A worldwide chemical company audits each of its production sites every few years. As part of the audits, a survey of safety and operations is conducted. In the spring of 2017, one of the facilities was audited, and the plant production manager learned that the company was mandating safety gates to replace the access gates on upper level decking to improve safety.
The company’s production buildings have mezzanines approximately 13 feet above ground level. All of the mezzanines had access gates that were either hinged or slide in and out of place to allow raw material, maintenance equipment and tools to be passed to and from ground level. The gates were constantly being opened and closed, but did not offer a safe scenario for employees on the mezzanine level.
The plant created a three-person team to determine the best safety gates for the facility. Each team member did independent research, and unanimously selected MHI member Mezzanine Safeti-Gates due to the variety of the designs offered and the quality of the product.
A representative from Mezzanine Safeti-Gates visited the facility, and worked with the plant to identify 35 areas that needed safety gates within the facility. Its team was tasked with securing each area 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. These dual-gate systems would replace the access gates being used throughout the facility.
Because each area in the facility had its own unique process and space limitations, specific fall protection solutions were designed for each area.
The facility featured a number of areas in which overhead hoists that loaded super sacks to elevated areas so employees could mix the ingredients into the hoppers. The Open Top safety gate model was the fall protection solution for areas using hoists because this design uses an interconnected dual-gate system without any overhead mechanics that ensures one gate is always protecting the employees from the mezzanine ledge. The hoist accesses the area from above while keeping the employee a safe distance from the ledge. A few of the areas using an overhead hoist required side access to the material, so the Open Top model was designed in a ninety-degree configuration.
The Tri-Side model was used to secure other pallet drop areas in the facility 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.
In other locations, the depth of the safety gates had to be able to accommodate a small two-man scissor lift. In these areas, longer side rails for the Tri-Side gates were supplied to fit the depth requirements while keeping employees safe from the exposed ledge.
Additional pallet drop areas needed to be secured, and those had limited height with tall pallet loads. A custom designed version of the Pivot safety gate was created by adjusting the pivot point locations to fit the space constraints and accommodate the pallet sizes.
After the installation of the safety gates, the employees in the facility are very happy with the ease of use of the gates and the safety they provided.
Manufacturing facilities, especially those that have production platforms with mixers for ingredients, often have to use every bit of available space for the various applications performed in the facility. Employees often work in these applications, so safety devices are a necessity, especially when the employees are working from height.
Chemical and food production facilities are often full of production platforms. Many of these plants have large reactors or mixers with hoppers accessed by elevated platforms positioned near the top of the vessels. Typically a lift truck loads pallets of ingredients onto these upper levels for employees to load into these mixers. Employees, often positioned near a ledge, must remove heavy bags from the pallet, slice them open and pour them into the large mixer.
The mixer is often located near the pallet drop area to limit the distance the employee has to travel with the heavy bag. A series of catwalks and small mezzanines around the mixer and the production machinery often complete the area. This limited space leaves very little room for employee, product and proper fall protection guarding, which can expose employees to a high risk for incidents like falls.
While this application is fairly common, each manufacturing facility has its own unique space constraints. Regardless of the constraints, all pallet drop areas on elevated platforms need to be properly guarded for fall protection, but areas on production platforms where employees are asked to work around the ledge, often in a hostile environment, need to be taken seriously. This is often tiring, repetitive work in a dusty or wet environment so companies must take safety out of employee’s hands, and give them one less thing to think about during the day.
Due to the nature of applications that are typical of chemical or food manufacturing, securing the areas on which employees work can be challenging. That may be why fall protection safety is sometimes left to a piece of chain, which is not enough to keep employees safe or meet OSHA codes and ANSI standards. This is not a type of situation where you can ignore safety and at the same time, most standard solutions will not be the right fit, may pose hazards.
Here are four examples of applications in chemical and food manufacturing in which custom solutions are most often required to make sure employees have adequate fall protection.
No Room on the Platform:
Due to the complexity of the the applications in the areas that needed to be secured in most processing facilities, there is often little room on the platform to accommodate a safety barrier. In these instances, custom designed safety gates are needed as they often need to be worked into the existing framework of the platform. For example, a custom designed safety gate may affix to the handrail instead of the walkway floor to provide dual-gate protection while taking up a minimum amount of space.
When a pallet drop area includes a turntable that rotates 360 degrees, there are often additional challenges that make custom safety solutions a necessary choice. There may be hindrances such as low overhead, the traffic patterns of lift trucks and how the trucks enter the platform, or there may be infringements from a ramp or mixer that impact how a safety gate could be used. Custom safety gate designs should accommodate the pallets and drop area requirements; they must also ensure the applications and processes are not impacted while providing a safe work environment.
Blending hoppers are often positioned close to a ledge so the employee can simply pick up the sack from the pallet, turn and dump the bag of ingredients into the hopper without carrying the bag. In these instances, there is usually limited depth which does not provide adequate room for a traditional dual-gate safety system. Safety gate systems that use gates that have rear-side gates that raise up and out of the way to allow access to the pallet while the ledge gate is closed are needed here. With this type of custom system in place, an employee can grab the bag around the pallet and dump it freely into the hopper while a barrier is in place at the ledge to prevent a fall.
Overhead Hoists and Vacuums:
Many processing plants use overhead hoists to load and unload materials. In some operations, overhead hoists lift materials up to an elevated work platform instead of using a lift truck. This is the traditional method of lifting super sacks up to the processing platform where they can be dumped into hoppers. Other facilities may use a lift truck to elevate the material up to the platform, but then will use an overhead hoist to access the material once they are ready to work with the material. This is a common method of emptying drums of ingredients off of a pallet. An Open Top safety gate design that features with no overhead components that would integrate with the overhead equipment are necessary in this case. The custom solutions can provide interconnected gates that close on one side while opening the other, preventing employee falls.