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With the launch of our new web site, we’ve added a blog. Here we’ll keep you updated on the latest news and trends for safety in the material handling industry. That may cover many topics, from the latest forecasts for manufacturing and material handling, updates in regulations and standards from OSHA and ANSI, as well as some of our safety gate installations and custom work.

On the blog you’ll also find updates from some of the organizations we belong to, like MHEDA and MHI, as well as MHI’s ProGMA Committee.

We’re looking forward to sharing our news and views with you, and if there is a topic you would like us to touch on, just let us know.

Rack Supported Pivot Gates: A Case History

A number of years ago we were contacted by a systems integrator that needed a safety solution for the pick modules they were designing for a client. As an innovator in material handling safety solutions for over 30 years, there are few applications that we haven’t seen, and this project was no exception.

The system was being designed for a national retail company’s new distribution center which included several pick modules that extended three levels above the floor. The operations process consisted of lifting full-case pallets up into the pick module and staging them into the pallet rack bays. Pickers on the platform would fulfill orders by removing items from the pallet and placing them into bins on to the takeaway conveyor.

One of the systems integrator’s main concerns was securing the ledges of the elevated platforms; the system was three stories tall, and the pickers were going to be working off the pallets staged at the ledges of the module. Their client wanted a system that would ensure that proper safety guarding would be in place at all times, and that it would not depend on the actions of the employees to keep the guarding in place.

Our team has a lot of experience securing this type of application. We designed the original dual-gate system, the Roly safety gate, in the early 1980s. The Roly model consists of a gate at the ledge that is interconnected to a rear-side gate behind the pallet, configured so when one gate opens, the opposite gate closes, ensuring a gate is always in place to secure the ledge. A few years later, we modified the design to attach to the rack uprights to secure pallet drop areas in pick modules.

The system integrator was familiar with our Rack Supported version of the Roly safety gate from working together on several previous projects, and was interested in the same model for its client’s new distribution center. However, the lay out of this system provided some challenges to using that model. Due to the footprint of the building and how the modules had to be configured, there was a narrow aisle on the platform between the rack uprights and the conveyor. The pickers pushed carts down this aisle instead of rolling pallets so the aisle didn’t need to be very wide, and this lay out helped the ergonomics because the picker didn’t have to move too far with the picked items because the conveyor was located a few feet behind them.

The narrow aisle, however, created issues with properly guarding the ledges for fall protection. The Rack Supported Roly model closes behind the pallet with a permanent structure, which would have been an obstruction for the pickers walking down the aisle. Occasionally this is solved by projecting off the face of the module, but again the lay out of the building precluded this solution.

A new solution was needed. We knew a dual-gate system was still the best way to secure this type of area, because it maintains a safe environment at all times and doesn’t depend on the actions of the operator to keep the area safe. We needed to find a way to install a dual-gate system without the permanent framework that would extend back into the narrow picking aisle.

The solution was a Rack Supported version of our Pivot safety gate. The Pivot model, which we designed in the 1990s for a large national record retention center, is a dual-gate system that uses a pivoting framework to maintain a safe area.

We modified the design for this application so the safety device would mount onto the existing rack uprights. By attaching the safety gate to the pallet rack, we maximized the width of the bay, utilized a rugged connection that would be secured to the upright instead of lagging down into decking, and most importantly for this project, reduced the amount of depth required. Instead of a support structure that would be mounted back into the aisle, the only fixed support was on the rack upright. The rear-side gate and the support components would extend back beyond the upright to capture the pallet then “pivot” up and out of the way when the pallet was being picked. This allowed the aisle to remain clear whenever the ledge-side gate was closed.

The system integrator and end user loved this concept, and after we received the details on their racking configuration, we designed our supports to bolt directly onto these uprights without any holes needing to be drilled. The installation was a breeze, and the end result created a permanent, safe environment that did not impede on production.

To ensure the safety device was easy to operate for the end user, we included a hydraulic gas assist mechanism that allowed the gates to be opened and closed by a fingertip, even by employees with limited strength. We also custom painted the support frames to match the pallet rack color, and the gates were powder-coated in high-visibility safety yellow.

Since this initial project, the end user has specified the Rack-Supported Pivot Gate on all of its new distribution centers and retrofitted them into their existing facilities.

Ergonomics of Safety

Safety equipment is paramount in any facility, especially those in material handling, distribution or manufacturing industries.

But, make sure that your safety equipment doesn’t create new hazards while guarding against others. In this regard, the famous quote “First do no harm” applies to material handling safety.

Workers are often are required to lift heavy items, move heavy loads, reach above or below to grab or place items and more. These movements are often repeated throughout the day. Repetitive motions can increase an employee’s risk for injury; they can also contribute to fatigue, another factor for injury.

Equipment should be installed to reduce the effort and strain on these employees and to make the process as ergonomic as possible.

As a manufacturer of guarding products we are involved in many production platforms where ingredients are loaded up to the elevated platform then unloaded into hoppers and reactors to mix the ingredients into finished product. Employees are often positioned on these upper levels and are opening the bags of ingredients, then carrying them over to the hoppers where they are manually dumped. The bags are heavy, the area is often dusty and hot, and the work is repetitive: a perfect recipe for injury.

To reduce injuries, the area should be designed so the hoppers are in close proximity to the pallets of ingredients so the employees do not have to travel with the heavy bags. Lift tables should be installed where the pallets are deposited so the bags can be raised or lowered to the ultimate height, and when necessary, the tables should rotate so the bags on the far side of the pallet can be reached without strain.

In this type of application it is imperative to secure the ledges of these elevated platforms for fall protection so the workers are protected from the ledges. This safety system should not depend on someone to remember or to make an effort to close the safety device. Instead it should always be closed through the use of a dual-gate system such as the Roly or Tri-Side safety gate so when one side of the device is opened, the opposite side closes, maintaining a safe environment at all times.

With this set up the employee on the platform will raise or lower the gate depending on the work that they are doing, so the safety device must be easy and ergonomic to operate. Do not install a safety gate that solves the problem of fall protection but creates a new problem of having another heavy item that your employees need to move throughout the day.

For ease of operation, all of our safety gates use counterbalanced gates so the gate closing on one side helps to raise the gate on the other side. With a well designed, counterbalanced gate system the effort to open and close the gates are minimal.

However, even with the counterbalanced gates in certain applications where the gates are custom widths or the operator needs to stand off to the side of the unit to operate, we add additional mechanics to aid the operation. Many of our designs include a hydraulic damper that opens the gates; this allows the gates to be operated with a fingertip, and controls the speed of the gate so it opens and closes in a slow, controlled fashion.

All of our gates are tested in our facility to ensure an easy, ergonomic operation before they are installed in the end user’s facility. We want to make sure that the safety device being installed to keep people safe isn’t creating new issues by being difficult to operate.

This same practice should be followed when installing any safety device. Make sure that the safety device is not creating new issues for your employees. Speak with a manufacturer who specializes in safety products for the material handling industry, who has knowledge on the subject and has provide solutions for similar applications to yours. Make sure to discuss the operation of the gate with the manufacturer to determine if the gate will be easy to operate and provide protection at all times.

 

Facility Safety: When a Doorway Isn't a Doorway

On the upper levels of enclosed elevated platforms you will often notice a set of doors that appear to be a doorway to another area of the mezzanine. However, if you were to open these doors you would discover that they do not lead to a room or a hallway, but instead lead to open space and the ground level below.

This is an instance when a doorway isn’t a doorway, but they are pallet drop areas where a lift truck would load material up to these upper levels. Many times, swinging doors are put in place to enclose the mezzanine for climate or air control, and because there is a door in place, it’s considered safe.

This type of door poses many risks. By design the doors swing inward; the staged pallet will hold them open and prevent anyone from closing them, so they remain open the entire time a pallet is staged. The doors are 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.

Sure, people who work in the facility all day, every day may know not to walk through the doorway, but what about visitors or someone new to the location? What happens in a panic situation, in a case of emergency? Say there is a fire, and smoke and alarms sounding, and people are moving quickly for the exits; in the confusion and chaos, someone opens that doorway and steps through.If you have this kind of swinging doors in your pallet drop areas, remove them now.

To ensure a safe working environment, one system should be installed for safety and another should be installed if the area requires climate or noise control. A dual-gate safety system designed to secure pallet drop areas should be installed to secure the area for fall protection. A garage door, preferably one that rolls up into a can, should be installed in front of the safety gate if climate or noise control is required.

Install these two systems at the same so they will function well together. If possible install the can to the roll-up door on the outside of the way to free up available space for the safety gate. Install a safety gate that opens and closes flush behind the doorway, like the Roly model, instead of one that needs to “pivot” or arc through the doorway like a Pivot Gate.

Make sure that the systems do not interfere with the other. For example, you may want to make the safety gate wider than the doorway so the gate structure is located behind the wall of the enclosed mezzanine to protect the safety gate from lift truck impact and to maximize the available width. The door and the safety gate can be power operated if required and can be wired to operate simultaneously.

Some doorways will have a platform extension that expands into the open area above the ground level. Determine if the lift trucks can push the pallet far enough past this extension so the door and the gate of the safety gate can close. If not, then you may need a custom designed safety gate that will secure the ledge at the end of the extension.

Our recently designed Compact Tri-Side safety gate uses a ledge-side gate that extends out through the doorway to secure the ledge at the platform extension when the ledge-side gate is closed, and then compacts back into the mezzanine area when the rear-side gate is closed. This allows the gate to secure the ledge of the platform extension while also allowing the gate to compact out of the way so the overhead door can close.

As always, consult a company that specializes in safety for pallet drop areas to review your area to determine the best solutions.

 

Fall Protection: 4 Tasks to Perform Now to Ensure Safety

Fall protection is at the top of the OSHA violations list for 2017, and it’s consistently been at the top of this violation list for many years. The National Safety Council found that fall protection accounted for over 6,000 citations as of September 5, 2017.

Fall protection is a big category within OSHA, and the organization updated the Walking-Working Surfaces rule in the past couple of years; there are rumblings that it may be updated again in the coming years.

As we approach the end of the year, it’s important to review your facility to determine that you have the proper guarding and safety devices in place to prevent falls and worker injury. Here are four tasks to make sure you provide the best fall protection at your facility and are up to date with regulations.

Do a Walk Through
Schedule time during the day when you can walk through the facility and see every area in which employees are working. Start by reviewing inside the facility to the areas with the highest elevations as these are the most dangerous areas. Often you will notice elevated work platforms with insufficient guardrail or proper safety barriers where pallets are being loaded up to the areas. Then move towards the outside and the loading dock areas. Note each area in which employees must work from an elevated surface -- anything that raises an employee off the ground floor is elevated and should be properly guarded. Make notes of any unprotected ledges, anything impeding egress through the area, loose items on the deck, or any wet or slick surfaces. Clean up or move anything that can be corrected immediately, and tag or close out areas that will require additional review.

Review Existing Equipment
Take an inventory of your existing safety equipment - this could be safety gates, machine guarding, netting, personal equipment like respirators and more. Make sure all of these items are functioning correctly and meet current OSHA and ANSI standards.

Make note if your operation has changed since these devices were installed in case modifications to the equipment are required to make sure they are accommodating the current procedure. For example, if you have a pallet drop area that now is replenished by a hoist instead of a fork truck, you may need to modify the type of gate used to secure that area.

Talk with Employees
Your employees are one of your most valuable assets and they have great insights into your business - especially the applications and processes they work on. Ask them about the tasks that they perform; in many industrial facilities the tasks are repetitive and can be tiring. Ask them if they feel safe while they are working, especially those on elevated platforms or in the loading dock area. Find out if the safety practices are being done correctly, and if not, offer training.
Observe them working; is there equipment that can be installed to make their procedure easier and safer? Run ideas by them; their feedback is imperative to making the environment as safe and efficient as possible.

Make a List & Reach Out to a Professional
Note all of the areas in your facility that may need a second look when it comes to safety; pay close attention to pallet drop areas, mixing platforms and loading docks as those areas often pose the greatest risk for falls. Make sure to note any swing gates in pallet drop areas, which should be replaced with dual-gate safety systems.

Once you have a list, contact a company that specializes in material handling safety; this could be a consultant or a manufacturer. Chances are, what is unique to you has been installed many times by a professional organization. Share with them what you have observed and learned and they will do the same.

Fall protection should not be an after thought, but as the OSHA violations list shows, it often is not top of mind when it comes to industrial facilities. Protecting employees from falling is a must; by offering protection, you are not only protecting your company from fines, but also protecting workers from injury, and in severe cases, death.