As 2018 starts, it’s important to take a look around your facility to recognize potential hazards and take steps to secure them. Fall-related incidents continue to be the top cause of OSHA violations year after year so don’t forget to look up!
OSHA requires fall protection be provided for employees on any working surface that is elevated four feet or more; remember that is not the height of a building story or even most people. To protect employees from falls, OSHA requires employers to provide guardrails, toe-boards and other protective equipment like safety gates to keep employees safe and free from known dangers. In addition, ANSI Standards require a barrier to be in place at all times for elevated pallet drop areas.
There are five places in a facility that pose great risk for falls and injury if left unprotected, from outside the facility to elevated surfaces within the building. While each of the five areas below is different and can vary greatly from one facility to another, each is a common hazard that can easily be secured.
Ideally fall protection solutions should be designed into the facility from the start, but solutions can be retrofitted into an area that needs protection. Proactively securing each of these areas before an incident occurs will prove to be a valuable investment and can prevent injury, and even save lives.
Before you even enter the facility, there may be risks for falls outside if using a loading dock lift to transfer material from a tractor trailer to ground level. If a worker is riding the lift to move material in and out of the truck then the edge of lift should be secured with a gate system that closes automatically as the lift raises, preventing a fall-protection barrier when the lift is elevated.
If your facility uses loading docks at truck level then these elevated areas are also higher than the OSHA requirement for fall protection so they should be guarded with a barrier that is closed whenever the truck is absent.
Inside the facility, any elevated structure must be properly guarded. This includes mezzanines, elevated platforms and catwalks as well as any lifts used to move material. Guardrail to secure the perimeter is often designed into the structure, but sections of this guardrail get removed so pallets can be transferred to the upper level. These pallet drop areas are a major hazard and must be properly secured. A dual-gate system should be installed to ensure a barrier is in place at all times – even while the pallet staged. A properly designed dual-gate system will not depend on the operator to ensure the barrier is in place at times and will ensure code compliance, and can be designed to fit your specific space limitations and workflow.
And don’t forget, even if you are using automated guided vehicles (AGV’s) to load these areas, if employees are on the upper levels, moving or picking the pallets or simply have access to these areas then the areas should be guarded with a dual-gate system. A company that specializes in these type of gate systems will be able to design the gates to integrate with the AGV’s with power operation and sensors to communicate with the system.
If your facility has pick modules that extend multiple levels, it’s likely there are variety of openings on the elevated levels for picking or for empty pallet/empty tote return bays. Just like the openings on a mezzanine or elevated platform, the areas on a pick module where there is access to the exposed ledge should be secured with dual-gate system. This ensures there is a barrier in place between the picker and the ledge while they are working the pallet, and while the bay is being replenished.
Another major source of fall-related incidents occurs where the empty pallets or empty totes are stacked so they can be removed by the lift truck. These areas should also be secured with a dual-gate system so a barrier is always there to provide fall protection.
Pallet Flow Lanes
Often pallet flow lanes are installed to allow multiple pallets to be loaded into a multi-level system. Sometimes the operation is designed so the operator is picking pallets away from the ledge, and sometimes they are invited down an aisle between the lanes to cluster pick the pallets, but either way the ledges of the pallet flow lanes should be properly guarded. Although in a standard pallet flow operation, the operator is not instructed to enter the lanes, they fact that they have egress down the lanes, which are often decked over, means that the ledges of these lanes should secured.
As with a staged pallet on an elevated pallet drop area, a dual-gate system should be installed to secure these lanes. A swinging gate will be held open by the last pallet loaded so that will create an OSHA violation. Having the swinging gate held open by a pallet is especially problematic in a cluster picking application because the workers are invited down the lane to pick the pallets so the ledge must be secured even when the lane is full. A dual-gate system designed multiple pallets deep will secure the ledge and all times while keeping employees out of the area while the pallet flow lanes are loaded.
Facilities often feature doors that appear to be a doorway to another area of the mezzanine, but in reality they do not lead to a room or a hallway, but instead lead to open space in which a step can cause a fall to the level below. Employees working in the facility every day likely know what the door leads to, but in a panic situation or with a new employee, the doorway poses a great risk for falls and injury if there is no fall protection in place.
Doors are also dependent on someone to remember and make an effort to close them, and as a result are often left open. Doors also can severely create a false impression, tricking people as to their function; what is perceived as a doorway to another area is actually a step into space, and could be the last step someone may ever take.
If you have unprotected areas in your material handling or manufacturing facility that need securing, reach out to a safety professional for guidance in the right protection for your area. So now that it’s a new year, take some time to look around and try to notice these hazards before they become a problem, and don’t forget to look up.
We often work with material handling distributors. They rely on our safety expertise to help them make areas in their customer facilities safer and we rely on them as they know the facility inside and out and usually reach out and let us know the safety gate designs that they need. We love these relationships as they are beneficial to us all.
It’s not a rare happening when a partner comes to us with a challenging safety application. Challenging applications can feature various issues, including extreme width or depth of the pallet drop area, limited depth on the work platform, or even areas that are obstructed by machinery or doorways. We love it when a challenge is posed to us.
For example, we worked with a material handling distributor that had a customer that used a scissor lift to move totes to an elevated platform. The platform was located in an area in which overhead beams drastically reduced the height in the area where the totes were dropped. The application posed some challenges due to the height restrictions, and the distributor reached out to see if we could provide a safety gate for that area.
The beams over the tote drop area ruled out most of our safety gate models as many designs need overhead clearance for the dual gate system to work properly. After working with our distributor partner to get the exact measurements, we reviewed the employee process of loading and unloading the totes, which were moved off to the side of the drop area. From there, we determined an Open Top safety gate model was the best solutions for their customer.
The Open Top safety gate design has no overhead mechanics, so it really was the only design that worked with the overhead beams that were in the application area. Additionally, because the model can be configured to allow material to be moved off to the side, as well as straight back, it was ideal for the customer application.
Once the gate was configured for the customer's exact application, the gates were shipped to the facility. The distributor installed the Open Top safety gate at the location, and after initial testing, the gate easily became a part of the customer's process.
Without any overhead mechanics, the employee on the scissor lift can bring up the totes to the area when the ledge gate is open. After the totes are loaded, the ledge gate is shut by the employee on the scissor lift, which provides a safe working environment for the employees moving and working from the totes.
The Open Top was originally designed to allow access from overhead to accommodate tall pallet loads or access for overhead equipment, such as overhead vacuums or chain hoists. However, we have found it is ideal for securing elevated ledges with limited height through our work with great partners and customers.