Safeguard Employees, Equipment with Protective Guarding

Barbara T. Nessinger, Chief Editor

Protective guarding can help prevent accidents and increase a warehouse’s productivity and bottom line. (photo courtesy A-SAFE)

Warehouses, on any given workday, share space with people, equipment and product inventory. Because all of these components are being moved almost constantly, the risk of accidents—to people or equipment or product—is increased. Protective guarding can help prevent such accidents and increase a warehouse’s productivity and bottom line.

Protective guarding refers to anything that helps preserve the longevity of a facility and its existing infrastructure, including the people within it. Protective guarding varies, based on the type of facility that requires fortification (i.e., retail, distribution or manufacturing facility). Such guarding includes barriers designed to segregate people from machinery or dangerous areas. Barriers serve to protect employees, inventory, support structures, racking, machinery, vehicles and even the warehouse’s structural elements (walls, doors, docks, etc.).

Barriers designate where walking is safe and where moving equipment might be. A barrier can help to better direct traffic flow, so vehicles can efficiently collect and deliver goods without crossing into walkways. Barriers also prevent unnecessary contact with equipment and facility structures. Protective barriers are typically installed to designate the edges of pedestrian walkways and paths for moving equipment (like hand trucks and forklifts) by separating work areas from travel areas; essentially setting off space around equipment and along doorways and walls within warehouses.

Forklift truck impact is one of the most costly and common warehouse accidents. To provide a safer environment for both pedestrians and forklift drivers, appropriate barriers can be installed. These may include pedestrian barriers with gates, column protection, rack guards, dock rollers and curb barriers, as well as traffic barriers. Pedestrian barriers can help reduce vehicle-pedestrian crossover and also clearly designate vehicle routes as separate from pedestrian walkways. Gates can be fitted into walkways at “safe crossing” points. Colum protectors can be installed near a structure to help absorb impact if vehicles should stray.

Barriers and Bottom Line

Spending money for barriers and on occasional repair of damaged barriers can potentially save a company thousands of dollars. The cost of installing barriers depends on their design, mounting and material composition, but any assessment of how long barriers will last must take into consideration what type of abuse it will be subjected to. The environment into which they are placed dictates what type of barriers are needed and what materials will be most effective and last the longest.

Investing in the proper barrier solutions to protect warehouse equipment, product and personnel is always the smart move. When one considers the separate costs of injured employees, damaged product or damaged equipment/vehicles (think increased insurance premiums, lost wages, training costs, late shipments, replaced product, vehicle/equipment repair, etc.), there is no doubt that installing the proper protective guarding is cost-effective.

Materials used to make barriers include steel, plastic or other polymers. All are designed with the goal of deflecting and protecting—deflecting moving equipment and protecting the area or structure it guards. The type of material used depends on many factors, and each type has its own advantages. The material’s ability to absorb or deflect impact; it’s rigidity or flexibility; and how it is able to dissipate an impact’s force should all be considered when installing a barrier. In addition, mounting is important to how a barrier withstands impact.

Specific barrier types include column protectors; bollards, hand rails and dock rollers; double- and single-rail barriers; parking/traffic barriers; impact barriers; pedestrian barriers; slide, lift and swing gates; and mezzanine and rack barriers. When selecting barriers to be installed, thing to consider include: mounting and anchoring styles, facility temperatures, product strength, electricity needs, barrier offset requirements, required height and length, the weight and speed of moving objects; and whether lights/audible signals are needed. Many polymer/rubber mixtures can accommodate varying temperatures, for example.  WMHS