tagout procedures for removal and replacement.
  • For overhead equipment like pulleys, install wire mesh or other overhead guarding.
  • Access prevention can also be achieved by railings and restraint systems on platforms and walkways. Maintain proper access clearance around equipment.
  • Train workers to keep guards in place during operations. Ensure proper re-installation after servicing.

Proper guarding eliminates direct contact with hazardous areas, reducing risks of entanglement, amputation and crushing injuries. Guarding should be designed as per equipment specifications and regulatory requirements. Annual inspections and testing ensures guarding effectiveness.

Fall Protection

Fall protection is critical when working at heights around elevator bucket systems. There are two main methods of fall protection to consider:

Guardrails

Installing proper guardrails around elevated work areas is an important fall prevention method. Guardrails should have a top rail, mid rail, and toe board. The top rail should be 42 inches high with a mid rail halfway between the top rail and the toe board. The toe board helps prevent materials from falling. Proper guardrails can protect workers from falling when working near open edges.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems

For areas where guardrails are not feasible, personal fall arrest systems should be used. These consist of an anchorage, body harness, and connector such as a lanyard or retractable lifeline. They stop a fall before the worker hits a lower level. Anchorage points must be able to support a minimum of 5,000 pounds. The fall arrest system must be rigged to prevent the worker from hitting anything below before the system stops their fall. Proper training is essential in the use of personal fall arrest systems.

Lockout/Tagout

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures are critical for controlling hazardous energy and preventing unintended startup of equipment during maintenance or servicing activities. All energy sources associated with the elevator bucket system must be properly isolated and locked out prior to workers accessing dangerous areas. This includes electrical power, hydraulic/pneumatic pressure, potential energy from elevated components, and any other sources identified in the hazard assessment.

Workers must follow the site-specific lockout procedures, which typically involve shutting down the equipment, isolating the energy sources with locks and tags, relieving any stored energy, and verifying effectiveness by attempting to restart the equipment. The locks and tags indicate that the equipment must not be restarted until the authorized worker has removed them. Proper LOTO protects workers from electrocution, getting caught in machinery, explosions, and other hazards if equipment were to activate unexpectedly.

It is critical that each worker puts their own padlock on the isolation point, keeping the key with them at all times. Shift changes, handoffs between workers, and group LOTO procedures must be structured to ensure continuity and prevent premature removal. Regular LOTO audits should verify that procedures are being followed correctly every time. Proper isolation, lockout, de-energization, and verification are the essential elements for safe maintenance of elevator bucket systems.

Electrical Safety

Working around electrical equipment requires extra precautions to avoid shock, electrocution, arc flashes, and fires. Proper lockout/tagout procedures should always be followed before performing maintenance tasks. All electrical components should be properly grounded and bonded. Wiring should be in good condition, protected, and equipped with the appropriate overcurrent protection.

Sparks and arcing present explosion hazards around combustible dusts or vapors. Ensure electrical enclosures are tightly closed and use dust-tight and explosion-proof fixtures where required. Inspect cords and connections for damage before each use. Do not use damaged electrical equipment. Keep cords and cables out of wet areas and traffic paths to prevent damage. Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) where required.

Maintain the recommended clearances around electrical equipment. Do not store materials near electrical panels or equipment. Keep areas around electrical components clean and dry.

Confined Spaces

Working in confined spaces such as grain bins presents unique hazards that require special safety protocols. A confined space has limited openings for entry and exit, along with unfavorable natural ventilation that could contain hazardous atmospheres.

Permit required confined spaces mandate a written program and procedure to control access. Before entry, the internal atmosphere must be tested for oxygen content, flammability, and toxic contaminants. Continuous monitoring of the air quality should be conducted when workers are present in the space. Proper ventilation equipment may be necessary to prevent buildup of hazardous gases.

All access points of the confined space should be labeled and secured against unauthorized entry. Safety training is paramount for all personnel required to enter confined areas. They must be equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment, rescue devices, and communications equipment. No employee should ever enter a permit-required space without proper supervision, training and precautionary measures in place.

Maintenance

Regular maintenance is critical for elevator bucket system safety. This involves:

Inspections

Elevator buckets and associated equipment should be visually inspected daily for any signs of damage, loose or missing parts, leaks, unusual noises or vibrations, and other red flags. Monthly comprehensive inspections should also occur, checking all components thoroughly. Annual inspections by qualified technicians are also recommended.

Any issues identified should be addressed immediately. Keep detailed records of all inspections.

Lubrication

All moving parts must be properly lubricated per the manufacturer’s specifications to prevent excessive wear and friction. Grease fittings should be lubricated daily with the specified grease. Gear cases may require periodic oil changes. Check lubricant levels regularly and top up as needed.

Replacing Worn Parts

Over time, elevator buckets and components like belts, bearings, sprockets, drums, and sheaves will wear out. Closely monitor and replace these parts when they near the end of their lifespan. Use only OEM parts to ensure proper fit and operation. Never substitute makeshift parts.

Follow lockout/tagout procedures when servicing equipment. Verify proper operation after replacing components before returning the system to normal operation.

Training

Proper training is essential for safely operating and working around elevator bucket systems. Personnel should receive training on hazard communication, standard operating procedures, and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hazard Communication

  • Workers must be informed of potential hazards associated with the elevator bucket system, such as moving parts, fall risks, and electrical hazards. Safety data sheets should be provided for any hazardous chemicals used.
  • Warning signs and labels should be posted on or near the equipment to alert workers of dangers. These may include high voltage signs, pinch point warnings, and emergency stop labels.

Operating Procedures

  • Documented procedures should outline proper startup, operation, and shutdown of the elevator bucket system. These should cover things like inspection, testing, troubleshooting, lockout/tagout, and emergency response.
  • Workers should receive hands-on training for all operating procedures. Competency should be demonstrated before being allowed to work independently. Procedures should be reviewed annually.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Required PPE, like hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, and fall arrest systems should be identified. Workers must be trained on proper use, care, and limitations of PPE.
  • PPE should be provided by the employer and replaced as needed. Proper fit is important for effectiveness. PPE should be inspected before each use.

If you need elevator buckets OEM service, feel free to contact us. We’ve been manufacturing elevator buckets in different types and materials for decades!

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