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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.

Importance of Material Handling Safety

Employees truly are a businesses’s most important assets. With the labor market extremely tight; I recently read that more people quit their jobs in November than any other month in the last 15 years; most are not planning to re-enter the traditional workforce. Add the stress of Covid in the workplace, which is also causing sick days and disruptions in day-to-day output. Another big stressor is inflation and the ability to get the materials as quickly as needed. Not to mention that everywhere you go you hear about “the problem in the supply chain” it may seem material handing and distribution industry is under siege. We believe it’s healthy, we’re just having some growing pains, which we can get around.

Temporary workers are one solution that many organizations in the industry are using to increase staff because of the extreme pressure to get products into the hands of businesses and consumers. With a lack of personnel, time and laser focus on productivity, safety must be built into the culture of the organization

While safety has always been important, the factors above make it extremely important in material handling facilities and operations now. Many material handling facilities and applications have also expanded upwards, with taller structures or modules for employees to work on.

Training new and temporary employees is imperative, and in today’s fast-paced environment it can be rushed in order to get employees up and picking. If the employees are working to pick from pallet drop areas or working on upper levels, fall protection is a key part of the safety equation. To make sure that your employees are using safety equipment correctly and away from any risks while working on upper levels, there are a few measures you can take.

Chose the Right Safety Systems
There are a variety of safety systems for employees working on upper levels. However, some work much better than others in material handling. For example, lanyards are a personal fall protection device, but they are not recommended for securing pallet drop areas because it depends on employees not only wearing them correctly, but they must be fitted to each employee. Lanyards on their own in this instance also don’t address OSHA’s mandate for a fall protection barrier on upper levels where employees are working around open pallet drop edges.

Fall protection safety systems also come in a variety of designs and sizes. It’s important to talk with your safety gate provider to discuss the application to get the right design and fit. If your safety gate does not provide adequate protection around the pallet drop area, employees can still be at risk. OSHA mandates that all elevated work platforms of 48 inches and higher be protected, and ANSI recommends guarding platforms at heights of 36 inches or more. Dual-gate systems are the best way to ensure compliance with ANSI and OSHA standards.

Ensure Safety Barriers are in Place at All Times
Safety barriers should be set into place and stationary. Depending on employees, especially new ones that may not have been property trained, to move a safety barrier in and out of place is very high risk - movable “guarding” like chains are often never moved into place, leaving employees working at exposed elevated ledges. Additionally, these “barriers” don’t provide the level of safety needed for employees working at height, let alone allow for the time for employees to move the barriers multiple times a day during peak operations. Bottom line is that the safety barrier just will not be moved into place every time is is necessary, and can expose tired workers to the risk for falling.

ANSI fall protection guidelines mandate a barrier is in place at all times, even while pallets are staged, being picked or in the process of being delivered or removed. The best solution for these areas is dual-gate fall protection system, which provides a barrier on elevated ledges and keeps employees from pallet drop areas when they are in use. These structures are secured into the flooring or racking, proving a fall protection system that workers do not have to move in and out of place.

Add Ons Can Increase Sanitation and ROI

While manual operation of dual-gate safety systems is very ergonomic and easy for employees to understand, adding power stations and remote frequency operation can help to increase sanitation in the facility by making these systems virtually touch-free.

Sensor and other technologies can also be added to safety systems to help increase plant efficiency and material tracking; this can equate to added ROI for each safety gate. Facility managers can integrate power stations with facility software to record when the safety gates were operated, which can determine what products have been delivered and processed, and identify areas to be replenished, as well as the time to complete each task.

While it can be easy to lose sight of safety in the crosshairs of the workday, fall protection for employees can be made very easy and help with plant productivity with the right protective guarding equipment.

This post first appeared in the March issue of Workplace Material Handling & Safety.

Making Loading Dock Operations Safer in Grocery Facilities

For regional grocery store chains, the last mile in logistics often ends at an individual store. Trucks use one access road, usually located behind the store, while consumers park and enter the store on the opposite side. With the tremendous consumer demand for foodstuffs of all kinds as consumers continue to cook and eat more meals at home. This demand often translates to an extraordinarily busy loading dock - an area that was already busy receiving goods before the pandemic, with employees bringing pallets into the stores for either immediate storage or restocking of shelves.

The increased activity in the loading dock proposes many challenges and potential safety hazards. Not only do loading dock employees work amongst the trucks, they also often ride lifts from the ground level to trucks to manually move the pallets of goods. For example, refrigerated trucks usually have a higher bed height than a semi or straight truck, which normally align with loading dock heights, so dock lifts can be used to move pallets from the taller refrigerated trucks to ground level before they enter the store.

For fall protection, OSHA’s Walking Working Surface rule, 1910.23, requires a barrier which can withstand 200 pounds of force be in place for any openings on working surfaces higher than 48 inches. While loading dock platforms often feature barriers for fall protection when there is no vehicle in place, loading dock lifts are most often left barrier-free, and can rise to heights greater than 48 inches, especially in the case of refrigerated trucks.

To illustrate the safety challenges, look at regional grocery chains. Every day, each individual store receives multiple deliveries of palletized goods that need to be moved into the store. Employees working in the loading dock often use lifts to unload material from the trucks and transfer it into the store. Workers riding lifts must have fall protection while they pull pallets from the trucks and transfer them to ground level. Equipment such as safety gates for dock-lifts should be automatic, providing protection as soon as the lift leaves the ground and stay locked in place until the lift is back on ground or dock level.

Another important issue is ergonomics; any safety solution must not strain an employee while they work. Employees working in grocer loading docks repeat tasks over and over again throughout the day. They are required to move pallets of material to and from the delivery trucks to the stores, and often have to lift heavy loads. Automatic, no touch operation is a very ergonomic and sanitary solution for dock lift gates - employees don’t even have to remember to use them, they move with the motion of the lift.

Individual grocery store environment also may have varying traffic patterns within the loading dock, as stores receive goods from multiple vendors, so the trucks are often different heights and lengths. Because of the traffic patterns and varying size vehicles, there is little room for extra equipment, especially that with moving parts, so safety solutions should also be configured to work within each location’s specific traffic pattern. Barriers may have to swing outward, upward or in another way to prevent operation disruptions.

These principles for providing safety solutions in last-mile logistics can also apply to larger distribution centers and food manufacturing facilities, especially in which refrigerated trucks are used. If you take time to ensure your safety e equipment works within your specific environment, you’ll improve the safety for your employees while keeping your operations intact.

This post first appeared in Food Logistics.

Protective Guarding: 10 Questions to Answer When Choosing Power Systems

Speed and efficiency are goals of any business today, especially in material handing, distribution and warehousing. You must ensure your facility is operating at its highest level. With almost everything in your warehouse going online, have you considered updating your safety equipment with power operation?

Electrical power is the most popular option, but you can also tap into pneumatic systems to power protective guarding.  Power operation and complementary technologies are needed to automate your safety systems for picking and pallet drop applications.

Power operation offers no-touch safety solutions, as well as easier social distancing in material handling operations. There are many different ways to configure power and technology, from push button stations to remote control operations. There are also a host of sensors, lights, alarms and other technologies that can be added with the power to allow your safety equipment to communicate with the rest of your facility. And, the good news is you can retrofit existing safety gates with power.

How to Wisely Choose Power Systems

If you are adding power to existing protective guarding, like our safety gate systems, or purchasing new safety equipment, answer the following ten questions to ensure you select the best way to configure power for the pallet drop safety gates and other guarding for your facility.

1. Where is the safety hazard (pallet drop area, mezzanine, pick module, etc.)?
2. Are you looking for a new system or to add power to an existing system?
3. Is the area in a climate-controlled or hostile environment?
4. Is the area located in or near a wash-down area?
5. How much space is available in and around the equipment?
6. What is being loaded into the area?
7. How are employees interacting in the area and with the material?
8. How often is the safety equipment operated?
9. Are lift trucks or AGVs used in the application?
10. What automation technologies are you currently using in your facility?

A version of this post first appeared on the MHI blog.

Food Manufacturer Makes Production Platform Safer

To keep up with consumer demand, a large food manufacturing facility made changes to its facility which helped to increase production. Safety was a consideration in the changes to the production process, especially due to the strict sanitation requirements to ensure the products are safe for consumption.

The new production processes changed some employee actions; some work platform locations changed, as well as the patterns in which they moved. During a walk through of the updated facility, a safety manager noticed a potential hazard on the platforms in which ingredients are blended. Large bags are placed onto the production platform drop zone, and employees then move, open and load bags into the mixers and hoppers on the platforms. Due to the changes made in the facility, the platform around the drop zone exposed workers to an opening when the material was removed. This was the case on a number of platforms, all of which needed new safety solutions.

The company had worked with Mezzanine Safeti-Gates for fall protection solutions in the past, so they reached out to the company again. An engineering executive visited the facility to help determine which type of safety solution was the best fit for each platform.

Because of the strict sanitation requirements, the solution would need to be made of stainless steel with continuous welds. The production platform is also a wash-down environment, so the system would require no tab boltholes as well as cap ends. The executive realized lanyards were not an option because employees had to be very mobile on the platform and the sanitation requirements did not allow for that kind of solution.

Additionally, each of the areas was unique and each safety solution would require a bit of custom design work to get the exact fit. One area had limited depth, another featured overhead piping, while another drop area was extra wide. The engineer took the details back to the team, knowing that a custom design would be required.

The team from Mezzanine Safeti-Gates concluded a customized version of its High Pallet Pivot safety gate design was the overall right solution for each of the areas in the facility. With multiple pivot points built into the model, it could be designed to fit within each area.

High Pallet Pivot safety gate models can accommodate loads up to 80 inches tall, and use dual, counterbalanced gates that are interconnected with a pivoting frameworks to maintain a safe environment on the work platform. The counterbalanced framework of the gates is configured to ensure when the ledge gate is open the rear-gate is closed, keeping employees away from the ledge while material is loaded onto the platform. When the rear-gate is lifted, the ledge gate closes, protecting employees while they move the material from the drop zone into the mixer or hopper.

The stainless steel custom High Pallet Pivot safety gates were fabricated without bolt holes in the tubing to comply with sanitation needs, and installed on each of the revised production platforms the manufacturer’s facility. The company is very satisfied that the new safety systems are working to keep employees safe from falling from the ledges of the platform during the production process.