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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.

Loading Docks: Using Fall Protection Barriers

Loading docks often have many areas in which employees are at risk for falls. Even though dock height is commonly four to five feet, that height is enough to pose a fall risk at unprotected ledges. OSHA regulations state all working surfaces of 48 inches or higher need fall protection. These standards apply to all working surfaces in a commercial facility, even in the loading dock.

Dock operations in material handling or distribution centers are often one of the busiest places in a facility, with trucks loading and unloading product multiple times a day. Working conditions can also be extreme if the docks are located outdoors, requiring them to move material in all kinds of weather—cold, heat, rain and even snow. These factors can fatigue employees working in dock operations, placing them a greater risk for falls from elevated places - the lifts and the dock itself included.

The operation at a loading dock traditionally consists of a tractor trailer backing up to an elevated section of the building so material can be loaded/unloaded from the trailer. When the trailer is in place the elevated area remains safe, but once the trailer drives away there is an exposed ledge at the end of the elevated loading dock. Because this ledge is elevated it needs to be secured.

A dual-gate system typically used to secure the ledges of pallet drop areas on elevated work platforms would create a permanent safe environment but this system would interfere with the workflow of moving material through the area so it is not an option here. So one solution is to install a single-gate system that rolls, slides or pivots closed. This is an improvement over having nothing in place but it is only of any value when the gate is closed. Because this type of system depends on someone to remember then make an effort to close the gate, the gate is often left open. This means the truck can drive away and the area can be unsecured.

The best safety solution is a single-gate system that the employee on the loading dock is able to raise and lock open only when the tractor trailer is in place. Then this gate system automatically closes once the truck drives away from the area. This allows the operator to control when they want to open the gate, but makes sure the ledges remains secure when there is no truck in position.

We design this type of gate to fit any loading dock width. Our system rolls across the floor and compacts into the open position. A hydraulic assist mechanism allows for an easy, ergonomic operation. The compact design takes up a minimum amount of width in the area and can fit in locations with limited height. The locking mechanism is easily activated when the truck is in place, then is released when the truck drives away, allowing the gate to close in a slow, controlled manner in its own.

Our loading dock safety barriers are available in standard and custom sizes, and can be painted in any color or supplied in all stainless steel construction. Secure the elevated ledges of your loading docks, and make sure you take the responsibility of a safe environment out of the hands of your employees when you can. Have an automatic gate system installed proactively before it is needed, and that way if your employees are distracted, you will have the peace of mind knowing the safety will still be in place.

Pick Module Safety Gate Selection Guide

Has a rack-supported pick module recently been installed in your material handling or distribution facility? Is there one in the plans for the near future?  While these systems are ideal for moving products through a facility efficiently, as well as maximizing space, it’s imperative to maintain a safe environment in the modules.

Pick modules are multiple level systems used to store inventory and to pick items for order fulfillment. By design, these systems place material and people on elevated levels. One of the main safety concerns is creating a fall protection barrier while employees on these elevated levels are picking items off of the pallets or stacking empty pallets to be removed. Like an elevated work platform or mezzanine, rack supported pick modules need fall protection systems. OSHA mandates that any working surface 48" or taller according should be guarded, and ANSI standards mandate the fall protection equipment at 36” or higher.

Pallet drop safety gate systems provide fall protection for these picking positions by securing the pallet drop areas with a gate at the ledge and a second gate behind the pallet. These two gates are counterbalanced and interconnected so one gate is always closed, separating the operator from the ledge, creating a safe environment while the employee picks items from the pallet. These systems are typically manually operated but can be powered for remote access by the lift truck operator.

Some pallet drop safety gate designs are engineered specifically for pallet drop areas in rack systems. These systems utilize the existing pallet rack for the frame of the design. By attaching to the existing rack uprights, the safety gate does not require its own support frames that need to be bolted into the decking where it would take up valuable space in the rack bay and could be damaged by lift trucks. It is best when these solutions are designed into the system by a rack provider or system integrator before installation so the rack system can be engineered to accommodate the safety equipment, but they also can be retrofitted at a later date if needed.

Several dual-gate safety designs are available in a rack-supported configuration, and each design provides an advantage. These models can provide safety without impeding production, even if you are loading large items, have narrow aisles or limited overhead space. To help you proactively secure these areas, we’ve provided an easy way to determine the best configuration for your system.

Narrow Aisles/Limited Aisle Space
The original rack-supported pallet drop safety gate system, the Rack-Supported Roly gate, is the best choice for most applications, as the gates never extend into the truck or picking aisle, and do not interfere with the truck loading the upper levels of multi-level picking systems. The advantage of this system is that the gates open and close within the confines of the pallet drop area so the gate at the ledge opens and closes flush with the ledge and the rear gate is flush with the rear uprights of the system.

Limited Pallet/Material Space
In pallet drop areas with limited space, the Rack-Supported Pivot safety gate is the best choice, as it provides the most free space behind the pallet. With the pivoting framework, the rear gate extends back beyond the upright to secure the pallet, then moves out of the way when the ledge gate is closed, eliminating the need for a permanent structure to be located behind the upright. It is important to make sure the moving gates will not interfere with the truck aisle and there is adequate clearance in the pallet area, as this design will extend out into the truck aisle and back into the picking aisle when the gate is operated.

Conveyor Operations/Limited Platform Depth
If depth on the platform is limited due to the location of a conveyor or a narrow aisle, then your best safety gate solution may be the Rack-Supported Tri-Side gate. This safety system uses a gate that moves straight up and down at the ledge, and never extends into the lift truck aisle. A rear ‘u’-shaped gate that closes to capture the pallet then moves up and out of the way to provide egress behind the area.

Flow Lanes
If the picking bays include pallet flow lanes in which multiple pallets deep are loaded, then you should install a version of the Rack-Supported Roly gate that is designed as deep as the flow lane. The additional depth ensures there is a gate in place at all times and prevents an employee from entering the aisle while the area is being loaded. This is especially important in a cluster-picking design where employees travel an aisle between the lanes to pick from multiple pallets at the same time.

If you have further questions about which safety gate design is best suited for your pick modules, be sure to discuss them with your rack provider, system integrator or safety gate manufacturer.


Painted or Stainless? How to Decide

Fall protection systems are required by OSHA for any work platforms in a facility that are elevated over four feet. Dual-gate safety solutions are often the best method of creating a permanent safe environment. To select the right mezzanine safety gate solution for your area, you need to review the available space in your area, the size of the pallets being moved and the procedure for loading and accessing the material. But, there is another decision that has to be made before selecting the proper safety device - what the safety gate will be made of and how it will be finished or painted.

To select the right construction material for the safety gate, review the environment in which the gate will installed to determine if the area has any specific requirements.

In a basic warehousing or material handling environment where palletized material is lifted to an upper level and picked or moved with pallet jack, painted mild steel is often the right choice.  This is an economical and durable solution. Most manufactures use a powder-coating process over wet paint for a more durable finish that will not flack or crack. 

We recommend using a two-color scheme in opposing colors so the moving components stand out from the stationary parts. This helps increase safety awareness for the employees working around the ledge. For example, we powder-coat our Roly Model frames silver, with safety yellow for the gates, and our Pivot Model frames in blue with yellow gates. 

Sometimes it is preferable for the safety device to blend in to the facility environment, so it’s possible to select a custom color to match existing guardrails or rack structures. In other instances, it’s advantageous to select a custom color that clashes with the surrounding area, again for safety. For example, one of our customers paints everything blue and yellow in their facilities, but requests the pallet drop gates be painted red in order for the areas to stand out as potential hazards.

The key to selecting color for your safety systems is to take a look at your surroundings to determine what should blend in and what should stand out. Then, talk to your safety gate supplier to work on color schemes that fit your needs. Most companies have several colors to choose from or can match colors with RAL numbers.

Some facilities may have sanitation requirements that do not allow any type of paint, whether powder coat or wet. Some of these areas may be able to use mild steel equipment with specialty finishes such as Steel-It Paint, which includes FDA approved stainless steel pigments. For food or processing plants it is imperative to review the specific sanitation requirements for each area and to communicate those requirements to the safety gate supplier.

Many processing plants feature applications in which ingredients are moving through the pallet drop area. In these instances, stainless steel is often the best choice as it allows material to be washed down and cleaned without concern of flaking or chipping paint contaminating the ingredients.

When it comes to stainless solutions, some designs work better than others. It’s ideal to have as few moving parts as possible, and necessary to be able to clean all of its components without allowing water to enter the structure where it cannot fully drain.

For our units constructed in stainless steel, the entire design is fabricated out of 305 stainless steel with all stainless hardware. All open ends are capped to prevent water and debris from entering the system. When required, we can use continuous welds, and eliminate any bolts holes in the tubing. And before shipping the unit to the facility, we electro-polish the entire unit to remove any burn marks from the welding process in order to ensure installing the cleanest system available.

If your application uses caustic material, galvanized steel or aluminum gates may be required. We can also construct the safety gates from these materials to match the other equipment in the facility.

The key to making sure your safety system is constructed out of the right material is to review the specific requirements with operations, maintenance and safety teams to determine the specific requirements are in the facility so those features are designed into the gate system. We've had some pretty extravagant requests when it comes to paint colors and construction over the years. If you have a special request, we can accommodate it. 

The Open Top Safety Gate Story

Our story of turning custom safety gates into standard models in our product line continues with the history of our Open Top safety gate model. This model, like the others, was driven by a customer need that we saw in other facilities across many industries. We’re seeing a pattern - are you?

We were contacted by a major chemical company that had pallet drop areas on their production platforms that were unsafe because they were just using latch chains across the edge for fall protection. These chains were often left open, leaving workers exposed to falls from the ledge, and even created another safety hazard - the potential to trip over the chain when it was closed. The company’s safety team wanted to replace this unsafe situation with one of our dual-barrier systems that would ensure a fall protection barrier was in place at all times.

Our traditional dual-gate safety systems were quickly ruled out as an equipment choice because the operation used an overhead hoist. Up until that time, all of our standard safety gate models had overhead mechanics, which would have interfered with the customer’s operations. At this facility, hoists were used to lift super sacks from the ledge of the production platform and move them back into a hopper.  It’s fairly common in chemical and food manufacturing plants to find the use of overhead devices, like vacuums or hoists, in these plant processing applications where bags of ingredients are blended. We knew that instead of asking the customer to change their operations, we had to design a system that would integrate with their application.

The safety gate that our team had to create for the customer’s facility needed to use two interconnected gates that would close one side while opening the other, without any overhead components that would integrate with the overhead hoist. This required a new dual-gate design that connected the gates off to the side After testing many prototypes, the Open Top Model was created.

The Open Top safety gate features ergonomically counterbalanced gates that make for easy operation. When the ledge gate opens to the side, the rear gate closes, preventing employees from falls off the platform. The gates are connected with solid torque shaft and hardened gears, which are housed in a metal enclosure to protect the components and to keep people’s hands away from the moving parts. Overhead vacuums or chain hoists can then access the pallet drop area and can pass through overhead. When the ledge gate is closed, it creates a fall protection barrier at the ledge, and the rear gate opens to the side, allowing employees to safely access the material. In addition to accommodating overhead obstructions, the Open Top is also a good solution if tall pallets are being loaded into the pallet drop area.

Our customer installed the Open Top model at their facility and were happy that the safety gates not only provided fall protection, but did not impede on production.  Since the creation of the Open Top model, we've installed them in locations throughout the U.S. They are available in powder-coated mild steel or in all stainless steel construction. Open Top models can be fabricated in custom widths and depths and and are even available in ninety-degree configurations.