Guards, Guardrails, Netting: Safety for Personnel and Equipment

Barbara T. Nessinger, Chief Editor

It seems like every week, the OSHA website’s list of fatalities and injuries from falling and being crushed by machine equipment is alarmingly long. Taking a proactive approach to warehouse guardrail safety can help prevent injury and is a crucial element to preventing such accidents in many work environments. Warehouse safety is very important to safeguard employees, as well as the material handling equipment being used. Installing the proper guards/guardrails is a huge factor when addressing these safety issues, because they create a boundary between heavy machinery, vehicles and other areas.

Fixed guardrails are required where there is a warehouse platform. Rails are also important to separate sections of a warehouse. Any part of a warehouse floor that needs to be safe for foot traffic can be blocked off with a pathway surrounded by guardrails, as well.

Some guardrail systems are designed to stop heavy equipment, such as a forklift, from crossing a boundary. These guardrails are essential due to the number of injuries and deaths from a forklift striking a worker or falling off of a ledge.

Guardrails can also be used to surround a structure, such as an office room extending into the warehouse area. A forklift striking a building’s vital structures can cost the warehouse thousands in damages, not to mention the potential injuries involved.

Luckily, there are many different guards, rails, nets and gates available for a wide variety of applications. Having guards and guardrails at a plant or warehouse will also give employees peace of mind, knowing there is concern about their well-being, as well as about material handling equipment and whatever materials are on the premises. A safer environment will not only improve production, but also elevate employee attitude and make for an all-around safer, more productive atmosphere.

SlowStop Guarding Systems have a unique steel bollard system that absorbs energy from impacts to reduce damage to vehicles, assets and personnel. [photo courtesy: SlowStop Guarding Systems, LLC]
Steel Strength

Many guardrails are made from galvanized steel for collision resistance and to prevent corrosion. The base plates for the guardrails are anchored to the floor, and all of the components for the guardrails are bolted together. Other options often include offset column base plates, rail lift kits and corner offset columns. Multiple rail lengths are also usually available.

SlowStop Guarding Systems guardrails have a unique steel bollard system that absorbs energy from impacts to reduce damage to vehicles, assets and personnel. While maintaining the same benefits as traditional rigid bollards, the SlowStop bollard, along with its line of guarding systems, adds strength and durability.

During a collision, the kinetic energy of the impact is progressively absorbed by an elastomer hidden in the base of the bollard. The post is able to tilt approximately 20° as it progressively absorbs energy, greatly dampening any impact. After impact, the post returns upright, leaving the guard and your foundation intact and ready to perform again.

The FLEX IMPACT® polymer RE Rack End is the optimal protection for your rack ends, with the two bollards offering optimal protection to your corner uprights. [photo courtesy: BOPLAN USA, Inc.]
Polymer Guardrail Case Study

One company, BOPLAN USA, Inc., manufacturers the original polymer guard rail. Under the name Flex Impact by BOPLAN, they manufacture a range of polymer hand rails, traffic barriers and other safety products to offer protection against accidental impacts from forklift trucks or other vehicle traffic. Their polymer guard rails absorb impact and return to their original shape after impact; alleviate paint jobs, replacements and concrete repairs; have been tested by an accredited barrier testing agency; and can withstand up to 6,000lbs of truck impact at 11mph.

In one case study, BOPLAN worked with North Carolina-based VF, distributors of such brands as The North Face, Timberland and Reef, who were building their latest state-of-the-art distribution center. They wanted to separate their brand-new building, racking systems, conveyor belts and workforce from the dangers of forklift traffic.

The group wanted to protect their investment using guard rails, yet also wanted a solution that would retain its strength and esthetics over time, while alleviating the maintenance and repairs that come from using traditional barriers.

The advantages of using polymer are that it absorbs the forklift impact and returns to its original shape after impact, without damage to itself or the floor.

The company worked with the facilities manager and performed full safety audits of their layout. They installed customized polymer Rack End Protectors and Traffic Barriers throughout, offering protection to their uprights, conveyor belts and machines. It was, however, the Traffic Barrier Plus, a hybrid offering the strength of a traffic barrier with the height of a hand rail, that enabled them to create walkways to outline pedestrian flow, while having the ability to withstand forklift impacts.

Netting a Winner

Carron Net Company, Inc. produces custom-designed, OSHA-compliant safety net systems for pallet rack and conveyor guard applications with load ratings ranging from 250-5,000lbs. [photo courtesy: Carron Net Company, Inc.]
In addition to heavy-duty guards/guardrails, industrial safety netting can help secure product and prevent accidents, as well. Carron Net Company, Inc. produces custom-designed, OSHA-compliant safety net systems for pallet rack and conveyor guard applications with load ratings ranging from 250-5,000lbs. Nets are individually manufactured to meet each customer’s size and load-retention specifications, with a full line of mounting accessories designed for simple installation which allow product fall hazards to be abated in a matter of minutes.

They make conveyor catch nets, which help protect employees and products for loss/damage. The tops of the nets are attached to cables with their quick loops to make the nets easy to install and easy to remove, in order to retrieve fallen product or maintain equipment. Pallet rack guards are installed on the back side of racks or in flue spaces between the racks, where regular access isn’t required. These are an economical product-retention and employee-safeguarding solution that can be customized to an individual company’s needs. They are offered in a variety of mesh sizes and load ratings.

Another option comes in the form of accessible rack guard net systems, which provide security and seismic protection, while allowing quick, easy access to product that’s been stored on racks/shelving—without impeding loading.

Barrier & containment nets can also be designed for a wide variety of applications, including nets for walkway protection/warehouse segregation, accessory nets for vehicles and more.

The Mezzgate Roly safety gate, from Safeti-Gates, Inc., is ideal for most applications and often is used for fall protection on pallet drop areas in doorways. The gate is flexible in terms of size; it can accommodate wide, deep or tall pallets, as well as be configured for multiple pallets wide or deep. [photo courtesy of Safeti-Gates, Inc.]
Gates for Protection

OSHA’s 1910.23 regulation for Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes require that on platforms 4ft or higher, a barrier be in place to guard every open sided floor, and that the barrier be in place when the opening is not in use for handling materials. ANSI’s MH 28.3-2009 in section 6.4.3 requires a barrier be in place to secure the pallet drop area at all times—even while the area is in use for handling materials. Single-barrier systems do not meet the ANSI standard.

A dual-gate system uses counterbalanced gates that, when the operator-side gate is opened, the ledge gate side closes, providing fall protection and creating a controlled access area. When the ledge-side gate is raised to load material, the operator-side gate closes, preventing workers from the ledge. The Mezzgate Roly safety gate, from Safeti-Gates, Inc., is “the original dual-gate safety system,” says the company. This model was designed over three decades ago and provides fall protection in industrial applications.

Guardrails, guards, nets and gates can help protect warehouses, people, machinery, building walls, shelving, conveyors, racks, finished product, raw material supplies, loading docks, compressors, water mains, gas pumps, electrical boxes, robotic equipment, building support columns, in-plant offices and more. A well-planned, OSHA-compliant guarding system can help bring peace of mind to everyone involved in warehouse/plant operations. WMHS