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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 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.

 

5 Areas in Your Facility That Need Fall Protection

As 2018 starts, it’s important to take a look around your facility to recognize potential hazards and take steps to secure them. Fall-related incidents continue to be the top cause of OSHA violations year after year so don’t forget to look up!

OSHA requires fall protection be provided for employees on any working surface that is elevated four feet or more; remember that is not the height of a building story or even most people. To protect employees from falls, OSHA requires employers to provide guardrails, toe-boards and other protective equipment like safety gates to keep employees safe and free from known dangers. In addition, ANSI Standards require a barrier to be in place at all times for elevated pallet drop areas.

There are five places in a facility that pose great risk for falls and injury if left unprotected, from outside the facility to elevated surfaces within the building. While each of the five areas below is different and can vary greatly from one facility to another, each is a common hazard that can easily be secured.

Ideally fall protection solutions should be designed into the facility from the start, but solutions can be retrofitted into an area that needs protection. Proactively securing each of these areas before an incident occurs will prove to be a valuable investment and can prevent injury, and even save lives.

Loading Dock

Before you even enter the facility, there may be risks for falls outside if using a loading dock lift to transfer material from a tractor trailer to ground level. If a worker is riding the lift to move material in and out of the truck then the edge of lift should be secured with a gate system that closes automatically as the lift raises, preventing a fall-protection barrier when the lift is elevated.

If your facility uses loading docks at truck level then these elevated areas are also higher than the OSHA requirement for fall protection so they should be guarded with a barrier that is closed whenever the truck is absent.

Elevated Workstations

Inside the facility, any elevated structure must be properly guarded. This includes mezzanines, elevated platforms and catwalks as well as any lifts used to move material. Guardrail to secure the perimeter is often designed into the structure, but sections of this guardrail get removed so pallets can be transferred to the upper level. These pallet drop areas are a major hazard and must be properly secured. A dual-gate system should be installed to ensure a barrier is in place at all times – even while the pallet staged. A properly designed dual-gate system will not depend on the operator to ensure the barrier is in place at times and will ensure code compliance, and can be designed to fit your specific space limitations and workflow.

And don’t forget, even if you are using automated guided vehicles (AGV’s) to load these areas, if employees are on the upper levels, moving or picking the pallets or simply have access to these areas then the areas should be guarded with a dual-gate system. A company that specializes in these type of gate systems will be able to design the gates to integrate with the AGV’s with power operation and sensors to communicate with the system.

Pick Modules

If your facility has pick modules that extend multiple levels, it’s likely there are variety of openings on the elevated levels for picking or for empty pallet/empty tote return bays. Just like the openings on a mezzanine or elevated platform, the areas on a pick module where there is access to the exposed ledge should be secured with pallet drop safety system featuring dual-gates. This ensures there is a barrier in place between the picker and the ledge while they are working the pallet, and while the bay is being replenished.

Another major source of fall-related incidents occurs where the empty pallets or empty totes are stacked so they can be removed by the lift truck. These areas should also be secured with a dual-gate system so a barrier is always there to provide fall protection.

Pallet Flow Lanes

Often pallet flow lanes are installed to allow multiple pallets to be loaded into a multi-level system. Sometimes the operation is designed so the operator is picking pallets away from the ledge, and sometimes they are invited down an aisle between the lanes to cluster pick the pallets, but either way the ledges of the pallet flow lanes should be properly guarded. Although in a standard pallet flow operation, the operator is not instructed to enter the lanes, they fact that they have egress down the lanes, which are often decked over, means that the ledges of these lanes should secured.

As with a staged pallet on an elevated pallet drop area, a dual-gate system should be installed to secure these lanes. A swinging gate will be held open by the last pallet loaded so that will create an OSHA violation. Having the swinging gate held open by a pallet is especially problematic in a cluster picking application because the workers are invited down the lane to pick the pallets so the ledge must be secured even when the lane is full. A pallet drop safety gate system designed multiple pallets deep will secure the ledge and all times while keeping employees out of the area while the pallet flow lanes are loaded.

Doorways

Facilities often feature doors that appear to be a doorway to another area of the mezzanine, but in reality they do not lead to a room or a hallway, but instead lead to open space in which a step can cause a fall to the level below. Employees working in the facility every day likely know what the door leads to, but in a panic situation or with a new employee, the doorway poses a great risk for falls and injury if there is no fall protection in place.

Doors are also dependent on someone to remember and make an effort to close them, and as a result are often left open. Doors also can severely create a false impression, tricking people as to their function; what is perceived as a doorway to another area is actually a step into space, and could be the last step someone may ever take.

If you have unprotected areas in your material handling or manufacturing facility that need securing, reach out to a safety professional for guidance in the right protection for your area. So now that it’s a new year, take some time to look around and try to notice these hazards before they become a problem, and don’t forget to look up.

Working with Distributors to Make Facilities Safer

We often work with material handling distributors. They rely on our safety expertise to help them make areas in their customer facilities safer and we rely on them as they know the facility inside and out and usually reach out and let us know the safety gate designs that they need. We love these relationships as they are beneficial to us all.

It’s not a rare happening when a partner comes to us with a challenging safety application. Challenging applications can feature various issues, including extreme width or depth of the pallet drop area, limited depth on the work platform, or even areas that are obstructed by machinery or doorways. We love it when a challenge is posed to us.

For example, we worked with a material handling distributor that had a customer that used a scissor lift to move totes to an elevated platform. The platform was located in an area in which overhead beams drastically reduced the height in the area where the totes were dropped. The application posed some challenges due to the height restrictions, and the distributor reached out to see if we could provide a safety gate for that area.

The beams over the tote drop area ruled out most of our safety gate models as many designs need overhead clearance for the dual gate system to work properly. After working with our distributor partner to get the exact measurements, we reviewed the employee process of loading and unloading the totes, which were moved off to the side of the drop area. From there, we determined an Open Top safety gate model was the best solutions for their customer.

The Open Top safety gate design has no overhead mechanics, so it really was the only design that worked with the overhead beams that were in the application area. Additionally, because the model can be configured to allow material to be moved off to the side, as well as straight back, it was ideal for the customer application.

Once the gate was configured for the customer's exact application, the gates were shipped to the facility. The distributor installed the Open Top safety gate at the location, and after initial testing, the gate easily became a part of the customer's process.

Without any overhead mechanics, the employee on the scissor lift can bring up the totes to the area when the ledge gate is open. After the totes are loaded, the ledge gate is shut by the employee on the scissor lift, which provides a safe working environment for the employees moving and working from the totes.

The Open Top was originally designed to allow access from overhead to accommodate tall pallet loads or access for overhead equipment, such as overhead vacuums or chain hoists. However, we have found it is ideal for securing elevated ledges with limited height through our work with great partners and customers.

Pallet Flow Lanes: Safety Hazard or Not?

“We decked over those flow lanes, so they don’t need safety gates there.”

That’s a common comment and misconception in industrial facilities where pallet flow lanes are installed in multi-level pick modules. These pallet flow lanes often are safety hazards; the automatic flow of pallets can injure someone standing in the lane, and can expose the worker to falls from the elevated level.

Inherently, the upper levels of pick module create the potential for fall hazards. The pallet flow lanes are installed over the rack system and were traditionally left unguarded because workers were not supposed to enter the lanes, instead they are instructed to pick from the pallet while standing on the platform. Because this positions the worker directly in front of an opening in the floor (and to prevent small items from falling off of the pallet), the lanes are often decked over. This did solve the issue of the loose items falling off the pallet, but it didn’t secure the employees from the opening in the floor, it simply moved this opening to the beginning of the lane.

Again, the thinking was the employee shouldn’t be entering the lane, but instead be standing behind the pallet on the platform. Reality, however, shows a different scenario; employees enter these lanes to retrieve a dislodged item, square up a pallet or simply because they can. This exposes them to being hit by a new pallet entering the lane, as wells as to falling from the upper level.

Because there is an egress on to the lane and a ledge above ground level, the lane should be guarded. In addition, since a pallet can be pushed into someone standing in the ledge, the guarding should be configured that no one can enter the lane while it is being loaded.

We worked in a facility that had a large, multi-level pick module with a number of bays in which they loaded pallets onto two deep pallet flow lanes in double wide bays. Employees were picking from the pallets on the second and third levels of the module. The end user was concerned for fall protection and the general safety of their employees so they were proactively looking for a guarding solution.

In order to permanently secure the ledge while allowing pallets to be loaded a dual-gate system needed to be installed. For this application, we provided a rack-supported version of our Roly safety gate, which uses dual counterbalanced gates that are interconnected so one gate is closed while the other gate is open. The gates were designed double wide to capture the two lanes in the bay and extra deep to capture the entire flow lane. The gate system used support panels that attached directly to the existing rack uprights to maximize space in the bay and for a rigid connection into the system that didn’t need to be lagged down into the decking.

The dual-gate system assured that the rear/operator side gate at the end of the lane was closed while the ledge-side gate was open, allowing the lift truck operator to load the pallets into the lane while a barrier was in place preventing the operator on the platform from entering the lane while the area was being replenished. The gate system was manually operated so the operator would open the ledge side gate when he/she was ready to pick from the pallet, which closed the ledge-side gate, maintaining a safe environment. The system also could be power operated with push-button stations on the lower level, or radio frequency remotes on the lift truck.

The end users on this particular project had concerns that the dual-gate system would impede the pace of their operation, but after installing and using for six months determined that the pace of productivity was not negatively impacted, in fact, it helped to speed up their process. The gate system became a signal between the operator on the platform and the operator on the lift truck. When the picker was ready for the lane to be replenished, he/she would close the operator gate, which opened the ledge-side gate, showing the lift truck operator that that area was ready to receive more pallets. When they were picking from the pallets, the ledge-side gate would be closed, showing the truck operator that those lanes were full or in the process of being picked.

Some companies will try to secure pallet flow lanes with self-closing swinging gates, however, we do not believe this is the right solution. A single gate system such as a swinging gate does not meet current ANSI standards for securing pallet drop areas on elevated platforms because the gates can be left open at times. This same scenario applies to pallet flow lanes, because when the lane is full, the last-pallet-in will hold the gate open, creating an unsafe, unguarded solution. The lane could be extended so the last pallet will travel far enough for the gate to close, but this will lead to production issues because the lift truck operator may load another pallet into a full lane, causing the last pallet to dangerously hang over the ledge and jam up the system. This will create an extremely unsafe area that will create new hazards.

Also, a swinging gate may secure the ledge (if all goes well and it is engineered to fit the system correctly), but it will not solve the secondary issue of keeping an employee out of the lane while the lane is being loaded. We have heard of incidents with pallet being pushed into the legs of operators who were inside the lanes – and these areas were “guarded” by swing gates. A dual-gate system eliminates all of these concerns.