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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.

Securing Rack Supported Pick Modules: Chose the Right Solution

Okay, so you understand that OSHA mandates that pallet drop areas above 48” off the ground need to be secured, that the new ANSI standards for fall protection require a barrier to be in place at all times for pallet drop areas 36" off the ground and that the best way to achieve this is with a counterbalanced dual-gate system. If you know all this and understand that the same hazard and solution apply to rack-supported pick modules, then congratulations, you are well informed.

But, do you also know that there are specialized pallet drop safety gate systems designed specifically for picking areas and empty pallet/empty tote return lanes in pick modules? If so, give yourself a pat on the back. How many of these systems are you familiar with, and do you know the difference between them?

Dual-gate systems secure pallet drop areas by using a gate at the ledge with a second gate behind the pallet, and these two gates are counterbalanced and interconnected so one gate is always closed, separating the operator from the ledge. Versions of mezzanine safety gate systems are designed specifically for pallet drop areas in rack systems, utilizing the existing pallet rack into the frame of the design. By attaching to the existing rack uprights, the gate system doesn’t use support frames that need to be bolted into the decking, and take up valuable space in the rack bay where it can be damaged by lift truck abuse.

There are several pallet drop safety gate designs available in a rack-supported configuration, but which one is right for you and your application?

The original rack-supported pallet drop safety gate was the Rack-Supported Roly gate. This system uses gates that travel in a track system and connected with a chain and sprocket drive system. The gates travel up and down in the track and roll into the pallet drop area. 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. The gates never extend into the truck or picking aisle. The Rack Supported Roly safety gate is often the best solution in a multi-level system so the gates on the lower levels do not interfere with the truck loading the upper levels. Please note, however that a typical upright is only around 48” deep and there needs to be clearances around the 48” deep pallet, so the safety gate is typically designed around 56” deep. This means the rear frame of the safety gate must be permanently positioned behind the upright.

The Rack-Supported Pivot safety gate uses a pivoting framework to provide a safe environment. Because of this, the rear gate pivots back beyond the upright to secure the pallet, then moves out of the way when the ledge gate is closed. This eliminates the need for a permanent structure to be located behind the upright. However, by design this type of pallet drop safety gate will extend out into the truck aisle and back into the picking aisle when the gate is operated. 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 the takeaway conveyor is located right behind the pallet drop area.

If depth on the platform is limited due to the location of the 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 - 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.

All of these Rack Supported safety systems attach directly to the rack-uprights for a solid connection that doesn’t need to be lagged down. They can all be designed to fit the specific rack configuration (upright depth and beam length), and are constructed to match the punching in the rack for an easy, secure connection that doesn’t require any drilling into the rack components. They can be designed in multiple pallet widths or depths, and can accommodate pallet flow lanes. Manual operation is standard, but power operation can be added for remote operations from the lower levels or lift truck.

Don’t forget to look at your pick modules when reviewing the safety in your facility, and know that there are guarding solutions specifically created to integrate with these systems. Give us a call and we’ll let you know which pallet drop safety gate design works best for your application. If we get lucky, then none of our gates will fit your unique area, and if so we’ll design one that does.

Even Safety Gates Use Accessories

Who doesn’t like accessories? While they often help to dress up people and products, they also provide function.

Safety systems are no exception when it comes to the market for accessories. Gates come in all shapes, sizes and even colors; different models are right for specific applications in material handling, distribution and manufacturing. While standard safety gates provide fall protection by meeting OSHA standards without impeding on production, accessories for safety gates can add additional protection and efficiency.

The following are available accessories to dress up your safety gate models while making production and operations more efficient:

Netting and Metal Mesh:
Protective safety netting and wire mesh panels for the sides or the unit or gates can be provided. The netting and mesh provide additional guarding in the pallet drop area, preventing product from falling from elevated platforms. These accessories also provide an extra layer of protection for people from getting too close to pallet drop zone during loading and off-loading of material.

Power Operation:

Power operation can be added to any of our safety gate models, which can save time in operations in which lift trucks are depositing material to upper levels. Push button controls allow for employees on lower and upper levels to open and close the safety gates to load and unload material.

All of the power-operated systems we offer 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 adjustable clutch that will engage if the gate were to make contact with an object.The commercial motors have 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.

Wireless Controls and Sensors:

Controls or sensors added to safety gates can speed operations, especially in those that incorporate AGVs. Safety gates equipped with sensors allow the AGV to determine if the ledge gate of the safety gate is open or closed.

Controls can also be integrated with the safety gate power operation so that when the ledge gate is up, sensors send information to an AGV, telling it that material can be loaded into the pallet drop area. Once the pallets are loaded into the work area, the sensors send a signal to close the ledge-side of the safety gate and the workers can then work with the material that was loaded into the area.

Photo eyes posted on the gate can also work with sensors to ensure the ledge-side gate is in place when it detects workers on the platform, providing safety for the workers on the upper levels.

Software Integration:

Software integrated with safety gates can help track product and processes in a facility’s operations. For example, by wiring a safety gate power station to the facility system, operation of the safety gate can be integrated with processing computers so the system could track materials going to each pallet drop area. The integration can track the cycles of the safety gate to determine what had been delivered, what had been processed and which area needed to be replenished. It can also track the time it takes to do each task.

Safety devices can get dressed up to make your facility more efficient while meeting safety regulations. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about how accessories can help you truly integrate safety into your facility’s operations and processes.

Pallet Flow Lane Safety: Good vs Best

Pallet flow lanes can greatly help the efficiency of a distribution center but they can be a nightmare for safety managers as the proper method for securing these areas can be confusing.

Pallet flow operations often look like this: the facility features a multi-level rack supported pick module where multiple deep pallets are pushed into the system. Flow rails are installed between the beams often at an angle to allow the pallets to flow into the system as they are loaded. There are typically one or two lanes in a bay, sometimes with an aisle between the lanes in a cluster picking application. Typically the picker on the platform will pick from the first pallet position or enter the lanes to pick from various pallets, putting the items on a takeaway conveyor to be packaged and shipped to individual locations.

For productivity, this is a great way to load many pallets into a system and for the pallets to be picked in a first loaded, first picked sequence, but it’s not necessarily good for safety.

No matter how the pallet flow lanes are configured, when they are in a multiple-level system there will always be a ledge that needs to be secured. Sometimes two ledges create fall hazards: the one at the end of the lane where the operator picks, and the one at the beginning of the lane where the lift truck loads. For this reason, the lanes are often decked over, which accomplishes two things. Decking fills in the ledge at the picking position and leaves only one ledge where the lift truck loads, and also prevents loose items like boxes or pieces of the pallet, from falling to the levels below where they could injure someone.

Decking is good, however, decking also creates safety concerns. With decking there is an egress into the lane. In cluster-picking applications, this egress is warranted so the pickers can pick from several pallets, but most times the operation doesn’t ask for employees to enter the lanes. In reality, the decking allows egress into the lane so now the edge of the lane must be guarded.

Safety managers know that they need to provide fall protection for employees picking within the module, and OSHA and ANSI require protection for employees working at any elevation of over four feet.

So now that you’ve decked over the flow lane and created one ledge that needs to be secured, the question is how do you secure this ledge? There are two ways the ledges of pallet flow lanes can be secured. We’ll call them “good” and “best.”

“Good” solutions are self-closing swing gates designed specifically for pallet flow lanes that the lift truck pushes open, and once the pallet flows into the lane, the gate automatically closes. The gates should be designed to accommodate the pushing of the lift truck and load, and consist of a solid panel to create a smooth transition for the pallet flowing onto the lanes. The swing gates should include tension adjustable hinges so the speed of the closing gate can correspond with the weight of the pallet loads, as well as rugged stops so the gates do not swing outward.

The two main injuries we hear about in pallet flow applications are people falling from the upper levels and pallet loads being pushed into the legs of employees when they are working in the lane. If designed correctly, this type of gate can create a safe environment – at times. When the lane is empty this type of gate will be closed, but when the lane is full the last pallet loaded will hold the gate open, creating an unsafe area. A pallet is not an acceptable fall protection barrier and it doesn’t protect employees from being inside the lane when pallets are being loaded.

The self-closing gate is an improvement over having no barrier, and while it will be in place to help prevent some fall related injuries, there also will be times when it impedes safety, which is why it is a good solution but not the best solution.

‘The “best” solution is to install a dual-gate safety system that maintains a safe environment for pickers at all times. This design uses a gate at the ledge and a second gate at the end of the lane where the picker is standing. The gates are interconnected and counterbalanced so when one gate is open, the opposite gate is closed. Operationally, the ledge is open when the lift truck loads load pallets into the lanes, which means the rear-side gate is closed, preventing employees from accessing the lane and keeping them a safe distance from the ledge. Pickers then can manually raise the rear gate, which closes the ledge gate, securing the ledge while they pick from the pallets, as well as preventing the lift truck from loading more pallets while they are in that area.

This type of dual-gate system can also be designed extra wide and extra deep to accommodate the design of the pallet flow system, and is available in a rack-supported design to attach to the existing pallet rack to maximize space in the bay and for a rugged connection that doesn’t need to get lagged down into the decking. Dual-gate systems are available for both the inbound and outbound lanes and will maintain a safe environment at all times, ensuring there is a barrier that is always in place and keeping the employees out of the lane when the lane is loaded. These safety systems meet updated OSHA codes and ANSI standards as well.

If you have questions about securing your pallet flow lanes, we’re happy to help.

A Q&A with our President

The material handling industry is currently undergoing many changes, e-commerce is booming, facilities are growing and robots and AGVs are working alongside humans. Safety needs in these facilities remain constant, as employees continue to work on elevated platforms to move palletized material.

As a company that specializes in keeping employees safe on the job, Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc. has been steeped in safety for over 30 years. We asked our President, Aaron Conway, a few questions about the state of the industry.

Q: Everyone knows they need to create a safe work environment so why is it so hard to actually do it?

A: It’s true that every company knows they need to create the safest environment possible, and most target a zero injury culture. These companies get it; they also dedicate a lot of resources to achieve this goal. They hire safety professionals, hold safety meetings and invest in safety products.

The problem is operations are always changing as companies try to stay competitive in their individual markets. The material handling systems designed to implement these changes are complicated and are constantly being improved or replaced. So it is very important to stay on top of the changes inside the facility and to be vigilant about spotting potential hazards before they become issues.

Here are a few examples of changes that are made pretty often in facilities. Did you recently install a mezzanine to maximize the cubic space in the building? If so, are you properly guarding the pallet drop area with a dual-gate system? Did you install a new hopper or reactor on your production platform? Do you have proper safety guarding in place to keep the operators safe while they pick from the pallet? Sometimes you can recognize these hazards just by actually watching the new process taking place; other times you need to consult a company that specializes in the type of guarding solutions that you need to install. Either way, you have to stay focused and continuously observe what is going on around you.

Q: How do the successful companies keep these areas safe?

A: I can tell fairly quickly when I visit a facility whether or not it is going to succeed in its goal of creating a safe environment. The facility provides obvious clues from the safety guarding that has been implemented in the past and the environment they are currently working in. You can also learn a lot from the interactions between the various divisions inside the company. The production teams have their own concerns regarding the efficiency of the operation, the safety teams have concern for the well being of the employees, and the corporate team is concerned with the costs. How these parties get along is imperative to the successful implementation of a safe, efficient, and profitable facility.
The companies with teams that discuss issues and work together succeed; the companies where these factions are unable to get along fail. For example, say a company decides to replace its old wooden guardrail and the latch chains around their pallet drop areas. The safety team wants steel railings and dual-gate pallet drop systems; the operations team wants any safety system to be power operated so the lift truck can control them and to rearrange the platform to make it more efficient. As long as all parties are involved from the beginning, it will most likely be a success.

Q: What has been the most challenging job that the company has undertaken since you’ve come on board?

A: This past year we had a very large chemical company in the Northeast reach out to us because they were looking to make their pallet drop areas safe. The facility consisted of multiple buildings, each with several mezzanines that had been built and added onto over the past 40 years. The challenge was not only the number of areas they were looking to secure, but the fact that each area had different requirements in terms of the available space, the size of the pallets being delivered and the process for the material moving through the area.

The company did several steps right. They recognized they had a problem, got a professional company involved to assist them, and got the various parties inside the company to understand what they were attempting to do and why. It was a challenge, as we custom designed solutions for each area to make everything safe without impeding on production, but the challenge made the end result more rewarding,.

Q: Can you tell us about any trends you are seeing in material handling operations?

A: Systems are getting larger and more complex, and there is more automation. These scenarios are increasing the potential hazards in the facility and require specific safety solutions. Larger systems mean that people are working on higher elevations where a fall could now result in a fatality instead of an injury. The systems are getting more complex, meaning there is more motion, noise, lights, and distractions for employees working in the systems, which can all lead to incidents. Increased automation means there are more mechanized movements from AGV’s, robots or machines, and because employees have to work around these machines, more opportunities for danger.

Q: Any insights into the future of industrial safety?

A: I see safety becoming even more paramount in industrial facilities. As the systems grow more complex, the guarding solutions will be more innovative than ever before. Yes, there will be fewer workers performing repetitive dangerous tasks, due to increased automation. But employees will continue to working in the facility and their safety will become one of the top priorities of the company. The potential for serious injury will still exist and the ramifications for not creating a secure environment will become more severe. The potential loss of income, the facility being forced to shut down, or reputation of being an unsafe workplace will become too serious of an issue not to prevent.