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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.

3 Safety Considerations for Overhead Handling

In today’s facilities, it’s very common to find material handling applications that use overhead equipment like cranes, vacuums or hoists to move material in and out of elevated pallet drop areas. Because employees usually work around these pallet drop areas, it is mandated that these areas provide fall protection.

However, overhead handling equipment can impact the type of fall protection and safety equipment used in the application. It’s important to answer three questions as you seek out the best safety solution — often it’s a dual-gate system, which is mandated by ANSI.

What is the application?
We’ve seen a variety of applications that use overhead equipment. Some applications use the overhead equipment to both load and unload material, with employees picking from the loads while they are in the pallet drop area. Other applications are near hoppers or mixers, with the overhead equipment used to drop off a super sack so employees can open and dump the ingredients into the mixer.

If the application is chemical or food-based, you may need to ensure any fall protection equipment is constructed of stainless steel. This is also the case if the environment in which the equipment is located will be subject to frequent rinsing or extreme temperatures.

How/where do employees interact with the overhead machinery and material?
Given the nature of overhead handling, any safety equipment must allow for the crane, hoist or vacuum to have room to drop the material in the proper space. This means overhead space must be clear. In addition, any swinging motions by the overhead equipment must be taken into consideration so the safety gates can be sure to clear that motion.

Take worker movements into account. How far from the ledge do your employees work? Do they pick from one side of the pallet, or are they moving the heaving material from the drop area to another spot? If side access is necessary, safety gates can be made to allow access on both sides from a ninety degree angle.

How much space is there on the platform with material?
This is an important factor in selecting safety equipment. The space for the pallet drop area and for employees to work with the material is important, as you don’t want the safety barriers impeding productivity.

Measure the space, and be sure to note any special details about the application before you reach out to your safety equipment provider. Safety gates can be customized for width and depth.

Once you’ve answered those three questions, you are ready to move ahead with the purchase of safety equipment. Make sure the safety equipment provides fall protection at all times. Chains that “protect” employees from an elevated ledge can be left open and also provide another safety hazard - the potential for tripping over the chain when it’s closed.

Our Open Top safety gate is ideal for applications with overhead equipment, as the dual-gates are connected on a side so there are no overhead mechanics. This dual-gate design features ergonomically counterbalanced gates with a hydraulic gas assist mechanism that make for easy operation. When the ledge gate opens to the side, the rear gate closes, preventing employees from falls off the platform. The gates are connected with solid torque shaft and hardened gears, which are housed in a metal enclosure to protect the components and to keep people’s hands away from the moving parts.

Overhead vacuums or chain hoists can then access the pallet drop area and can pass through overhead. When the ledge gate is closed, it creates a fall protection barrier at the ledge, and the rear gate opens to the side, allowing employees to safely access the material. In addition to accommodating overhead obstructions, the Open Top is also a good solution if tall pallets are being loaded into the pallet drop area.

Fall Protection or Machine Guarding?

True or false: pallet drop safety gates in industrial facilities are only used for fall protection.

The answer is false; while safety gates are traditionally used for fall protection in industrial facilities, we have come into a number of situations in which our mezzanine safety gate models were required for other safety purposes, including machine guarding. While not a typical application, our safety gates have been used as guarding in some unique settings.

The majority of our fall protection gates use dual interconnected gates to maintain a safe environment at all times. While able to create a barrier that could be used to separate workers from certain areas or expensive/dangerous machines, often the two gates would interfere with productivity and would restrict access to the machinery. Sometimes, however, using a dual-gate system to guard machines has an advantage such as one we did for customer facility.

One of our manufacturing customers had an application in which heavy bags were moved down a conveyor to an area in which employees stacked the bags onto a pallet on a different conveyor. Once the pallet is full, it’s sent down the conveyor. Safety engineers were concerned that the heavy pallets could hurt the operators when it was moved, perhaps crushing someone’s hands as the pallet traveled on the conveyor, so they looked to find a safety solution.

Traditional machine guarding that would be permanently installed around the area would keep the operators away from the moving pallet, but would prevent them from accessing and loading the pallet, so an alternative solution needed to be found. The company reached out to us because they had worked with us in the past securing their pallet drop areas on elevated platforms and knew of our custom engineering and design skills.

Our engineers reviewed the area in the facility and worked with the customer to understand the process and the inherent dangers. Working with the facility’s safety and operational personnel, we determined that the safety right solution for their application was actually a dual-gate system, similar to what they had used for their pallet drop areas. However, a number of items had to be considered to customize the solution: the total space available for the gate system, the amount of clearance needed for operators to work the pallet, the interference of swinging doors near the conveyor and the movement of the pallet on the conveyor.

After reviewing the requirements, a Tri-Side safety gate model was selected. The Tri-Side gate features a single gate on one side, and a three-piece rear side gate. This model allows for the bags to be stacked while the rear side gate is down, preventing the pallet from moving on the conveyor, as well as keeping hands well away from the back of the pallet. Once the gates are reversed, the single gate closes and three-piece gate raises, allowing the pallet to be moved down the conveyor, while still keeping people from getting their hands in the way. In addition to the rails of the safety gate, metal mesh was installed on the gates to add extra protection for employees getting their hands near the conveyor. This created a safe environment while still allowing the transfer of the materials through the area. The area was made safe without slowing or changing the operation.

While our safety gates are best suited for fall protection, they can be used in unique ways in a facility, especially with unique applications. If you are looking for a safety solution not sure what you require or what will fit with your operation, then let us know - we can help you determine the best safety equipment for your application.


Nothing Fits: Custom Engineering Needed

What happens when an industrial facility has an area that poses risks to employees falling, but traditional fall protection systems don’t fit? OSHA requirements and ANSI standards mandate fall protection equipment is in place, but sometimes the type of dual-gate safety system required to meet these standards simply will not physically fit the area or would impede productivity without the company completely overhauling their operations, process or even facility. Employees can’t be without fall protection, so what should happen?

Fortunately, the scenario above doesn’t happen often. The majority of pallet drop areas and elevated work platforms can be secured with a standard pallet drop safety gate design, even if it requires a custom size. However, we know each facility and the processes and applications within it are unique, and sometimes a specialized solution is required to keep employees safe.

Below are two examples of areas in a material handling facility in which dual-gate safety systems were ruled out for use for fall protection. Our engineering team, however, were able to design specialty solutions to secure these areas without the end user changing their operation. As in the case of these applications, we are willing to design specialty safety fall protection solutions for unique areas even if we know the design would likely never fit another area.

For one warehouse facility, we designed systems that use two gates that operated independently instead of an interconnected dual-gate system where the gates operate in tandem. This configuration was necessary because of several unique circumstances: the area had limited height, a wide opening was needed to load material and 90-degree access on the picking side was required. None of our existing dual-gate systems would fit within these constraints, so we designed a unique solution.

In the custom solution, we engineered gates that operate independently so one gate at the ledge slides open to load the material and the gate on the operator side pivots open for personnel egress into the area. To provide fall protection, the system is configured so the pivoting gate only opens when the sliding gate is closed, and the sliding gate can only be operated while the employee is safe behind the closed pivoting gate. This maintains a safe environment at all times without the need to interconnect the gate system.

In another facility, we found an application that not only has limited depth but also a very tall platform so high that a traditional lift truck would not work to load the pallet drop area. Instead, they use an overhead hoist to lift material up to the area. Employees on the platform dump bags into reactors, and need to access to area from the sides. Our traditional dual-gate systems either took up too much depth on the platform or had overhead mechanics that would not allow overhead hoists to move through the area.

For this application, we designed a three-piece gate that reciprocated from inside to the outside of the platform. The gate restricts access into the area while material is loaded then moves to the outside of the platform where it creates a guardrail barrier that provides fall protection at the ledge while people enter the area. This maintains a safe environment the material is moved into the area with the overhead hoist, and allows the operators to safely handle the bags from the side.

These custom designed systems were sized for the unique areas, and it’s very unlikely that we will ever have the need to use them again, but we take pride in helping our customers create a safer work environment. We are committed to providing the best safety solution for your specific environment, no matter how unique the application is. If you have had trouble finding the right solution for your unique area, let us know and we can help.

Loading Docks: Using Fall Protection Barriers

Loading docks often have many areas in which employees are at risk for falls. Even though dock height is commonly four to five feet, that height is enough to pose a fall risk at unprotected ledges. OSHA regulations state all working surfaces of 48 inches or higher need fall protection. These standards apply to all working surfaces in a commercial facility, even in the loading dock.

Dock operations in material handling or distribution centers are often one of the busiest places in a facility, with trucks loading and unloading product multiple times a day. Working conditions can also be extreme if the docks are located outdoors, requiring them to move material in all kinds of weather—cold, heat, rain and even snow. These factors can fatigue employees working in dock operations, placing them a greater risk for falls from elevated places - the lifts and the dock itself included.

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.

A dual-gate system typically used to secure the ledges of pallet drop areas on elevated work platforms would create a permanent safe environment but this system would interfere with the workflow of moving material through the area so it is not an option here. So one solution is to install a single-gate system that rolls, slides or pivots closed. This is an improvement over having nothing in place but it is only of any value when the gate is closed. Because this type of system depends on someone to remember then make an effort to close the gate, the gate is often left open. This means the truck can drive away and the area can be unsecured.

The best safety 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. Then this gate system automatically closes once the truck drives away from the area. This allows the operator to control when they want to open the gate, but makes sure the ledges remains secure when there is no truck in position.

We design this type of gate to fit any loading dock width. Our system rolls across the floor and compacts into the open position. A hydraulic assist mechanism allows for an easy, ergonomic operation. The compact design takes up a minimum amount of width in the area and can fit in locations with limited height. The locking mechanism is easily activated when the truck is in place, then is released when the truck drives away, allowing the gate to close in a slow, controlled manner in its own.

Our loading dock safety barriers are available in standard and custom sizes, and can be painted in any color or supplied in all stainless steel construction. Secure the elevated ledges of your loading docks, and make sure you take the responsibility of a safe environment out of the hands of your employees when you can. Have an automatic gate system installed proactively before it is needed, and that way if your employees are distracted, you will have the peace of mind knowing the safety will still be in place.