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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.

Fall Risk Discovery: 4 Actions to Take

Let's say this morning you notice someone in your facility walking along an exposed, elevated ledge. Internal buzzers go off, as you know it’s a safety hazard that can’t be ignored. What do you do next?

Before you invest in a safety solution, consider taking the following four actions prior to the purchase - it doesn’t take long, and is worth the time investment:

Make a Prioritized List:
While you may only have one area in the facility that needs to be secured, it’s more common there are multiple areas. Do a walkthrough and make a list of the areas that need to be safeguarded. It’s a good idea to take photos; they are great to review with your team, as well as the company that you choose for the safety devices.

Once the list is complete, review the areas with your operations team to discuss which, if any, operations can be modified or if there are any areas that should no longer be used. Note the potential hazards associated with each area, and prioritize them by the hazard and how often the areas are used by employees. In addition, note any structures that the area is located within, such as a pick module or rack system; these structures can dictate the safety solution.

Contact Safety Solutions Providers:
There are a number of companies that specialize in industrial safety equipment. Depending on the area and the solution you have in mind it’s important to talk with a provider that has experience with providing safety solutions in a facility like yours.

When you reach out to the safety specialists, be sure to send along the pictures that you have taken of the areas, and include your notes about applications and processes and those can be helpful for determining the right model or providing a budget estimate.

Solutions providers may also want to visit the facility to ensure that they provide the right safety device for your area. They may bring in a local material handling distributor if they work closely, and will definitely take measurements to ensure that the safety device will fit within your facility.

Be sure to discuss any sanitation requirements or hazardous climates with the solutions provider. While in most facilities powder coated steel solutions will be ideal, some facilities, such as food or chemical production facilities, require stainless steel devices.

Determine Your Solution
Once you’ve talked with solutions providers and they’ve gotten all of the information needed, they will determine the best solution for your area. Often it will be a standard safety system, but if the area is unique to your facility, a solution may have to be customized.

Discuss Installation and Training
Talk with your employees and the solutions provider about installation. While safety solutions like our dual-gate safety systems can often be installed by in-house teams, if your area is complicated, oversized or requires power operation, you may need professional help to ensure the safety devices are installed correctly.

Remember that any area in which employees are working that is elevated four feet or more is mandated to have safety systems in place for fall protection. There are a variety of safety systems in the market today, from dual-gate safety solutions to industrial netting. While it’s important to secure the safety hazard quickly, it’s more important to ensure you have the right solution for each area that poses safety risks.

Fall Protection on Production Platforms

Production platforms, especially those that feature hoppers or mixers, can pose serious safety risks for employees working around them. These platforms, which are extremely common in food and chemical production plants, are often elevated so material can be loaded from the top and mixed as they drop into the kettle below.

Depth is often limited in these areas; pallets of ingredients are unloaded close to the hopper so employees can easily dump the ingredients without having to carry the heavy bags too far. Available height on the platform is also often limited; platforms are designed to line up with the large hoppers, often close to the ceiling where overhead pipes restrict available height even further. Maximizing space is important on elevated platforms, but is especially significant on production platforms because you must account for the equipment on the platform, the material being loaded and the room required for employees to open the sacks or pallets of ingredients and empty them into the hopper.

Production platforms pose great risk for falls because employees are emptying pallets right at the ledge, and these environments can be either uncomfortably hot or cold, the air and the platform dirty with the dust of the ingredients or slippery from material spilled on the deck or with solutions used to clean the environment. In addition, employees are often lifting heavy bags in tiring, repetitive work. In these environments, safety precautions should operate automatically so it does not depend on the actions of the employees, because they may forgot to do something while performing their tiring, repetitive tasks. The best way to secure these elevated production areas is to install a dual-gate safety system that will maintain a barrier at the ledge at all time, either behind the pallet when the pallet is being loaded or removed, or at the ledge when the worker is picking from the pallet and moving it to the hopper.

Often on production platforms the best solution is our Tri-Side model safety gate; it uses a support structure only fourteen inches deep and a three-sided rear gate that lifts up and out of the way when the ledge gate is closed, allowing access around the pallet from all sides.

One of our customers had this type of application but the area’s available height was extremely limited due to the height of the platform and the location of overhead pipes. The hopper was located off to the side, ninety-degrees from where the material was being loaded. The customer wanted the other sides of the area to be permanently secured by guardrail so the area could only be accessed from this side. Because of the height limitations, the Tri-Side was ruled out for this application as the rear gate on that design needs room to raises up and out of the way.

This scenario excited us because none of our standard gate designs would fit this footprint, requiring us to design a new solution, and our engineers like challenges. All of our other safety gate systems use gates that are interconnected so one gate moves along with the opposite counterbalanced gate, but for this solution we designed a dual-gate systems with gates that operate independently but can only be opened if the opposite gate is in the correct position. This design ensured a barrier would be in place at all times.

Specifically, we designed a sliding gate for the ledge of the platform and a swinging personnel egress gate on the side for employee access. The sliding gate could only be operated from behind the personnel egress gate at a safe distance from the ledge, and this side egress gate could only be opened when the sliding gate at the exposed ledge was closed. This dual-gate system provided the fall protection on the new production platform, allowed ninety-degree access to the sides of the pallet and fit in the available depth and height limitations.

This system was provided in powder-coated mild steel for this particular customer but could have been made in an all stainless steel construction. We also could have positioned the gates in various configurations depending on the workflow.

Remember, production platforms may provide unique challenges but they need to be made safe. And if you find yourself with a unique application please contact us. Hopefully one of our standard designs won’t fit so we can design a new solution specifically for you and the safety of your employees.

Facility Safety: Prepared or Lucky?

If you are like most safety managers in material handling and manufacturing operations, you likely take pride in your safety record. Having no incidents on your watch is great, and what should happen. But, just because you haven’t had an incident doesn’t mean that your facility has the proper safety guarding in place. It could just mean that you’ve been lucky.

Luck can run out. If you haven’t done a safety check in a while, or if you have an older facility, it’s good to review areas and applications on a bi-annual basis. We worked with a large chemical company with an old facility. They never have had a serious safety incident, and wanted to keep it that way. Although their operation of lifting items up to elevated platforms hadn’t changed, they decided to proactively review and secure these pallet drop areas to prevent something bad from happening.

The company reached out to us, and our team did an initial review of their facility, looking at over 50 areas in which they have employees working with materials, often on elevated platforms.  In the walkthrough, the customer identified about 15 of the areas that would be closed down because they were no longer required. Our team was tasked with securing the remaining areas with dual-gate safety systems to ensure a barrier is in place at all times, even while pallets are in the process of being loaded, unloaded and staged. 

Chemical company environments often feature tight quarters on elevated platforms coupled with processes that require repetitive lifting of heavy material in a dusty, hot environment poses employee risk of falling from unguarded ledges during loading and unloading operations without proper protection. Because each area in the facility had its own unique process and space limitations, specific fall protection solutions were designed for each area.

There were a few areas in the facility in which overhead hoists were loading super sacks to elevated areas so employees could mix the ingredients into the hoppers. Our Open Top safety gate model was the fall protection solution for these areas because this design uses an interconnected dual-gate system without any overhead mechanics that ensures one gate is always protecting the employees from the ledge. This allowed the hoist to access the area from above while keeping the employee a safe distance from the ledge.

A few of the areas that were using an overhead hoist required side access to the material, so we designed the Open Top model in a ninety-degree configuration. For the areas that featured wash-down environments, we supplied the safety gates in a stainless steel construction.

Our Tri-Side model was used to secure other areas that were loaded by a lift truck but had limited depth due to the location of the hoppers. This model uses a cantilevered rear-side gate that lifts up and out of the way to allow access around the pallet in tight environments while always keeping the ledge secured.

Another area had limited height but was used for loading tall pallet loads. We supplied a custom designed version of our Pivot Model, adjusting the pivot point locations to fit the space constraints while accommodating the pallet sizes.

The end user requested that a few areas use gates that could be operated from the lift truck on the ground level. For those areas we power operated Roly safety gates with commercial garage door operators that could be controlled via radio frequency remotes. The system included photo eyes and other built in safety features to create the safest environment.

At our facility, the safety solutions for each area being secured in the facility were packaged in individual crates. This made for easy installation, as each system was labeled and delivered to the right area in the facility. With the installation of the gates, the safety manager can continue to expect a no-incident record, without having to rely on luck.

Fall Protection in Rack Supported Pick Modules

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.