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Mill Safety

Mills and calenders are used extensively throughout the rubber industry. Running nip accidents (getting caught in the rotating rolls) are major safety hazards during operation of these machines. In addition, there is a potential for accidents during repair and maintenance of these and other machines used in the rubber industry. This article discusses these safety hazards.

In 1973 in the United States, the National Joint Industrial Council for the Rubber Manufacturing Industry concluded that for in-running nip points, a safety device that depended on action of the operator could not be regarded as an effective method of preventing running nip accidents. This is especially true of mills in the rubber industry. Unfortunately, little has been done to force code changes. Currently there is only one safety device that does not require operator action to activate. The body bar is the only widely accepted automatic device that is an effective means of preventing mill accidents. However, even the body bar has limitations and cannot be used in all cases unless modifications are made to the equipment and work practice.

The problem of mill safety is not a simple one; there are several major issues involved:

  • mill height
  • the size of the operator
  • auxiliary equipment
  • the way the mill is worked
  • the tack or stickiness of the stock
  • stopping distance.


Mill height makes a difference as to where the operator works the mill. For mills less than
1.27 m high, where the height of the operator is greater than 1.68 m, there is a tendency to work too high on the mill or too close to the nip. This allows for a very short reaction time for the automatic safety to stop the mill.

The size of the operator also dictates how close the operator needs to get to the mill face to work the mill. Operators come in many different sizes, and often must operate the same mill. The majority of the time no adjustment is made to the mill safety devices.

Auxiliary equipment such as conveyors or loaders can often conflict with safety cables and ropes. Despite codes to the contrary, often the safety rope or cable is moved to allow for the operation of the auxiliary equipment. This can result in the operator working the mill with the safety cable behind the operator’s head.

While the height of the mill and the auxiliary equipment have a part in the way a mill is worked, there are other factors which enter into the picture. If there is no mixing roll below the mixer to distribute the rubber evenly on the mill, the operator will have to physically move the rubber from one side of the mill to the other by hand. The mixing and moving of the rubber exposes the operator to increased risk of strain or sprain injuries in addition to the hazard of the mill nip.

The tack or stickiness of the stock poses an additional hazard. If the rubber sticks to the mill roll and the operator has to pull it off the roll, a body bar becomes a safety hazard. Operators of mills with hot rubber have to wear gloves. Mill operators use knives. Tacky stock can grab a knife, glove or bare hand and pull it toward the running nip of the mill.

Even an automatic safety device will not be effective unless the mill can be stopped before the operator reaches the running nip of the mill. Stopping distances must be checked at least weekly and the brakes tested at the beginning of each shift. Dynamic electrical brakes must be checked on a regular basis. If the zero switch is not adjusted properly, the mill will move back and forth and damage to the mill will result. For some situations, disc brakes are preferred. With electrical brakes a problem can arise if the operator has activated the mill stop button and then tried an emergency mill stop. On some mills the emergency stop will not work after the mill stop button has been activated.

There have been some adjustments made that have improved mill safety. The following steps have greatly reduced exposure to running nip injuries on the mills:

  • A body bar should be used on the working face of each mill, but only if the bar is adjustable for the height and reach of the operator.
  • Mill brakes can be either mechanical or electrical, but they must be checked each shift and the distance checked weekly. The stopping distances should comply with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) stopping distance recommendations.
  • Where mixer mills have hot, tacky stock, a two-mill system has replaced the single-mill system. This has reduced operator exposure and improved the mixing of the stock.
  • Where operators are required to move stock across a mill, a mixing roll should be added to reduce operator exposure.
  • Current mill work practices have been reviewed to insure that the operator is not working too close to the running nip on the mill. This includes small lab mills, especially where a sample may require numerous passes through the running nip.
  • Mill loaders have been added on mills to load stock. This has eliminated the practice of trying to load a mill using a fork truck, and has eliminated any conflict with the use of a body bar as a safety device.


Currently technology exists to improve mill safety. In Canada, for example, a rubber mill cannot be operated without a body bar on the working face or front of the mill. Countries receiving older equipment from other countries need to adjust the equipment to fit their workforce.

Calender Safety

Calenders have many configurations of machines and auxiliary equipment, making it difficult to be specific on calender safety. For a more in-depth study in calender safety, see National Joint Industrial Council for the Rubber Manufacturing Industry (1959, 1967).

Unfortunately, when a calender or any other piece of equipment has been transferred from one company to another or one country to another, often the accident history is not included. This has resulted in the removal of guards and in dangerous work practices that had been changed because of a prior incident. This has led to history repeating itself, with accidents that have occurred in the past reoccurring. Another problem is language. Machines with the controls and instructions in a different language from the user country makes safe operation more difficult.

Calenders have increased in speed. The braking ability of these machines has not always kept pace with the equipment. This is especially true around the calender rolls. If these rolls cannot be stopped in the recommended stopping distance, an additional method must be used to protect employees. If necessary, the calender should be equipped with a sensing device that will slow the machine when the rolls are approached during operation. This has proven very effective in keeping employees from getting too close to the rolls during the operation of the machine.

Some of the other major areas identified by the National Joint Industrial Council are still a source of injuries today:

  • clearing jams and adjusting material
  • running nip injuries, especially at wind-ups
  • threading up
  • communications.


An effective, well understood lockout programme (see below) will do much to reduce or eliminate injuries from the clearing of jams or the adjusting of material while the machine is in operation. Proximity devices that slow the rolls when they are approached may help deter an adjustment attempt.

Running nip injuries remain a problem, especially at wind-ups. Speeds at the wind-up must be adjustable to allow for a slow start-up at the beginning of the roll. Safeties must be available in the event of a problem. A device that slows the roll when it is approached will tend to discourage an attempt to adjust a liner or fabric during the wind-up. Telescoping rolls are a special temptation for even experienced operators.

The problem of threading-up incidents has increased with the speed and complexity of the calender train and the amount of auxiliary equipment. Here the existence of a single line control and good communications are essential. The operator may not be able to see all of the crew. Everyone must be accounted for and communications must be clear and easily understood.

The need for good communications is essential to safe operation when a crew is involved. Critical times are when adjustments are being made or when the machine is started at the beginning of a run or started after a shut-down which had been caused by a problem.

The answer to these problems is a well-trained crew that understands the problems of calender operation, a maintenance system that maintains all safety devices is working condition and a system that audits both.

Machine Lockout

The concept of machine lockout is not new. While lockout has been generally accepted in maintenance programmes, very little has been done to gain acceptance in the operating area. Part of the problem is the recognition of the hazard. A typical lockout standard requires that “if the unexpected movement of equipment or release of energy could cause injury to an employee then that equipment should be locked out”. Lockout is not limited to electrical energy, and not all energy can be locked out; some things must be blocked in position, pipes must be disconnected and blanked, stored pressure must be relieved. While the lockout concept is viewed in some industries as a way of life, other industries have not accepted it due to the fear of the cost of locking out.

Central to the concept of lockout is control. Where the person is at risk for injury as the result of movement, the power source(s) must be disabled and the person or persons at risk should have control. All situations requiring lockout are not easy to identify. Even when they are identified, it is not easy to change work practices.

Another key to a lockout programme which is often overlooked is the ease with which a machine or line can be locked out or the power isolated. Older equipment was not designed or installed with lockout in mind. Some machines were installed with a single breaker for several machines. Other machines have multiple power sources, making lockout more complicated. To add to this problem, motor control room breakers are often changed or feed additional equipment, and the documentation of the changes is not always kept current.

The rubber industry has seen general acceptance of lockout in maintenance. While the concept of protecting one’s self from the dangers of unexpected movement is not new, the uniform use of lockout is. In the past, maintenance personnel used different means to protect themselves. This protection was not always consistent due to other pressures such as production, and not always effective. For some of the equipment in the industry, the lockout answer is complex and not easily understood.

The tyre press is an example of a piece of equipment for which there is little consensus on the exact time and method for lockout. While the complete lockout of a press for an extensive repair is straightforward, there is no consensus about lockout in such operations as mould and bladder changes, mould cleaning and unjamming equipment.

The tyre machine is another example of difficulty in lockout compliance. Many of the injuries in this area have not been to maintenance personnel, but rather to operators and tyre technicians making adjustments, changing drums, loading or unloading stock or unjamming equipment and to janitorial employees cleaning the equipment.

It is difficult to have a successful lockout programme if the lockout is time consuming and difficult. Where possible, the means to disconnect should be available at the equipment, which helps with ease of identification and can eliminate or reduce the possibility of someone being in the danger zone when the energy is returned to the equipment. Even with changes that make identification easier, no lockout can ever be considered complete unless a test is made to be sure the correct power isolation devices were used. In the case of work with electrical wiring, a test should be made after the disconnect is pulled to ensure that all power has been disconnected.

An effective lockout programme must include the following:

  • The equipment should be designed to facilitate a lockout for all energy sources.
  • Lockout sources must be identified correctly.
  • Work practices requiring lockout must be identified.
  • All employees affected by lockout should have some training in lockout.
  • Employees who are required to lockout should be trained and advised that lockout is expected and that anything less is unacceptable under any circumstances.
  • The programme needs to be audited on a regular basis to make sure that it is effective.



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