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Four Principles to Ensure Protective Guarding is Used Correctly

By: Aaron Conway, Contributor

A custom-engineered Roly safety gate that is power-operated, double wide and double deep. Image courtesy of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc.

Look around the facility you are working in; it’s likely filled with equipment found in many material handling operations: storage systems, racking, conveyors, fork-trucks, AGVs and more. Within all of the machinery is also some kind of protective guarding or barrier. Is the protective guarding being used correctly? If not, the guarding or barrier can become a hazard itself, go unused, and not provide the intended protection. Risk for employee injury is just as great as having no equipment at all.

This issue of safety equipment becoming a hazard becomes a greater issue when it comes to ROI. Initial costs of protective guarding can be high, depending on the complexity of the facility and the number of areas that need to be secured. However, the cost of not having the safety equipment in place is much greater; costs can add up: fines from OSHA, the potential for the facility to be shut down for a period of time, costs for legal teams and damage control on the corporate reputation. These potential costs outweigh any cost for safety equipment.

By ensuring the protective barriers in your facility are being used correctly, you will not only be protecting the most important asset of your company, employees, but also your ROI. Here are four principles to guide you to ensure protective guarding, like safety gate systems, will be used correctly.

Ensure The Fit & Quality

First and foremost, it is important that you choose the right safety equipment for the application. Ensuring you have the right design for your specific application will help to increase the ROI of your investment.

Make sure you review the proper OSHA regulations and your application. For example, OSHA’s Walking Working Surfaces Rule mandates that all elevated work platforms of 48 inches and higher be protected. In the instance of pallet drop areas on elevated platforms, dual-gate systems are the best way to ensure compliance, and there are many models to choose from.

The fit of the safety equipment will also depend upon a number of factors, including the application, location within the facility, climate and usable space in the area. Your application or space within the area may call for a custom-engineered design or use of specific material.

Another point to keep in mind is the quality of the equipment. What may appear to be the most budget-friendly design may end up being the most expensive if the equipment is not used properly or is easily damaged by daily use. Look for something well-constructed and ask about any preventative maintenance needed to keep the equipment operating properly.

Operate Ergonomically

In most material handling environments, employees are working long hours and often moving material from the pallet drop area to conveyors or racks in other parts of the facility. Workers are often required to lift heavy items, move heavy loads, reach above or below to grab or place items, and more. These movements are often repeated throughout the day.

Repetitive motions can increase an employee’s risk for injury; they can also contribute to fatigue, another factor for injury. Equipment should be installed to reduce the effort and strain on these employees and to make the process as ergonomic as possible. Safety equipment that requires no effort by the worker, such as a loading dock gate that automatically closes when the truck drives away, rather than rely on the worker to slide a barrier back into place, can help ease the risk for injury.

Automate & Communicate

A Rack Supported High Pallet Pivot model. Image courtesy of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc.

The way materials are moved through facilities has changed at the same rapid pace as the machinery used throughout the building. Processes are more automated, and some of the picking is now being done by robots.

However, the rise in use of robots will not replace real employees any time soon. Facilities rely on people to work throughout the building on various applications, some on ground level and some on elevated levels. That means safety equipment like protective guarding continues to be a necessity in material handling environments.

Technology, like power operation, can not only help with ergonomics, but also allows the protective guarding to communicate with other plant equipment and software. For example, controls and sensors integrated with power operation on safety gates can send an AGV 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.

When you add power and technology to protective guarding, it is also important to utilize built-in safety features like photo eyes to 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.

Train & Maintain

While safety systems should be intuitive, they are often not used properly when the orders and picking activity increase. Demonstrating how to operate all protective guarding to each employee helps to ensure workers will properly use each piece of safety equipment they encounter. Discussing safe practices while working on an elevated platform – knowing how and when to operate the safety gates on elevated pallet drop areas, for example, can ensure they can move about the ledge safely.

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. This can help prevent accidents, and keep employees safe on the job.

Lastly, ensure the safety equipment is maintained properly, and at any sign of showing wear contact the manufacturer or team within your facility to make necessary repair. If the equipment operates at a high capacity, make sure to check hinges and other connections on a regular basis. Equipment can only operate properly if it is in good condition. WMHS

Aaron Conway is the President of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc., which can be found online at www.mezzgate.com.

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