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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.

Facility Safety: Securing Tight Elevated Areas

Space is always a concern in industrial facilities. It’s important to maximize the space that is available for equipment, workers and the operations process.

Companies often maximize the available cubic space by building elevated platforms/mezzanines, but then are concerned with effectively utilizing this additional space. With this space being taken up with shelving, product and equipment there is often little room left available for operations, let alone safety devices.

Production platforms in facilities are notorious for tight spaces as they are filled with hoppers, reactors, and ingredients. These areas almost always use employees to load ingredients into the hopper to mix/produce their end product.

We recently worked with a chemical company to make their production facility safer. The company’s safety manager was looking to secure a number of areas in which a lift truck deposited material on an elevated platform next to a hopper. The pallets of bagged ingredients are deposited very close to the hopper so the employees can just cut the bags open, turn and pour them into the hopper. Space was very limited for employees, and they did not think there was room for a proper safety system.

Our engineers know that there is no such thing as too little space when it comes to safety. After reviewing the requirements and application, the team determined the best safety system for their production areas was our Tri-Side safety gate model. With dual-counterbalanced gates interconnected so one gate is always in place to secure the ledge, and fixed stanchions only 14 inches deep, the Tri-Side gate was the ideal solution for the application because it maintained a safe environment at all times while allowing access around the pallet.

The Tri-Side gates provided safety on the platforms and allowed workers to continue their operations with clear unobstructed access to the loads. Because of the Tri-Side design, the bags of ingredients could be moved to either side at 90 degrees very easily, and dumped into the hopper, all while the ledge gate is down, protecting workers from the ledge side. And, in different areas of the plant, some units were provided in stainless while other areas were powder coated depending on the environment.

For this application the customer was also concerned with securing not only the personnel up on the platform but also their product. We included special ledge-side gates with solid metal panels to prevent the bags from falling off of the ledge. With this configuration, the operators could pick the ingredients from the pallet within a safe environment.

Software Integration

Our customer also wanted to tie in the operation of the safety gate with their processing computers so the system could track the ingredients to each pallet drop area. We power operated the safety gate with a commercial jackshaft operator and a push-button station for open, close and stop. The customer then wired the unit into their system so the computers would record when the safety gates were operated. With their own software, they were able to record the cycles of the safety gate to determine what had been delivered, what had been processed and which area needed to be replenished.

If you have an area with limited space that you need to secure, consider the Tri-Side gate. We make it in custom sizes, custom finishes and power operated. It can also be designed in a rack-supported design to install into pick module.

Safety in Pick Modules: Case Study

Pick modules have become popular in many facilities, especially distribution centers. Many distribution centers fulfill thousands of orders each day, using pallet rack to support conveyors and flow systems.

Distribution centers are large by design - often huge buildings that are thousands of square feet and many levels. The pick modules in distribution centers can be multiple levels high and integrate with racks, conveyors and storage solutions. Safety in multi-level pick modules can be tricky, but it’s very important to keep employees working on the upper levels safe from falling.

We’ve worked with many companies with large distribution centers. Recently, we worked with one that utilized several pick modules in their operations where staged pallets were picked by an operator at the ledge, and empty pallets and totes were staged for removal. The facility is extremely busy, fulfilling millions of orders each week. The safety manager knew that they needed a dual-gate system to meet industry standards and regulations, as well as to keep employees working on the upper levels safe.

The safety manager also knew that a freestanding structure would not work for the facility, as they needed as much space as possible within the rack bay. Also, the takeaway conveyor was in close proximity to the picking operator so the safety gate structure couldn’t obstruct that operation.

Our engineering team worked with the facility safety managers to install Rack Supported Roly® safety gates for their facility. Because a freestanding structure would take up too much space and disrupt operations, the safety gates attached directly to the rack, picking up a few inches of space in the bay width and staying clear from the picking aisle. That extra space made a big difference in the pick module, allowing for fork truck drivers to place pallets easily into drop areas, and provided room for the operators to pick from the pallet.

Because the Rack Supported safety gates were attached directly to the rack in the pick modules, the gates also did not lag into the decking on the upper levels which might not have been able to support that weight. Instead, the gates attached directly to the upright beams for a much more secure connection.

The dual-gate system also kept employees safe on the upper levels of the module. When the ledge-side gate was up for the fork truck drivers to deposit pallets, the rear-side gate blocks employees from the ledge. When the rear-side gate is raised so employees can pick from the pallets, the ledge-side gate is closed, making a barrier and protecting employees from falling from the ledge.

If you have a facility with a multiple-level pick module, make sure you are providing safety for your workers with a dual-gate system. We offer Rack Supported versions of many of our other models, including the Tri-Side and Pivot gates.

Retrofitting Safety: Going Out of the Box

Ideally, safety systems are built into industrial facilities as the buildings are constructed. This can provide for providing employees with the best protection from day one of the facility use. However, it’s not always possible to plan for all operations; a mixing area could turn into a walkway, and a pallet drop area could pop up in the middle of a pick module. In addition, safety regulations change over the years, and what may have passed as safe in the past no longer is valid.

It’s important to take a closer look at how operations and regulations have changed each year. If you have an area or application that needs to be secured because of changed operations, or updated due to regulation changes, you can find a safety solution that works. However, in many cases, you may need a custom solution to meet standards as well as keep your operations intact.

For example, we worked with a large record retention company that was updating mezzanines in order to meet new safety standards and create a safer environment for its employees. Due to the size of the facility, many areas had space limitations with low ceilings and limited depth on the mezzanine. The company also had installed many of our Pivot model safety gates in the past and wanted to install the same design in the new areas.

Originally designed for an application with a low ceiling, the facility’s vertical space limitations would not be an issue. However, the additional constraints of depth and load height ruled out our traditional Pivot gate model as a solution. In order to provide the necessary level of safety and keep operations unchanged for our customer, our engineers designed a High Pallet Pivot gate with a configuration that included multiple-pivot points that allowed the depth and height of the unit to be modified while still accommodating pallets of material. Operations were unchanged while the employees working on the mezzanines were much safer with the new safety gates in place.

If you need to update the safety in areas in your facility, make sure to keep in mind that you may not find an out of the box solution that will ensure your operations stay the same. Make sure to discuss the operational processes and application that you are looking to secure with the safety gate manufacturer, as well as challenges like limited depth of the platform, an extra wide load or very unique procedure.

Securing Unique Pallet Drop Areas

No two facilities are exactly the same. This is true for virtually all facilities, whether they are primarily used for production or for distribution. If you think about it, it makes complete sense - each facility has a different purpose and their operations within the facility are also unique.

This point is also very true for pallet drop areas; it’s not uncommon to have pallet drop areas that are unique. These areas can be limited in space, have large items being unloaded or loaded into the area, have a need extra wide or deep pallets, and more.

Keeping this general rule in mind, we often see pallet drop areas with different safety needs in the same facility. Selecting the same safety gate for each different area is not always a good idea as the size of the system may not accommodate for extra tall, wide or deep material.

We saw this rule come to life in a production facility that we helped to make safer. The facility had areas on the mezzanines that needed to be secured, and the production area had different safety needs than the areas in which the material was being loaded and unloaded. One area was configured for loads up to three pallets wide, while others had tall loads that needed to be fed into a production platform. In addition, some of the gates needed to be power operated so the fork lift truck drivers could control the gates from below.

After reviewing the facility’s requirements, our engineering team created custom Roly® safety gates for each of the areas. Designed to secure openings on mezzanines, the Roly safety gate provides protection for employees working on elevated platforms and mezzanines at all times. The Roly gate is one of our most customizable designs, and can be constructed in extra wide, deep and tall configurations.

Our team created multiple designs of our Roly safety gates to meet the facility’s different requirements in its pallet drop and production areas. An extra tall version of the Roly gate was created for the production platform, which allowed tall loads to be easily and safety loaded and unloaded to the area while keeping employees from falling from the ledge. The dual-gate safety system’s gates open and close within the confines of the gate structure, which helped to avoid obstruction into the production area.

The Roly gates were configured differently for the facility’s pallet drop areas. Gates were configured in extra wide designs to fit the three pallet width requirements, and other gates were created to fit extra deep loads. All of the safety gates in the pallet drop areas were configured with power operation that allowed the fork lift truck drivers to operate the gates from the ground level.

When you are working to secure elevated work platforms and mezzanines for your employees, remember that each of your areas is most likely unique. You may need to work with a safety gate manufacturer like us to ensure that any safety gate you install has the correct dimensions and fit for your application.