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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.

Safety Gates: To Power or Not to Power

One of the questions we get asked a lot is whether or not to power operate a pallet drop gate. For most applications, we recommend skipping the power option. Manual operation creates the highest level of safety because the operator on the platform, who we are trying to protect, is the only person controlling the opening and closing of the gate. This can be very important for any material handling or manufacturing application.

The majority of the end users inquiring about power operation believe that operations will be slowed unless the fork lift operator can open the safety gate. The concern is that the lift truck operator will go to load a pallet and the gate will be closed. This would cause the operator to get off the truck, climb up the stairs to the mezzanine level, open the gate go back down below to the lift truck to finish loading the pallet.

We agree that this is an issue when using a single-gate system like a sliding gate or a swinging gate. For that type of design, in order ensure safety in the area the gate has to be closed; and in order to load a pallet the gate has to be open.

However, this is not the case when using a dual-gate system, which is the type of guarding that all pallet drop areas on elevated work platforms should use according to ANSI MH-28.3. When using a dual-gate system, the area can always be safe because the employees working in the pallet drop area can close the rear/operator gate when they are done removing the material to ensure the area is always ready to receive a pallet because the ledge-side gate opens when the rear-side gate closes. As long as the gate is left in this position the area is always ready to receive a pallet so there is no reason to give control to lift truck operators down below.

How to make sure employees close the rear-side gate is a concern of customers who understand the issue with power-operation from below. We have found over the years that this issue gets resolved by communication and training among the operators. More often than not, the position of the gate becomes a signal so when the picking on the mezzanine is ready for the area to be replenished, he/she will toggle the gate, closing the rear-side gate, which opens the ledge side gate. Now the lift truck operator looks up and sees the ledge-side gate open and knows it is time for the area to be replenished.

Sometimes we get asked to power operate the gate because the operator on the lift truck is the same operator that goes up on the elevated work platform. But, this scenario is ideal for manual operation because the operator must leave the ledge-side gate open when they go down to the lower level, because if they do not, they will have to go back up to the mezzanine to reverse the position of the dual-gate system. After making that mistake once, they’ll likely remember to always leave the ledge-side gate open for the next time they’ll be loading.

Of course every application is different, and everyone’s operation is different, which is why we do offer the option to purchase our safety gates with power operation. All of those power-operated systems include built-in safety features like photo eyes that detect the presence of a person or object and prevent the gates from closing, along with a clutch that will engage if the gate were to make contact with an object, which is adjustable so it can be set to the proper sensitivity for that specific environment. We also add power to gates that are involved in operations with AGVs.

The motors are all commercial operators will built-in safety features and numerous controls that can be used, like radio frequency remotes on the lift truck, and flashing lights and caution alarms. But we recommend caution on all of these remote operators, and always advise customers to test the unit in manual operation because they can always add the power option later, which by the way, we’ve never had a customer take that advice and then come back later to add power operation – they always stick with the manual operation. With proper training and education, the manual operation will create the safest environment, and shouldn’t slow down the operation.

Safe Approaches to Innovation Across America

One of the things that I love most about my job is visiting manufacturing and distribution facilities across the country - our team gets to see how products are made, packaged and distributed. From our viewpoint, manufacturing and material handling in America is alive and well.

That observation was confirmed by the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly Manufacturing Report on Business, released earlier this month. You can read more about that report here, but it indicated growth in ten of the 18 manufacturing sectors.

We are fortunate to produce so many products in America. We’ve recently been in a number of food and chemical processing facilities. It’s fascinating to see the innovative ways products in the United States are made, and we always get excited about the opportunity to be a part of that process.

Employees in these facilities work really hard to make, package and distribute the products we use and love. Often in food and chemical facilities there are people that must lift products and pour them into mixers, which is physically challenging - especially considering that these areas are not very wide or deep. Employee safety is of utmost importance, especially since many workers’ jobs are physically tiring and challenging.

I’ve definitely noticed a change in attitude regarding safety over the twenty plus years of working in the material handling industry. When I first started in this industry there was often a disconnect between the multiple managers in the company. A typical scenario involved a safety officer who was looking to create the safest environment possible, the operations team who wanted to get production moving as quickly and efficiently as possible, and the executive team who was concerned with the costs of modifying areas of the plant.

Today, I see a lot more collaboration between these groups. The safety manager is being invited into the operations discussions to make sure what they are planning to do will be safe. Safety personnel are reaching out to the operations team to make sure the safety devices will integrate well with their operations. The executive group views safety solutions as an investment, and by pro-actively implementing safety solutions they will incur cost savings for the company in the long term.

As a provider of safety solutions, I can say that all of this collaboration has made for much safer, more efficient environments, where everyone is engaged and working towards the same goals.

In our innovative facilities across the country, safety is not a luxury, but a must. If your facility has an area that needs securing, we can provide a dual-gate solution that will provide a safe environment for your employees at all times.

Facility Safety: How to Secure Pallet Drop Areas with Overhead Hoists

Many manufacturing facilities - especially chemical companies and food processing plants – use overhead hoists to lift material 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 traditional lift truck to lift the material up, but then will use an overhead hoist to access the material once they are on the platform. This is a common method of emptying drums of ingredients off of a pallet.

Both of these areas typically create environments where employees are working around the ledges of these elevated platforms. In these scenarios a proactive guarding solution should be installed.

When you are looking to secure these areas, it’s important to keep these things in mind:

If the operation requires overhead access then the safety device must be designed to integrate with the machinery that is being used: for instance, integration with an overhead crane used to lift super sacks up to the platform, or a vacuum hoist that is used to unload material off of a pallet. This means that the safety device in place cannot interfere with this operation so the safety gate shouldn’t have any overhead mechanics. Instead it needs to provide a clear path to move the material through this area.

If the operation requires overhead access is this required at both the ledge and above the pallet drop area? If a forklift is lifting material up to the ledge and a hoist is being used to unload the material then the overhead access is only needed on the operator’s side.

Do the employees have access to the pallet drop area? If so the area in which they are working must feature a safe environment at all times. This means all ledges on elevated areas in which they are walking and working must be protected.

Our Open Top Safety Gate is ideal for securing these areas. This dual-gate system protects workers on elevated areas; when the ledge-gate is open, allowing material to be delivered or loaded, the rear-side gate is closed, protecting workers from falling off the ledge. When the rear-side gate is raised to access the pallet, the ledge-side gate closes. The gates are interconnected off to the side with no overhead mechanics, which creates a safe work environment without restricting the access overhead.

This solution is also ideal when tall pallets are being loaded up to the area. The same concept of keeping the overhead access applies so these tall pallets can be moved through the area.

We’ve created a video that shows how our Open Top Safety Gate works, which you can view here.

Facility Safety: Three Areas Often Left Unprotected

Facility safety has been moved to top of mind for many managers, as in August, OSHA increased fines for safety violations involving employee injury. Increased fines are not the only reason to implement safety measures - employee health and the risks they face on the job must also always be considered.

There are often areas in warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing facilities that pose risks to employees that stand out immediately; open elevated platforms that get a lot of employee foot traffic is just one example. However, there are often other areas that pose risk that are unidentified, and therefore, unprotected. Leaving areas unprotected not only expose risks to employee health, but also to violation of federal OSHA codes, and as a result, significant fines.

Almost every facility has the following three areas - have you made sure that they are secure?

1.  Pallet drop areas on elevated structural platforms, or mezzanines, in which pallets are being loaded by a lift truck or AGV

Any opening on elevated platforms where employees are working expose them to the risk of falling. All openings in the railing on levels in which employees work should be secured. Often these areas are “protected” with chains or single gate systems like lift-out barriers, but those devices do not meet current ANSI standards, are often left open or do not provide the protection needed to prevent employee injury. To ensure OSHA compliance and meet ANSI standards, secure these areas with dual-gate systems.

2. Picking areas, empty pallet bays or tote return bays on multiple level pick modules

Any facility with multiple level pick modules has a variety of openings on the elevated levels for picking or for empty pallet/empty tote return bays. Just like the openings on a mezzanine, the areas on a pick module where there is access to the exposed ledge should be secured with dual-gate system. 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. There are many options for safety gates designed specifically for rack systems so there are solutions even if space is limited or there is a tight aisle restricting egress; rack-supported versions of these gates will attach directly to the pallet rack to maximize space and provide a rugged connection. Ideally these fall protection solutions should be designed into the system, but solutions can be retrofitted into an area already operational. Either way these areas need to be secured, and proactively securing them before an incident occurs, will prove to be a valuable investment

3. Pallet flow bays

It’s not uncommon for employees to enter the lanes of pallet flow bays. While these areas are not specifically designed for employee access, ledges do need to be secured in the instances that it happens – there have been documented instances of employees entering the lanes of pallet flow bays to retrieve a fallen box or square a pallet, or to signal the lift truck operator below. Some of these instances have resulted in fatalities. To avoid these scenarios, the ledges of flow lanes should be secured with a physical barrier.

One of the two main methods of securing these areas is the use a self-closing pallet swing gate, which swings open when the lift truck loads a pallet into the lane, and then swings closed once the pallet flow down the lane. The gates must be designed so they do not swing outward, creating a fall protection barrier. This is a valid solution; however, you want to make sure the gate system you are installing was designed specifically for the application of loading multiple pallets into a system. There are a number of considerations that must be considered.

(1) It needs to be able to withstand the abuse of the lift truck constantly loading pallets through the gates, as well as the 200 pound lateral force of a person pushing the gate outward.
(2) It should be designed with a solid panel to make for an easy transition for the pallet onto the flow lane.
(3) The pallet flow system should also be designed so the pallet flow lane is long enough so the last pallet loaded into the system can travel far enough down the lane to allow the gate to close when the lane is full. This is easier if bi-parting gates are used so the pallet doesn’t have to travel as far before the gate closes.

The key to success with this solution is to use a gate designed specifically for pallet flow applications, and not to simply install a swing gate that may have been designed for personnel egress or for staged pallets on a mezzanine. A gate designed for pallet flow will better integrate with system and maintain a safe environment without impeding on production.

Another solution, and often the way to create the safest environment, is to use a dual-gate system to secure the entire lane. The safety device should be made deep enough to accommodate all the pallets on the lane so there would be a gate at the ledge and a second gate at the end of the lane; the gates would be counterbalanced and interconnected so when one gate is open, the opposite side is closed. This accomplishes two purposes: one, it ensures there is always a barrier between the picker and ledge, and two, it keeps the picker a safe distance from the pallets while they are being loaded into the lane. This is also the ideal solutions for the empty pallet return bays where the pallets flow towards the ledge to be removed. With a dual-gate system securing these bays, you will always have a safe environment

It’s easy to miss an area that needs protection; make sure to conduct facility safety checks in order to recognize risks and mitigate them with safety solutions and reach out to professionals in the industry for assistance. The ProGMA, which is a safety guarding group of the MHI is a valuable resource.