Protective guarding is essential in material handling facilities. Guardrail, safety gates, mesh cages and bollards are just a few of the safety measures that should be implemented in every facility for employees working at heights, around machinery and at the loading docks.
However, when you purchase protective guarding of any type, it’s important to understand that it is often not a ‘one-type fits all’ kind of purchase. The key to selecting the right protective guarding is knowing what the application environment is like and communicating that with the equipment provider. Review the environment and processes with operations, maintenance and safety teams to determine the specific requirements for each application so those features are designed into the safety system.
Three aspects of the application environment are crucial in selecting the best protective guarding solution for your facility: climate, location and traffic. Understanding these three factors will make sure your safety system is the right design for the facility.
In a basic material handing or distribution environment where there is a normal climate, palletized material is lifted to an upper level and picked or moved with pallet jack or moved to conveyors, the use of protective guarding constructed out of painted mild steel is often the right choice. This is an economical and durable solution. Most protective guarding manufactures use a powder-coating process instead of wet paint for a more durable finish that will not flake or crack.
Many facilities have sanitation requirements that do not allow any type of paint, whether powder coated or wet. Some of these areas may be able to use mild steel equipment with specialty finishes such as Steel-It Paint, which includes FDA approved stainless steel pigments.
Facilities may feature applications in which goods are stored and picked in extreme hot or cold climates; other facilities feature areas where equipment and material is routinely sanitized, washed down and cleaned. In both of these instances, stainless steel is the best choice as it can withstand extreme temperatures and allows material to be washed down and cleaned without concern of flaking or chipping paint contaminating the facility or material. Galvanized steel or aluminum gates may be required if the application uses caustic material.
For example, when our safety gates are constructed in stainless steel, the entire design is fabricated out of 300 series stainless steel with all stainless hardware. All open ends are capped to prevent water and debris from entering the system. When required, we can use continuous welds, and eliminate any bolts holes in the tubing. And before shipping the unit to the facility, we tig-brush, bead-blast or electro-polish the entire unit to remove any burn marks from the welding process in order to ensure installing the cleanest system available.
Climate also impacts the power options that may be involved with the protective guarding you choose - it’s often selected in conjunction with safety gates. Ensure the motor that you use is able to operate within any extreme climate conditions that may be present in the facility. Motors are available in water- and explosion-proof options, and numerous controls, such as flashing lights and caution alarms, can be added.
Traffic patterns near the location of the protective guarding must be considered before the purchase of protective guarding, and that goes for both outdoor and indoor applications.
Loading dock environments are different for every facility; they all have their specific traffic patterns and can feature multiple applications, often happening at the same time. All protective guarding must accommodate the flow of traffic - often trucks, lifts and employees - moving throughout the area. It’s important to consider any other aspects that could disrupt flow such as awnings and doors.
Once you have all of the traffic patterns in detail, the protective guarding can be configured based on the operation of each application or area. For example, one of our grocery customers needed to accommodate the flow of trucks and patterns for each dock when considering safety gates for its lifts in the loading dock. Some of these areas used gates that swing outward, sometimes with a single gate that covered the entire eight foot lift. In other applications, bi-parting gates were used to prevent the gate from swinging into the delivery area. Our team also created a safety gate that can move into position after the traffic has moved, and then can be rolled into a safe position once the material has been transferred.
Inside the facility, fork lift trucks and AGVs are often moving around the facility loading and unloading material from pallets. Cobots or robotic machinery may also be present. It’s important to understand the patterns and movements of each of these aspects before purchasing protective guarding to ensure not only it will protect your employees, but also keep your production intact.
Technology is often needed to allow the protective guarding to communicate with other plant equipment and software. For example, radio frequency sensors integrated with power operation on our safety gates send lift trucks and AGVs a signal when the ledge gate is up, telling it to load material to the pallet drop area. After the pallets are loaded, the sensors from the vehicle send a signal to the safety gate to use the motor to close the ledge-side gate so employees can work with the material. Photo eyes can also detect the presence of a person or object and prevent the safety gate from opening or closing.
When it comes to protective guarding solutions, environment greatly impacts the type and design. Review the physical location in the facility and work with employees to understand the process and the inherent dangers in each application. In addition, consider the total space available, the amount of clearance needed for employees to work, any machinery or other interference that could impact movement or safety, the materials being worked with and the climate in which it will be located.
Because each environment is different, we’ll use a few examples of locations in which safety gates are commonly found to illustrate the impact it has on the guarding design.
In locations with cold climates or frequent sanitation, safety gate solutions should have as few moving parts as possible, like our Pivot pallet drop safety gate. This design uses a pivoting framework that utilizes fewer moving parts to provide a safe environment for employees working around the pallet. The rear gate pivots back beyond the upright to secure the pallet, then moves out of the way when the ledge gate is closed. With this design, you want to make sure the moving gates will not interfere with the truck aisle, and that there is adequate clearance behind the pallet drop area. Note that the space required for this operation may be an issue if a takeaway conveyor is located right behind the pallet drop area.
If depth on the platform is limited, due a narrow aisle, then your best safety gate design may be a Tri-Side safety gate. This safety system uses a gate that moves straight up and down at the ledge - never extending into the lift truck aisle, and a rear ‘u’-shaped gate that closes to capture the pallet then moves up and out of the way to provide egress behind the area.
In pick modules, a Rack Supported Roly safety gate is often the best choice for fall protection in most of these configurations, as the gates attach to existing rack uprights and don’t require the systems to be billed into decking. Due to the configuration, these safety gate models never extend into the truck or picking aisle, and do not interfere with the truck loading the upper levels of multi-level picking systems. The gates open and close within the confines of the pallet drop area so the gate at the ledge opens and closes flush with the ledge and the rear gate is flush with the rear uprights of the system.
If the picking bays include pallet flow lanes in which multiple pallets deep are loaded, then you should install a version of the Rack-Supported Roly gate that is designed as deep as the flow lane. The additional depth ensures there is a gate in place at all times and prevents an employee from entering the aisle while the area is being loaded. This is especially important in a cluster-picking design where employees travel an aisle between the lanes to pick from multiple pallets at the same time.
No matter what type of protective guarding you are seeking for your material handling operation, make sure you take all aspects of the environment into account. If you review the climate, traffic and location you’re on your way to selecting the best design for your guarding solution.
This article first appeared in the August 2020 issue of Workplace Material Handling & Safety
New facilities can be exciting to set up as they are often outfitted with updated equipment, technology and the latest innovations. While you are planning the facility or starting to move in, employee safety must be considered in every area. In fact, safety equipment should be considered for each area and application, so employees will be safe from day one. The most up to date machine guarding, netting, mesh partitions or cages and safety gates all should be considered and made part of the plan for equipment in the new facility.
While there are many places that will need safety equipment, fall protection systems are needed for any elevated work platform; OSHA mandates fall protection systems at four feet, while ANSI standards suggest protection at three feet. Multiple elevated work platforms will likely be present in your facility, and even more if pick modules are used in material handing.
If you focus on fall protection, there are two key areas that must provide protection for employees: loading docks and dock-lifts used to move material, and any elevated ledges around pallet drop areas, including pick modules or pallet flow lanes.
Loading Docks and Dock Lifts
Let’s start outside the facility. Loading docks are often the busiest place in a facility, and they pose a number of safety hazards that put employees at risk for falls. The operation at a loading dock traditionally consists of a tractor trailer backing up to an elevated section of the building so material can be loaded/unloaded from the trailer. When the trailer is in place the elevated area remains safe, but once the trailer drives away there is an exposed ledge at the end of the elevated loading dock. Because this ledge is elevated it needs to be secured.
The best solution is a single-gate system that the employee on the loading dock is able to raise and lock open only when the tractor trailer is in place. Ideally, the gate automatically closes once the truck drives away from the area. This allows the operator to control when they want to open the gate, and makes sure the ledges remains secure when there is no truck in position without relying on someone to close the gate.
Dock-lifts used to move material in the loading dock area also provide risks for falls when employees ride them with material. Dock-lifts can be used by employees to move material at ground level, between the trucks and loading docks. Safety gates for these lifts should feature automatically closing gates, which ensures fall protection for any worker on the lift. As the lift elevates, the gates automatically close and lock into place. The gates stay closed and locked until the lift goes back to ground level, providing fall protection while the lift is raised and material is moved from the lift, truck and dock. They can be made in multiple configurations, depending on the operations of your dock.
Elevated Pallet Drop Ledges
Moving inside, most material handling or production facilities feature multiple elevated pallet drop areas - they can be used for the same or different applications. These areas may be on mezzanines, near doorways or on production platforms.
OSHA fall protection standards mandate that a properly constructed barrier be in place except when employees are actively accessing material. ANSI standards mandate a fall protection barrier is in place at all times during the operation, even while pallets are being loaded, staged or worked on. The best method for providing fall protection on elevated pallet drop ledges is a dual-gate system that keeps one gate closed at all times. These safety systems include various designs; each has a gate at the ledge that is connected to a second gate behind the pallet and configured so when one gate is open the opposite gate is closed. Fixed stanchions on the side create a controlled-access area. These systems can be manually operated or with remotely controlled power for remote access by the lift truck operator or automated vehicle.
Often elevated work platforms and pallet drop areas are located in pick modules - the multi-level systems used for inventory and order fulfillment. By design, these systems place pallets of material on elevated levels, and employees picking product to fill orders. One of the main safety requirements is creating a fall protection barrier while employees on these elevated levels are picking items off of the pallets or stacking empty pallets to be removed. Dual-gate systems work very well in pick modules, especially when offered in a rack-supported design, which can save space by using the rack uprights to support the safety gate.
Pick modules often feature pallet flow applications. While employees are not to walk on the lanes, it happens. Employees do walk into lanes, which poses risk for falls from the upper levels and injuries if pallet loads being pushed into the legs of employees. To secure the flow lanes, self-closing gates designed for flow systems and dual-gate safety systems can create a safe environment.
One additional point to remember about pallet drop safety is that new facilities are going to include the latest automation, and dual-gate safety systems can be equipped with power and sensors that make fall protection a part of the automated process.
If you have questions about safety equipment needs in your new facility, contact us - we can help.