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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.

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.

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.