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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.

National Forklift Safety Day

National Forklift Safety Day looks at an important issue - safety in operations using forklift trucks - which has always been paramount in material handling and manufacturing facilities. Systems are growing more complex, and the safety and guarding solutions are more innovative than ever before. Yes, there are fewer workers driving forklift trucks due to increased automation in industrial facilities, but employees continue to work in the facility on elevated and their safety must still be one of the top priorities. The potential for serious injury still exists, especially with unmanned forklifts, and the ramifications for not creating a secure environment are severe; the potential loss of income, the facility being forced to shut down, or reputation of being an unsafe workplace are too serious of an issue. Proactive safety is a must.

Protect Employees
Inside the facility, any elevated structure must be properly guarded. 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. This includes any elevated platforms or mezzanines in which any forklifts used to move material to and from a pallet drop area. Guardrail to secure the perimeter is often designed into the structure, but the pallet drop areas within the structure are a major hazard and must be properly secured.

A dual-gate system should be installed to ensure a barrier in the pallet drop area is in place at all times – even while the pallet is being loaded or unloaded by the forklift. Dual gate systems can be configured in many different designs; each has 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. These systems can be powered for remote access by the forklift truck operator or unmanned vehicles.

A properly designed pallet drop safety gate will not depend on the operator to ensure the barrier is in place at times and will ensure code compliance, and can be designed to fit your specific space limitations and workflow. And don’t forget, even if you are using automated forklift trucks to load these areas, employees are often still on the upper levels, moving or picking the pallets, and the areas should be guarded with a dual-gate system.

The original dual-gate system, the Roly® Safety Gate, is often the best choice for fall protection in most applications, as the gates never extend into the forklift or picking aisle, and if in a pick module, does not interfere with the forklift truck loading the upper levels. 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. Tri-Side safety gate models are also popular for areas loaded by a forklift truck with limited depth. This design uses a cantilevered rear-side gate that lifts up and out of the way to allow access around the pallet in tight environments while always keeping the ledge secured.

Protect Structures
Safety gates must be rugged to withstand the potential impact that a forklift truck can have on them while loading or unloading palletized material. Every one of our safety gate models is constructed from square tubular steel - either powder-coated mild or electro-polished stainless. The rugged steel construction ensures that the safety gate can be used in any environment and can hold up through daily use even when encountering the a forklift truck. Additionally, we provide impact plates on posts to minimize the damage the impact of a lift truck while it’s loading or unloading pallets to that area.

Remember that these safety precautions in forklift truck operations should be practiced every day, not just on the designated day in June. If you have questions on how to secure pallet drop areas that use forklift trucks, contact us - we’re happy to help.

Chemical Production Facility Improves Plant Safety

A worldwide chemical company audits each of its production sites every few years. As part of the audits, a survey of safety and operations is conducted. In the spring of 2017, one of the facilities was audited, and the plant production manager learned that the company was mandating safety gates to replace the access gates on upper level decking to improve safety.

The company’s production buildings have mezzanines approximately 13 feet above ground level. All of the mezzanines had access gates that were either hinged or slide in and out of place to allow raw material, maintenance equipment and tools to be passed to and from ground level. The gates were constantly being opened and closed, but did not offer a safe scenario for employees on the mezzanine level.

The plant created a three-person team to determine the best safety gates for the facility. Each team member did independent research, and unanimously selected MHI member Mezzanine Safeti-Gates due to the variety of the designs offered and the quality of the product.

A representative from Mezzanine Safeti-Gates visited the facility, and worked with the plant to identify 35 areas that needed safety gates within the facility. Its team was tasked with securing each area with dual-gate safety systems to ensure a barrier is in place at all times, even while pallets are in the process of being loaded, unloaded and staged. These dual-gate systems would replace the access gates being used throughout the facility.

Because each area in the facility had its own unique process and space limitations, specific fall protection solutions were designed for each area.

The facility featured a number of areas in which overhead hoists that loaded super sacks to elevated areas so employees could mix the ingredients into the hoppers. The Open Top safety gate model was the fall protection solution for areas using hoists because this design uses an interconnected dual-gate system without any overhead mechanics that ensures one gate is always protecting the employees from the mezzanine ledge. The hoist accesses the area from above while keeping the employee a safe distance from the ledge. A few of the areas using an overhead hoist required side access to the material, so the Open Top model was designed in a ninety-degree configuration.

The Tri-Side model was used to secure other pallet drop areas in the facility that were loaded by a lift truck, but had limited depth due to the location of the hoppers. This model uses a cantilevered rear-side gate that lifts up and out of the way to allow access around the pallet in tight environments while always keeping the ledge secured.

In other locations, the depth of the safety gates had to be able to accommodate a small two-man scissor lift. In these areas, longer side rails for the Tri-Side gates were supplied to fit the depth requirements while keeping employees safe from the exposed ledge.

Additional pallet drop areas needed to be secured, and those had limited height with tall pallet loads. A custom designed version of the Pivot safety gate was created by adjusting the pivot point locations to fit the space constraints and accommodate the pallet sizes.

After the installation of the safety gates, the employees in the facility are very happy with the ease of use of the gates and the safety they provided.

Open Top safety gate for fall protection

4 Areas on Production Platforms That Require Custom Fall Protection

Manufacturing facilities, especially those that have production platforms with mixers for ingredients, often have to use every bit of available space for the various applications performed in the facility. Employees often work in these applications, so safety devices are a necessity, especially when the employees are working from height.

Chemical and food production facilities are often full of production platforms. Many of these plants have large reactors or mixers with hoppers accessed by elevated platforms positioned near the top of the vessels. Typically a lift truck loads pallets of ingredients onto these upper levels for employees to load into these mixers. Employees, often positioned near a ledge, must remove heavy bags from the pallet, slice them open and pour them into the large mixer.

The mixer is often located near the pallet drop area to limit the distance the employee has to travel with the heavy bag. A series of catwalks and small mezzanines around the mixer and the production machinery often complete the area. This limited space leaves very little room for employee, product and proper fall protection guarding, which can expose employees to a high risk for incidents like falls.

While this application is fairly common, each manufacturing facility has its own unique space constraints. Regardless of the constraints, all pallet drop areas on elevated platforms need to be properly guarded for fall protection, but areas on production platforms where employees are asked to work around the ledge, often in a hostile environment, need to be taken seriously. This is often tiring, repetitive work in a dusty or wet environment so companies must take safety out of employee’s hands, and give them one less thing to think about during the day.

Due to the nature of applications that are typical of chemical or food manufacturing, securing the areas on which employees work can be challenging. That may be why fall protection safety is sometimes left to a piece of chain, which is not enough to keep employees safe or meet OSHA codes and ANSI standards. This is not a type of situation where you can ignore safety and at the same time, most standard solutions will not be the right fit, may pose hazards.

Here are four examples of applications in chemical and food manufacturing in which custom solutions are most often required to make sure employees have adequate fall protection.

No Room on the Platform:
Due to the complexity of the the applications in the areas that needed to be secured in most processing facilities, there is often little room on the platform to accommodate a safety barrier. In these instances, custom designed safety gates are needed as they often need to be worked into the existing framework of the platform. For example, a custom designed safety gate may affix to the handrail instead of the walkway floor to provide dual-gate protection while taking up a minimum amount of space.

Rotating Pallets:
When a pallet drop area includes a turntable that rotates 360 degrees, there are often additional challenges that make custom safety solutions a necessary choice. There may be hindrances such as low overhead, the traffic patterns of lift trucks and how the trucks enter the platform, or there may be infringements from a ramp or mixer that impact how a safety gate could be used. Custom safety gate designs should accommodate the pallets and drop area requirements; they must also ensure the applications and processes are not impacted while providing a safe work environment.

Blending Hoppers:
Blending hoppers are often positioned close to a ledge so the employee can simply pick up the sack from the pallet, turn and dump the bag of ingredients into the hopper without carrying the bag. In these instances, there is usually limited depth which does not provide adequate room for a traditional dual-gate safety system. Safety gate systems that use gates that have rear-side gates that raise up and out of the way to allow access to the pallet while the ledge gate is closed are needed here. With this type of custom system in place, an employee can grab the bag around the pallet and dump it freely into the hopper while a barrier is in place at the ledge to prevent a fall.

Overhead Hoists and Vacuums:
Many processing plants use overhead hoists to load and unload materials. In some operations, overhead hoists lift materials up to an elevated work platform instead of using a lift truck. This is the traditional method of lifting super sacks up to the processing platform where they can be dumped into hoppers. Other facilities may use a lift truck to elevate the material up to the platform, but then will use an overhead hoist to access the material once they are ready to work with the material. This is a common method of emptying drums of ingredients off of a pallet. An Open Top safety gate design that features with no overhead components that would integrate with the overhead equipment are necessary in this case. The custom solutions can provide interconnected gates that close on one side while opening the other, preventing employee falls.

Safety Gate Automation: 4 Keys to Success

Speed and efficiency is a goal of any business today, especially in material handling, distribution and manufacturing. Customers today want to ensure they are operating at their highest levels, and given this goal and the rise of available technologies, automation is top of mind for most of our customers.

However, automation of safety equipment is not always top of mind. In fact, manual operation of our safety gates used to be our first recommendation, and it is still a very popular and viable option. We also recognize that power operation and complementary technologies for safety equipment is often needed for automated applications and processes. While many facilities are undergoing changes to include automated processes, safety of employees is still of utmost importance.

More companies are looking to ensure safety equipment, including dual-gate systems for fall protection, around pallet drop areas makes a positive impact rather than impede automation or efficiency. Any technology used for safety gates must be designed in a fashion to help companies speed their operations, especially those that incorporate AGVs and lift trucks, without compromising safety.

There are many different ways to configure power and technology, from push button stations to remote control operations. Whether you are retrofitting power to existing safety gates or planning to purchase new systems, keep these four key points in mind to achieve success.

Motors Matter
The first thing to keep in mind when you look to power operate a safety gate is that it is a commercial motor that works for your environment. You must ensure it has enough horsepower to match the expected use of the safety gate. If your application is very repetitive, you’ll want to make sure it can provide speed as well. Size and placement of the motors can also be an issue, so it’s important to discuss these issues before choosing a motor.

Environments Matter Too
Where is the application located? Is it in a climate-controlled environment that is extremely hot or cold? Is there a need for rinsing the environment? Ensure the motor that you use is able to operate within any conditions that may be present in the facility. Motors are available in water- and explosion-proof options, and numerous controls, such as flashing lights and caution alarms, can be added.

Capture the Signal
Power operation alone is not enough to ensure your speed and efficiency is at its highest. Technology is needed to allow the safety gates to communicate with other plant equipment and software, and we offer our safety gate customers integration options with many different technologies.

For example, controls and sensors integrated with power operation on our safety gates send AGVs a signal when the ledge gate is up, telling it to load material to the pallet drop area. After the pallets are loaded, the sensors from the AGV send a signal to the safety gate to use the motor to close the ledge-side gate so employees can work with the material.

Radio frequency is often used to allow the safety gates to communicate with wireless radio frequencies on lift trucks. When the lift truck is ready to replenish the pallet drop area, the lift truck sends a signal to the safety gate to ensure the ledge side gate is raised. Once the area has been replenished, another signal is sent to the safety gate telling it to close the ledge side gate so employees can access the material.

Sensors on safety gates can also be wired into a facility’s software system to integrate with processing computers in order to track materials and determine which areas must be replenished. These are just a few options and applications; each system can be tailored to the facility and company’s needs.

Be Observant
Sometimes, another eye on things is helpful. When you add power operation and other technologies to safety gates, it is important to utilize built-in safety features like photo eyes. This helpful technology can detect the presence of a person or object and prevent the gate from opening or closing. An adjustable clutch that engages if the gate makes contact with another object can also be included.

Remember, when added to any new or existing safety gate model, power operation and technology can save time and provide efficiencies while keeping employees safe. Commercial motors, wireless controls, sensors and software integration can make the operation of a safety gate seamless with automated operations. Choose wisely.