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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.

Pick Module Safety Gate Selection Guide

Has a rack-supported pick module recently been installed in your material handling or distribution facility? Is there one in the plans for the near future?  While these systems are ideal for moving products through a facility efficiently, as well as maximizing space, it’s imperative to maintain a safe environment in the modules.

Pick modules are multiple level systems used to store inventory and to pick items for order fulfillment. By design, these systems place material and people on elevated levels. One of the main safety concerns 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. Like an elevated work platform or mezzanine, rack supported pick modules need fall protection systems. OSHA mandates that any working surface 48" or taller according should be guarded, and ANSI standards mandate the fall protection equipment at 36” or higher.

Pallet drop safety gate systems provide fall protection for these picking positions by securing the pallet drop areas with a gate at the ledge and a second gate behind the pallet. These two gates are counterbalanced and interconnected so one gate is always closed, separating the operator from the ledge, creating a safe environment while the employee picks items from the pallet. These systems are typically manually operated but can be powered for remote access by the lift truck operator.

Some pallet drop safety gate designs are engineered specifically for pallet drop areas in rack systems. These systems utilize the existing pallet rack for the frame of the design. By attaching to the existing rack uprights, the safety gate does not require its own support frames that need to be bolted into the decking where it would take up valuable space in the rack bay and could be damaged by lift trucks. It is best when these solutions are designed into the system by a rack provider or system integrator before installation so the rack system can be engineered to accommodate the safety equipment, but they also can be retrofitted at a later date if needed.

Several dual-gate safety designs are available in a rack-supported configuration, and each design provides an advantage. These models can provide safety without impeding production, even if you are loading large items, have narrow aisles or limited overhead space. To help you proactively secure these areas, we’ve provided an easy way to determine the best configuration for your system.

Narrow Aisles/Limited Aisle Space
The original rack-supported pallet drop safety gate system, the Rack-Supported Roly gate, is the best choice for most applications, as the gates 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 advantage of this system is that 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.

Limited Pallet/Material Space
In pallet drop areas with limited space, the Rack-Supported Pivot safety gate is the best choice, as it provides the most free space behind the pallet. With the pivoting framework, the rear gate extends back beyond the upright to secure the pallet, then moves out of the way when the ledge gate is closed, eliminating the need for a permanent structure to be located behind the upright. It is important to make sure the moving gates will not interfere with the truck aisle and there is adequate clearance in the pallet area, as this design will extend out into the truck aisle and back into the picking aisle when the gate is operated.

Conveyor Operations/Limited Platform Depth
If depth on the platform is limited due to the location of a conveyor or a narrow aisle, then your best safety gate solution may be the Rack-Supported Tri-Side gate. This safety system uses a gate that moves straight up and down at the ledge, and never extends into the lift truck aisle. 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.

Flow Lanes
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.

If you have further questions about which safety gate design is best suited for your pick modules, be sure to discuss them with your rack provider, system integrator or safety gate manufacturer.


Painted or Stainless? How to Decide

Fall protection systems are required by OSHA for any work platforms in a facility that are elevated over four feet. Dual-gate safety solutions are often the best method of creating a permanent safe environment. To select the right mezzanine safety gate solution for your area, you need to review the available space in your area, the size of the pallets being moved and the procedure for loading and accessing the material. But, there is another decision that has to be made before selecting the proper safety device - what the safety gate will be made of and how it will be finished or painted.

To select the right construction material for the safety gate, review the environment in which the gate will installed to determine if the area has any specific requirements.

In a basic warehousing or material handling environment where palletized material is lifted to an upper level and picked or moved with pallet jack, painted mild steel is often the right choice.  This is an economical and durable solution. Most manufactures use a powder-coating process over wet paint for a more durable finish that will not flack or crack. 

We recommend using a two-color scheme in opposing colors so the moving components stand out from the stationary parts. This helps increase safety awareness for the employees working around the ledge. For example, we powder-coat our Roly Model frames silver, with safety yellow for the gates, and our Pivot Model frames in blue with yellow gates. 

Sometimes it is preferable for the safety device to blend in to the facility environment, so it’s possible to select a custom color to match existing guardrails or rack structures. In other instances, it’s advantageous to select a custom color that clashes with the surrounding area, again for safety. For example, one of our customers paints everything blue and yellow in their facilities, but requests the pallet drop gates be painted red in order for the areas to stand out as potential hazards.

The key to selecting color for your safety systems is to take a look at your surroundings to determine what should blend in and what should stand out. Then, talk to your safety gate supplier to work on color schemes that fit your needs. Most companies have several colors to choose from or can match colors with RAL numbers.

Some facilities may have sanitation requirements that do not allow any type of paint, whether powder coat 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. For food or processing plants it is imperative to review the specific sanitation requirements for each area and to communicate those requirements to the safety gate supplier.

Many processing plants feature applications in which ingredients are moving through the pallet drop area. In these instances, stainless steel is often the best choice as it allows material to be washed down and cleaned without concern of flaking or chipping paint contaminating the ingredients.

When it comes to stainless solutions, some designs work better than others. It’s ideal to have as few moving parts as possible, and necessary to be able to clean all of its components without allowing water to enter the structure where it cannot fully drain.

For our units constructed in stainless steel, the entire design is fabricated out of 305 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 electro-polish the entire unit to remove any burn marks from the welding process in order to ensure installing the cleanest system available.

If your application uses caustic material, galvanized steel or aluminum gates may be required. We can also construct the safety gates from these materials to match the other equipment in the facility.

The key to making sure your safety system is constructed out of the right material is to review the specific requirements with operations, maintenance and safety teams to determine the specific requirements are in the facility so those features are designed into the gate system. We've had some pretty extravagant requests when it comes to paint colors and construction over the years. If you have a special request, we can accommodate it. 

The Open Top Safety Gate Story

Our story of turning custom safety gates into standard models in our product line continues with the history of our Open Top safety gate model. This model, like the others, was driven by a customer need that we saw in other facilities across many industries. We’re seeing a pattern - are you?

We were contacted by a major chemical company that had pallet drop areas on their production platforms that were unsafe because they were just using latch chains across the edge for fall protection. These chains were often left open, leaving workers exposed to falls from the ledge, and even created another safety hazard - the potential to trip over the chain when it was closed. The company’s safety team wanted to replace this unsafe situation with one of our dual-barrier systems that would ensure a fall protection barrier was in place at all times.

Our traditional dual-gate safety systems were quickly ruled out as an equipment choice because the operation used an overhead hoist. Up until that time, all of our standard safety gate models had overhead mechanics, which would have interfered with the customer’s operations. At this facility, hoists were used to lift super sacks from the ledge of the production platform and move them back into a hopper.  It’s fairly common in chemical and food manufacturing plants to find the use of overhead devices, like vacuums or hoists, in these plant processing applications where bags of ingredients are blended. We knew that instead of asking the customer to change their operations, we had to design a system that would integrate with their application.

The safety gate that our team had to create for the customer’s facility needed to use two interconnected gates that would close one side while opening the other, without any overhead components that would integrate with the overhead hoist. This required a new dual-gate design that connected the gates off to the side After testing many prototypes, the Open Top Model was created.

The Open Top safety gate features ergonomically counterbalanced gates 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.

Our customer installed the Open Top model at their facility and were happy that the safety gates not only provided fall protection, but did not impede on production.  Since the creation of the Open Top model, we've installed them in locations throughout the U.S. They are available in powder-coated mild steel or in all stainless steel construction. Open Top models can be fabricated in custom widths and depths and and are even available in ninety-degree configurations.

Safety Gates Secure Grocer's Loading Dock Lifts

Custom designs are our we mentioned in our post last week, our new Dock-Lift safety gate began as a custom design for a customer. The national grocery store chain’s safety need was not inside the facility, but rather in the busy loading dock area in which deliveries are made each day.

In some loading dock operations lifts are installed to help transfer pallets of material. Employees often ride the lift from ground or dock level to align with the tailgate of the tractor trailer when they are moving material on and off of the truck. When the lifts elevate, employees are at risk for falls if there is no protection provided on the lift.

Docks and material handling operations vary widely from facility to facility - even the grocery store chain had different environments for their distribution centers and even stores. Large grocery stores often have dock areas to get their daily deliveries, with material coming from their separate distribution centers or individual suppliers. Our customer had multiple applications that used lifts in their dock operations, so our engineering team had to really dig into the ways each lift was being used to create the right fall protection safety equipment.

The Dock-Lift safety gate configuration that was the most popular in the grocery chain was one in which the gates moved in a crossing-guard style pattern. 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.

Because each lift was in a fairly unique environment, our team created multiple Dock-Lift gate configurations based on the operation of each lift. In one of the grocery store dock operations, there was an awning that limited the height for any equipment on the lift. In this instance, we needed to create a safety gate in which the gates swung outward instead of in a crossing-guard style.

In addition, some of the lifts used at the grocery stores had specific dock traffic patterns so the gate design needed to accommodate the flow of the trucks moving around the area. 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 roll into position after the traffic has moved, and then can be rolled back into a safe position once the material has been transferred.

All of the Dock-Lift safety gates feature automatically closing gates, which ensures fall protection for any worker on the lift. They can be made in multiple configurations, depending on the operations of your dock, and in powder-coated mild or stainless steel. In addition, they meet OSHA regulations and ANSI standards for safety on lifts. Let us know if you have a dock environment that you need to secure; we’d love to help.