By Aaron Conway, Contributor
The next time you walk into your facility, take a moment to look up, at all of the places employees are working. More often than not, you’ll see people walking on mezzanines and working around pallets to move material from one place to another. You might also see overhead equipment used to move material, production platforms or multi-level pick modules with various mezzanine structures around it.
Some things you should not see are exposed ledges or holes within the guardrail on your mezzanines and pallet-drop areas on which employees are working. Exposed openings pose a danger to employees and leave you open to fines.
If you look up and see barriers, like chains or movable guarding, you might want to consider using alternative safety barriers. Often, these “solutions” are rarely moved back into place during the workday, leaving employees exposed at open mezzanine ledges. Additionally, chains pose another safety hazard—the potential for tripping over the chain when it’s closed.
Any elevated structure employees use during the workday, including mezzanines, must be properly guarded. Let’s take a look at exactly what that means and how to ensure your facility has the right equipment to ensure employee safety.
Regulations & Solutions
OSHA regulations 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. OSHA regulation 1910.23, for guarding floor and wall openings and holes, raises the height requirement to 4ft. The ANSI/ASSP A1264.1-2017 standard, which addresses safety requirements for walking and working surfaces, mandates that protective equipment should be in place for all workers that work at heights of 3ft or greater.
OSHA and ANSI standards apply to any elevated platforms or mezzanines on which employees are working. Often, these areas include a pallet drop area that allows forklifts or AGVs to move material to and from a pallet drop area. Guardrails to secure the perimeter are often designed into the structure, but the pallet drop areas within the structure are a major fall hazard and must be properly secured. While 3-4ft doesn’t seem high, a fall from that level can produce a sprain, break or some other injury; just one incident can lead to lost workdays for employees and costs for the company.
The best solution to secure open ledges of mezzanines or other elevated work platforms is a dual-gate system, sometimes referred to as a double-hung gate. This system provides protection from ledges and keeps employees away from pallet-drop areas when they are in use, without having to move full systems into and out of place. A properly designed dual-gate system will not depend on the operator to ensure the barrier is in place at times and will ensure code compliance. Moreover, it can be designed to fit your specific space limitations and workflow.
Dual-gate safety systems have a gate at the ledge that is connected to a second gate behind the pallet and configured so that, when one gate is open, the opposite gate is closed. Fixed stanchions on the side create a controlled-access area. These systems can typically be powered for remote access by an AGV or lift truck operator, as well as operated manually.
There are a number of safety gate solutions on the market today, but there is no one size or design that fits in every facility or application. As you determine you safety gate needs, it’s important to keep some other things in mind to get the best design for your mezzanine safety.
Get an Exact Fit
It’s important to remember that the safety gate solution needs to fit exactly into the opening. While many openings fit standard pallet widths and depths of 60in, the safety gate systems also take up a few inches beyond the standard pallet size. If the openings are not the standard single or double pallet width and depth, a custom-sized solution might be needed to make sure all of the open space is contained. In addition, some safety gate systems feature gates that close flush with ledges, while some may reach back into the mezzanine or workspace. If there is an overhead door present, make sure the system can operate independent of the door, to provide fall protection.
As long as you choose the right safety equipment for your specific application, productivity should stay intact—and might even improve.
Use Power and Technology Correctly
If you are planning to power operate your safety gates, it’s important to think about how employees work around the mezzanine, as well as how material is loaded and unloaded. Determine if AGVs or lift trucks already utilize radio frequencies or sensors, as well as what/who will be operating the safety gate.
Decide where to install a push-button station and if a water- or explosion-proof motor is needed in your facility. Safety systems can also be tied into warehouse management software systems to track inventory and more.
Determine Space Requirements
This is an important factor in selecting safety equipment. The space for the pallet drop area and for employees to work with the material is important, as you don’t want the safety barriers impeding productivity. Measure the space, and be sure to note any special details about the application before you reach out to your safety equipment provider. Safety gates can be customized for width and depth.
Select the Right Design
To select the right safety gate design, you must consider the application. Look at the location and actions that take place: Where is the opening for a pallet-drop area, and what is the size of the materials? Take worker movements into account, as well. Do they need access to scan materials as they come in and out; are they picking material directly from the pallet; and is any other equipment involved in the process? Do they pick from one side of the pallet, or are they moving the heaving material from the drop area to another spot? If side access is necessary, safety gates can be made to allow access on both sides from a 90° angle.
A variety of applications use overhead equipment. Given the nature of overhead handling, any safety equipment must allow for the crane, hoist or vacuum to have room to drop the material in the proper space. This means overhead space must be clear. In addition, any swinging motions by the overhead equipment must be taken into consideration, so the safety gates can be sure to clear that motion.
Choose the Right Construction
In most facilities, safety gate systems constructed with rugged, powder coated steel will be sufficient. If the application is chemical- or food-based, you might need to ensure any fall protection equipment is constructed of stainless steel. This is also the case if the environment in which the equipment is located will be subject to frequent rinsing or extreme temperatures. WMHS
About the Author
Aaron Conway is President of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc.