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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.

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.


Fall Protection: Safety Gate Selection Guide

Fall protection is a necessity in today’s facility, no matter what the operation or type of facility. Manufacturing, material handling and distribution center facilities often have platforms that are elevated more than four feet on which employees are working. In today’s market, there is no shortage of fact, we offer many different models of our pallet drop safety gates.

Pallet drop safety gate selection can be confusing, as there are many different models and designs. OSHA and ANSI standards mandate that a barrier be in place at all times during the operation, even while pallets are being loaded, staged or worked on. Often the best method for meeting this requirement is a dual-gate system that always keeps one gate closed. These systems basically have 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.

Sounds simple, but there are many dual-gate systems that can be configured in certain ways to accommodate specific applications – that’s why we created so many designs. We’ve created a guide that can help you determine which pallet drop safety gate model would be best for each area in your facility, and can always offer further assistance in the selection process.

The Roly safety gate is the original dual-gate safety system; we designed this model over three decades ago. This safety gate model is ideal for most applications, and is idea for protecting pallet drop areas in doorways. The Roly is also the most flexible in terms of size; it can accommodate wide, deep or tall pallets, as well as be configured for multiple pallets wide or deep. It can also be power operated, so the Roly is the best model if you need to operate the gate remotely from the lower level or lift truck.

The Tri-Side safety gate is a dual-gate system designed to allow access to both sides of the pallet, allowing material to be removed straight back into the area or to either ninety degree side. It takes up a minimum amount of space on the platform as the fixed stanchions are only fourteen inches deep. Tri-Side safety gates are ideal for production platforms, walkways or any other area in which the depth is limited. If the pallet drop area also serves as a walkway or catwalk or if you need to access the pallets from the side, the Tri-Side is the best solution.

The Pivot pallet drop safety gate design uses gates connected on a pivoting framework that allows the gates to fit in low overhead spaces while clearing pallet loads. The short side stanchions on this design allow pallets to be removed at an angle from the pallet drop area. The system has few moving parts, making it ideal for process mezzanines or hostile environments, especially as it is available in all stainless design. If the pallet drop areas are located on multiple levels with restricted available height, or if the environment is dusty or has specific sanitation requirements then the Pivot model is best for the area.

On the Open Top safety gate, the gates are connected off to the side. The system has no overhead mechanics so there is no pallet load height restriction, and in addition to lift trucks, overhead chain and vacuum hoists can access the pallet drop area. The Open Top is the ideal solution if you have very tall pallet loads, or if an overhead hoist system is used to move supersacks to an upper level, or to move bags of palletized material back from the pallet drop area into a reactor or hopper.

Pallet Flow
Pallet Flow safety gates secure the ledges of multiple deep pallet flow lanes in rack supported pick modules or on structural mezzanines. The model, much like the Roly design, uses dual-counterbalanced gates that allow pallets to be loaded into a system while creating a fall protection barrier along the flow lanes. It can accommodate multiple deep pallets and inbound or outbound empty pallet return bays. If your system has multiple deep flow lanes where the last pallet is picked, or in a cluster-configuration where employees walk the aisle between two lanes, the Pallet Flow safety gate should be installed.

Rack Supported
Rack Supported models are ideal in high bay picking modules to secure the picking positions and empty pallet return lanes in multi-level systems. By using existing pallet rack for support, this model takes up a minimum amount of space in the rack bay and does not extend into the lift truck or working aisle. Roly, Tri-Side and Pivot models can be made into Rack Supported gates, and is designed to fit any brand of pallet rack. When the elevated platform is designed out of pallet rack then a Rack Supported gate will save cost while maximizing space.

All of our pallet drop safety gate models come in two standard sizes, single and double-wide, and are available in powder-coated mild or electro-polished stainless steel. In addition, the safety gates can be power operated with remote push button-stations, radio frequency remotes and sensors. We also design custom safety gates for any area in which one of our standard models will not fit. If none of the solutions described above will fit your application then please contact us – we’ll design one that does.

Fall Risk Discovery: 4 Actions to Take

Let's say this morning you notice someone in your facility walking along an exposed, elevated ledge. Internal buzzers go off, as you know it’s a safety hazard that can’t be ignored. What do you do next?

Before you invest in a safety solution, consider taking the following four actions prior to the purchase - it doesn’t take long, and is worth the time investment:

Make a Prioritized List:
While you may only have one area in the facility that needs to be secured, it’s more common there are multiple areas. Do a walkthrough and make a list of the areas that need to be safeguarded. It’s a good idea to take photos; they are great to review with your team, as well as the company that you choose for the safety devices.

Once the list is complete, review the areas with your operations team to discuss which, if any, operations can be modified or if there are any areas that should no longer be used. Note the potential hazards associated with each area, and prioritize them by the hazard and how often the areas are used by employees. In addition, note any structures that the area is located within, such as a pick module or rack system; these structures can dictate the safety solution.

Contact Safety Solutions Providers:
There are a number of companies that specialize in industrial safety equipment. Depending on the area and the solution you have in mind it’s important to talk with a provider that has experience with providing safety solutions in a facility like yours.

When you reach out to the safety specialists, be sure to send along the pictures that you have taken of the areas, and include your notes about applications and processes and those can be helpful for determining the right model or providing a budget estimate.

Solutions providers may also want to visit the facility to ensure that they provide the right safety device for your area. They may bring in a local material handling distributor if they work closely, and will definitely take measurements to ensure that the safety device will fit within your facility.

Be sure to discuss any sanitation requirements or hazardous climates with the solutions provider. While in most facilities powder coated steel solutions will be ideal, some facilities, such as food or chemical production facilities, require stainless steel devices.

Determine Your Solution
Once you’ve talked with solutions providers and they’ve gotten all of the information needed, they will determine the best solution for your area. Often it will be a standard safety system, but if the area is unique to your facility, a solution may have to be customized.

Discuss Installation and Training
Talk with your employees and the solutions provider about installation. While safety solutions like our dual-gate safety systems can often be installed by in-house teams, if your area is complicated, oversized or requires power operation, you may need professional help to ensure the safety devices are installed correctly.

Remember that any area in which employees are working that is elevated four feet or more is mandated to have safety systems in place for fall protection. There are a variety of safety systems in the market today, from dual-gate safety solutions to industrial netting. While it’s important to secure the safety hazard quickly, it’s more important to ensure you have the right solution for each area that poses safety risks.