Many facilities utilize rack to support storage and operations; in fact, we’ve been in many facilities in which the rack systems seem to go on forever. Pick modules and rack systems go hand in hand in material handling operations, and when that is the case, employees working in the rack supported modules must be protected from falls.
A rack manufacturer got in touch with our team when one of its customers was starting to build a large new distribution center. Employees were going to be picking from full pallets within the pick module, and to ensure fall protection, the rack manufacturer knew safety gates should be built into the structure. They asked us to provide safety gates for several pick modules that were going to be built in the distribution center.
After reviewing the building plans and discussing the way the pick module and bays were going to be set up, we realized that we’d need to customize the gates, no matter the model. The bays in which employees would be working were 156 feet wide to accommodate three pallet positions. We knew that any safety gate made that wide would also still need to be ergonomic for easy operation. In addition, space in the bay was tight, so the gates had to take up minimal space while providing fall protection.
Given space was a precious commodity, and the pick modules were being built into a large rack system, we determined that the safety gates provided must be in a rack supported design. In this configuration, the gates would directly attach to the rack uprights instead of taking up space in the bay.
To accommodate the material in the three pallets positions in the bays, we determined the best rack supported safety gate model for the client’s system was the High Pallet Pivot safety gate. This model uses dual, counterbalanced gates that are interconnected with multiple pivot points to maintain a safe environment for employees at all times. The High Pallet Pivot gate can handle pallet loads up to 80 inches tall, and takes up a minimum amount of space on the platform, especially in the rack supported design. The support structure of the safety gate attaches directly to the rack uprights, allowing the rear-side gate to close behind the pallet and to open up and out of the way when the ledge gate is closed. This maintains a safe environment at all times without any of the gate structure protruding into the picking aisle.
The gates were constructed to be wide enough for the pallet positions while maintaining a safe environment for the workers in the bay at all times. Although the gates were made 13 feet wide and out of heavy square steel tubing, we ensured they would be ergonomic by including our hydraulic gas assist mechanism to help make the operation of the safety gate effortless.
At our factory, we assembled a test model of the custom Rack Supported High Pallet Pivot safety gate to test the operation and ensure that the safety gate was up to standards before manufacturing the gates and shipping it to the facility. At the facility, the rack manufacturer installed the safety gates prior to the opening of the distribution center, ensuring fall protection for employees working in the pick modules and rack bays.
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.