With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday season knocking at the door, it’s a busy time for the material handling industry. If you look at the news, there are stories about increased consumer spending for the holidays and the prevalence of e-commerce, which is good for business.
As companies in the material handling and distribution continue to ramp up to meet holiday demands, many are looking to hire a temporary, seasonal workforce for the last few months of the year. A temporary workforce can be the key to successfully surviving the busy holiday season, but it’s important to remember these new employees do not have the background with your facility, and often are not trained to the extent as full-time employees.
Navigating the facility, picking and handling goods are just a couple of the tasks given to a temporary workforce. Just like full-time employees, these workers must stay safe during their time with your company.
Here are four quick things to do to make sure your temporary labor force stays safe throughout the busy holiday season:
Review Areas and Applications
While it’s likely your safety systems are already in place, review the areas in which your temporary employees will be working and proactively install safety devices in any areas in which they may be needed and make sure they are functioning properly. These safety devices should maintain a safe environment without heavily relying on employees to ensure the device is always in place and functioning.
Give Facility Tours
When you have a group of new material handling employees coming to work during the busy months of the year, it’s important to give them a tour of the facility, highlighting the areas in which they will be picking and depositing products. Make sure they understand their roles, as well as how to operate all of the equipment, including safety systems. Picking often requires working from upper levels, and because the employees are new to the facility, it’s important to make them aware of the ledges and safety structures that are used to prevent injuries and falls.
Clarify the Role of Technology
Humans are not the only ones working in a distribution center or warehouse - automated vehicles and robots are increasingly deployed in these facilities. It’s important to discuss the roles of the machines, including how and when they work, with temporary employees to ensure they understand and are aware of the machines. This can help prevent accidents, and keep employees safe on the job.
Demonstrate Proper Use of Safety Equipment
While safety systems should be intuitive, they are often not used properly when the orders and picking activity increase. Because these jobs are often tiring and require repetitive motions throughout the day, it is important to show the temporary workers how to properly use each piece of safety equipment they will encounter. Be sure to highlight the machine guarding, noting it should stay in place, as well as any safety gate systems. Also discuss working on an elevated platform - make sure they know when to operate the safety gates, and when they can move about the ledge safely.
After the holiday rush, take some time to review potential new hazards, as sometimes new employees will uncover safety issues in your facility. Talk with employees and analyze data to determine what worked well, what did not and any areas, if any, that need to be secured moving forward. If you need expert advice after the review, consult a safety professional in the material handling industry.
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.