A number of years ago we were contacted by a systems integrator that needed a safety solution for the pick modules they were designing for a client. As an innovator in material handling safety solutions for over 30 years, there are few applications that we haven’t seen, and this project was no exception.
The system was being designed for a national retail company’s new distribution center which included several pick modules that extended three levels above the floor. The operations process consisted of lifting full-case pallets up into the pick module and staging them into the pallet rack bays. Pickers on the platform would fulfill orders by removing items from the pallet and placing them into bins on to the takeaway conveyor.
One of the systems integrator’s main concerns was securing the ledges of the elevated platforms; the system was three stories tall, and the pickers were going to be working off the pallets staged at the ledges of the module. Their client wanted a system that would ensure that proper safety guarding would be in place at all times, and that it would not depend on the actions of the employees to keep the guarding in place.
Our team has a lot of experience securing this type of application. We designed the original dual-gate system, the Roly safety gate, in the early 1980s. The Roly model consists of a gate at the ledge that is interconnected to a rear-side gate behind the pallet, configured so when one gate opens, the opposite gate closes, ensuring a gate is always in place to secure the ledge. A few years later, we modified the design to attach to the rack uprights to secure pallet drop areas in pick modules.
The system integrator was familiar with our Rack Supported version of the Roly safety gate from working together on several previous projects, and was interested in the same model for its client’s new distribution center. However, the lay out of this system provided some challenges to using that model. Due to the footprint of the building and how the modules had to be configured, there was a narrow aisle on the platform between the rack uprights and the conveyor. The pickers pushed carts down this aisle instead of rolling pallets so the aisle didn’t need to be very wide, and this lay out helped the ergonomics because the picker didn’t have to move too far with the picked items because the conveyor was located a few feet behind them.
The narrow aisle, however, created issues with properly guarding the ledges for fall protection. The Rack Supported Roly model closes behind the pallet with a permanent structure, which would have been an obstruction for the pickers walking down the aisle. Occasionally this is solved by projecting off the face of the module, but again the lay out of the building precluded this solution.
A new solution was needed. We knew a dual-gate system was still the best way to secure this type of area, because it maintains a safe environment at all times and doesn’t depend on the actions of the operator to keep the area safe. We needed to find a way to install a dual-gate system without the permanent framework that would extend back into the narrow picking aisle.
The solution was a Rack Supported version of our Pivot safety gate. The Pivot model, which we designed in the 1990s for a large national record retention center, is a dual-gate system that uses a pivoting framework to maintain a safe area.
We modified the design for this application so the safety device would mount onto the existing rack uprights. By attaching the safety gate to the pallet rack, we maximized the width of the bay, utilized a rugged connection that would be secured to the upright instead of lagging down into decking, and most importantly for this project, reduced the amount of depth required. Instead of a support structure that would be mounted back into the aisle, the only fixed support was on the rack upright. The rear-side gate and the support components would extend back beyond the upright to capture the pallet then “pivot” up and out of the way when the pallet was being picked. This allowed the aisle to remain clear whenever the ledge-side gate was closed.
The system integrator and end user loved this concept, and after we received the details on their racking configuration, we designed our supports to bolt directly onto these uprights without any holes needing to be drilled. The installation was a breeze, and the end result created a permanent, safe environment that did not impede on production.
To ensure the safety device was easy to operate for the end user, we included a hydraulic gas assist mechanism that allowed the gates to be opened and closed by a fingertip, even by employees with limited strength. We also custom painted the support frames to match the pallet rack color, and the gates were powder-coated in high-visibility safety yellow.
Since this initial project, the end user has specified the Rack-Supported Pivot Gate on all of its new distribution centers and retrofitted them into their existing facilities.
Safety equipment is paramount in any facility, especially those in material handling, distribution or manufacturing industries.
But, make sure that your safety equipment doesn’t create new hazards while guarding against others. In this regard, the famous quote “First do no harm” applies to material handling safety.
Workers are often are required to lift heavy items, move heavy loads, reach above or below to grab or place items and more. These movements are often repeated throughout the day. Repetitive motions can increase an employee’s risk for injury; they can also contribute to fatigue, another factor for injury.
Equipment should be installed to reduce the effort and strain on these employees and to make the process as ergonomic as possible.
As a manufacturer of guarding products we are involved in many production platforms where ingredients are loaded up to the elevated platform then unloaded into hoppers and reactors to mix the ingredients into finished product. Employees are often positioned on these upper levels and are opening the bags of ingredients, then carrying them over to the hoppers where they are manually dumped. The bags are heavy, the area is often dusty and hot, and the work is repetitive: a perfect recipe for injury.
To reduce injuries, the area should be designed so the hoppers are in close proximity to the pallets of ingredients so the employees do not have to travel with the heavy bags. Lift tables should be installed where the pallets are deposited so the bags can be raised or lowered to the ultimate height, and when necessary, the tables should rotate so the bags on the far side of the pallet can be reached without strain.
In this type of application it is imperative to secure the ledges of these elevated platforms for fall protection so the workers are protected from the ledges. This safety system should not depend on someone to remember or to make an effort to close the safety device. Instead it should always be closed through the use of a dual-gate system such as the Roly or Tri-Side pallet drop safety gate so when one side of the device is opened, the opposite side closes, maintaining a safe environment at all times.
With this set up the employee on the platform will raise or lower the gate depending on the work that they are doing, so the safety device must be easy and ergonomic to operate. Do not install a safety gate that solves the problem of fall protection but creates a new problem of having another heavy item that your employees need to move throughout the day.
For ease of operation, all of our safety gates use counterbalanced gates so the gate closing on one side helps to raise the gate on the other side. With a well designed, counterbalanced gate system the effort to open and close the gates are minimal.
However, even with the counterbalanced gates in certain applications where the gates are custom widths or the operator needs to stand off to the side of the unit to operate, we add additional mechanics to aid the operation. Many of our designs include a hydraulic damper that opens the gates; this allows the gates to be operated with a fingertip, and controls the speed of the gate so it opens and closes in a slow, controlled fashion.
All of our gates are tested in our facility to ensure an easy, ergonomic operation before they are installed in the end user’s facility. We want to make sure that the safety device being installed to keep people safe isn’t creating new issues by being difficult to operate.
This same practice should be followed when installing any safety device. Make sure that the safety device is not creating new issues for your employees. Speak with a manufacturer who specializes in safety products for the material handling industry, who has knowledge on the subject and has provide solutions for similar applications to yours. Make sure to discuss the operation of the gate with the manufacturer to determine if the gate will be easy to operate and provide protection at all times.