More than 30 km of heavy-duty conveyer belts support the Latrobe Valley’s Loy Yang A power station in Victoria – and invariably, these conveyer belts get damaged and have to be repaired.

The 50-80 repairs – or belt splices – that are completed each year are carried out by contractors from Belle Banne Conveyer Services. After a spate of knife-injuries at parent company Fenner Dunlop, they asked – is it possible to make these repairs without knives, and decrease the injury rate?

Belle Banne Site Manager Glenn Nijenhuis said that initially the question was unthinkable.

‘Our people thought – we can’t do that, this is the way it’s been done for 30 years,’ Glenn said.

‘For a belt splicer, the knife was the go-to tool – like a calculator is to an accountant.

‘But the driver was that people were getting hurt with knives – and the best way to stop people getting hurt with knives was to stop using them altogether.

‘We got our people on the shop floor involved in the process and challenged them to come up with a solution.

‘We identified ten different steps in the splicing process that involved a knife. We worked through them systematically. Once we executed one successfully, we moved onto the next. And finally – we completed our first splice in the field without a knife.’

All knives have now been completely eliminated from the work on conveyers – revolutionising the industry. They’ve been replaced with a variety of other tools: piano wires and a grooving gun traditionally used for tyres and pulleys replaces a hook knife, while industrial snips and a custom multifunction tool known as ‘The Renovator’ round out the toolbox.

The knifeless splice technique, trialled for several months now, has been so successful that it’s taken out the 2019 WorkSafe Award for Best Solution to a Specific Workplace Health and Safety Issue.

More importantly, the Belle Banne workers have not had a knife injury since the technique was adopted. Before the technique was adopted, 80% of injuries at the workplace were knife lacerations.

‘The number of people required to undertake the tasks hasn’t changed, and tasks are completed within the same timeframe,’ Glenn said.

‘We do 50-80 belt splices a year on site at Loy Yang, and about 25,000 hours are spent on belt repairs. By eliminating the use of knives, we’ve eliminated the knife-related injuries.