Balers are dangerous pieces of plant. In the wrong hands they can, and do, kill. Which is why they are a high priority for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
A well-designed, well-maintained and properly operated baler is as benign as any other piece of plant. But too many owners and operators become complacent, developing bad habits and making ad hoc adjustments to suit their circumstances. These frequently reduce performance and often make the machine dangerous.
We know, because we at Presona UK see the abuse that balers take day in, day out. We see the quick fixes, the workarounds, the money-saving solutions and the apathy towards training.
Of course, there are plenty of baler operators and owners who do the right thing. But it only takes one plant to create another horrific recycling industry casualty. Which is why the HSE asked us to run a workshop with its team to highlight the safety requirements and practices that should be in place when working with balers.
Presona’s Swedish team wrote the European safety standard for horizontal baling presses: EN16252. This was approved in 2012 and has recently been updated, and should be referred to when providing training to baler operators.
Training is not just for new operators; baler operators should have a refresher course at least every four years to offset the complacency and bad habits that can set in. This prevents dangerous practices and highlights better and safer alternatives.
Presona advocates a daily check for every machine. This should take only five minutes, and allows the operator to make sure all safety equipment is in place and that nothing will compromise performance.
In the time it takes to walk around the baler, the operator can see that guards are in place, there are no trailing wires, the belt is properly functioning and that grease and oil levels are correct. Best practice is to carry out maintenance at the same time.
“We see the quick fixes, the workarounds, the money-saving solutions and the apathy towards training.”
We frequently see facilities where the balers are expected to run efficiently without any regular checks or maintenance. When their performance declines, they get blocked or seize up, and some operators think nothing of jumping on (or into) the machine to find a solution. This should never happen, and can largely be avoided with a regular check and maintenance regime.
Designed for safety
Training and maintenance checks are not a panacea for poor design. When buying a baler, operator safety should be a key consideration.
Presona balers are password protected, with login details only provided to trained operatives who are required to login and logout each time they take responsibility for the machine. This reduces the likelihood of un-trained people approaching the baler. The regime is that they find someone to login and complete the necessary maintenance.
The company is also making it increasingly difficult for operators to circumnavigate safety measures. For example, one of the greatest dangers occurs when an operator climbs into the chamber to clear a blockage. This is only permissible when the machine is completely turned off, with the operator logged off and the keys removed.
Trained operators know this. But if a blockage happens and a trained operator is not available, we know that other workers may try to solve the problem by finding a way to get into the chamber.
For this reason, Presona has fitted a super-safe Dold mechanical interlock, which makes it extremely difficult to access the chamber. This is a category four safety lock with a minimum of two types of safety screw.
Hopper blockages are another accident ‘flash point’. These result in people climbing up conveyors, when they risk falling into the baler, or poking the blockage from below, with material potentially falling on to them. Both actions can be avoided by the installation of a hopper platform, which can also be retrofitted, to give easy access while maintaining operator safety.
Balers are often subject to DIY engineering. Our advice is: don’t do it. We understand that you know your facility better than anyone else, but we know baler engineering better than anyone else.
An extreme example was the bug-killing unit we found fitted to a baler with a simple three-pin plug, which was hidden from view. The baler and plug were jet-washed every day. How no-one was electrocuted, we will never know. Of course the unit was removed as soon as we saw it.
Presona is happy to help ensure that your equipment meets safety legislation and performance criteria. And if you hit on something we haven’t thought of, we will all benefit – but safety has to come first.
Dean Clarke is managing director at Presona UK