Falls from elevated work platforms are a reality. Unfortunately, they happen. Material handling systems are getting bigger, the platforms are getting taller, and the speed of the operation is increasing. A fall-related incident will have a massive negative effect on a company. It will cost them significant money; the entire plant can be closed down while the matter is being investigated, and the negative publicity, the loss of income, and an injury or loss of a member of the team will do great damage to a company. But, the thing is, these areas can be secured.
Soon OSHA is expected to publish its final rule for Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) in General Industry (Subpart D and Subpart I). It’s taken OSHA decades to push this proposed rule through and has been updated and changed various times to reflect current practices in the industry, as well as make sure it aligns with other OSHA standards.
The proposed rule from OSHA aims to give companies more flexibility in the safety devices that they implement, as well as prevent injuries and fatalities from falls. Here’s a bit of language from the proposed rule:
“The existing OSHA general industry standards recognize the use of guardrails and physical barriers as the primary methods for employee protection against falls...OSHA believes that the proposed rules will give employers the necessary flexibility to decide which fall protection method or system works best for the work operation being performed, while ensuring employees receive a level of protection that is effective and necessary. OSHA believes that many of these slips, trips and falls can be prevented and has devoted many years to assembling and analyzing information aimed at the elimination and prevention of hazards that cause these incidents.”
Given that OSHA is allowing employers to determine what safety devices may work best in their operations, it is important to have everyone who works in the facility be able to discuss their own day-to-day concerns with people in management so these concerns can be addressed. Many times, the work that employees are doing is repetitive and tiring, so it is important that management takes the time to access all the steps in the operation and look to determine how they can make all these steps safer. It is always a good idea to consult with professionals in the industry to help determine what areas are unsafe and how to make them safe. The ProGMA group in the MHI is an excellent resource for safety in the warehouse.
In our opinion, the best solution, and the solution now recommended by ANSI standards is to have a barrier in place where employees are exposed to ledges at all times. This is best accomplished with a dual-gate system, which essentially creates a box, or controlled-access area, around the pallet drop location. This system will consist of a gate at the ledge and a second gate behind the pallet, and the gates are interconnected so when one gate is open, the opposite gate is closed so the area always remains safe.
To secure the areas in which material is loaded and unloaded in a facility, pallet drop gates are necessary; a dual-gate system that creates a controlled-access environment at all times should always be used to secure these areas. The safety gates help to ensure that employees and material will be protected from falls and injuries during the process. They will also make sure you are compliant with industry regulations and standards, like those from OSHA or ANSI.
There are a wide variety of pallet drop gates in the market; however, many of the devices are better suited for specific applications and environments. It’s not always easy to pick the right design without first answering a few questions about the area that you’re trying to secure.
Here’s a list of five questions to answer before purchasing a pallet drop gate in order ensure you select the right device for the job:
1. Is the pallet drop opening in an opening in guardrail or in a doorway?
Guardrail openings and doorways are constructed and function differently, so safety gates are needed for each specific instance - one size does not fit all. For example, the doorway may have a roll-up door that needs to close at times for climate or noise control, so you need to install a safety gate that doesn’t interfere with the operation of the door. For this reason any gate that swings or arcs through the doorway shouldn’t be used, as the swinging gate could prevent the climate door from closing. Instead you should install a safety gate that operates behind the doorway. When the pallet drop area is located in the opening in a guardrail then you could use a safety gate that would be installed inside the opening that would swing/arc through the opening when operated.
2. Is a lift truck used to load pallets up to the area, or is an overhead hoist/crane used?
Consider how the material is loaded into the area; many pallet drop gates have parts that can impede the material handling process if it’s done with an overhead device. The areas which use overhead devices will need pallet drop gates that have an open area at the top to allow for the use of the crane or hoist.
3. What happens to the material when it is lifted up to the area?
Every facility has a different process for material handling. Sometimes, material is left in place after it’s been dropped into the area; in these instances, pallet drop gates must ensure that the employees working with the materials are not exposed to risks like falling. If the material is taken to another area for work after the drop, a pallet drop gate with enough room to move the material while reducing the safety risks is required.
4. What is the width of the opening? What is the available depth? What is the available height? What about the material width, depth and height?
Width, depth and height are key measurements in the selection of a safety gate model. Also consider the height and depth of the pallet and material, as some gates are better suited for extra tall or extra deep loads.
5. What is the environment in the area of the opening like?
The environment of the area where the safety gate will live is a key factor in the determination of what material that gate must be made of. If there is a hostile environment, then select a safety gate with few moving parts. If it’s a clean environment, such as one in a food manufacturing facility, the gate should be constructed out of stainless steel. If you have specific sanitary requirements such as continuous welds or no-holes in the tubing then seek out a manufacturer who can meet these requirements.
Keep in mind that some areas may be much more complicated, and more questions may need to be asked to determine the right pallet drop gate for the facility. The manufacturers of the gates - like us - can help you determine the right fit, and it may require a custom build. However, by answering these five questions you can rest assured that you are well on the way to selecting the right pallet drop gate.