Make Safety a Key Aspect of Mezzanine Design, Use
Contributor: Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA) of MHI
Safety on and around mezzanines in distribution centers and warehouses should always be a prime consideration in design and use of the elevated platforms, and more so as the facilities get larger and higher.
Where facilities commonly had a floor level and one or two upper levels, three- and four-level systems, and higher, are now more common. In those larger systems, the hazards get more significant. You don’t want someone falling anywhere, and certainly not from the higher levels that we are now seeing.
OSHA and ANSI standards establish what safety elements need to be included in the system design, such as safety gates at pallet drop areas, railings, toe boards, bollards and other accessories. Per OSHA regulations, a barrier must be in place to guard any opening on platforms elevated four feet or higher where employees work, and gates must be closed when material is not being loaded or unloaded. ANSI guidelines suggest safety features on platforms three feet or higher, and state that fall protection should be in place at all times during operation, even when pallets are being loaded.
Safe use of a mezzanine needs to be part of the early planning process, so you can properly establish loading requirements, safe equipment access and safe access to any part of the system by personnel.
Get input from all parties, including people who will be working on the systems. Take your designs to the workers who will be using the system all day, and say, “Here is our plan, what do you think?” Those workers will give some very good insights on how to incorporate safety features with the least negative impact on productivity.
Containing Product Falls
The safety elements are not just to protect people from falling, but also to prevent products from falling and getting damaged, or injuring someone during the fall, which are especially a concern on high-level systems. That’s where netting or steel containment panels come into play, as well as fencing or railing to keep people away from machines that could present a risk of injury.
“There’s no better investment than in safety equipment. Its return is priceless!” says Chuck Goettke, Project Manager for Steel King’s NexCaliber Structures.
Along with the OSHA and ANSI standards, the industry group ProGMA is a great resource on safe design and use of elevated platforms, and they both note that local codes also might affect design as it relates to safety.
Practicality is another consideration. The key in terms for anything for safety is that you want something that’s not complicated – you don’t want something that requires such an effort to use that people might ignore it. You’ll find that manufacturers who are part of ProGMA work hard to design products that, once in place, you don’t have to worry about them being effective.
The current labor shortage could also be a factor in safe operation. With new people coming in all the time who might not have the experience, expertise and training hours to be in that type of warehouse or distribution center environment, you want to make sure your work environment is safe without needing an exorbitant amount of training.
Updating Older Systems
Mezzanine safety standards evolve, sometimes well beyond the design of existing structures. Updating those older systems is often possible and recommended. Some safety systems may be more permanently incorporated into the mezzanine structure, which would make them difficult to alter, but other designs use standalone units that could be easily relocated if need be.
“If you are looking to update safety systems in your facility, the ProGMA’s checklist can be a great tool,” said Aaron Conway, President of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc., ProGMA Member Company “The checklist offers solutions for each area in the facility. It’s always a good idea to consult with an expert when designing or retrofitting systems because they may recommend something you hadn’t considered, such as adding power operation to safety equipment like pallet drop gates, which can speed up production and help protect workers from ergonomic injuries.”
Retrofitting can be prompted when someone with a safety background comes into the company and recognizes hazards. Or, unfortunately, it’s when an OSHA inspection triggers the need to change or, in the worst-case scenario, when someone gets injured.
Retrofitting can be challenging. It could be a sprinkler line that you wish was just over one bay, or if there is building column, or there is an egress right next to where you are loading pallets —which isn’t good in terms of the stairs and such —you really want to separate those things. It presents its own set of challenges, but if you have someone who knows what they are doing, someone who can do custom engineering, you can work around some of those configurations. Sometimes it does take saying something like, “Hey, we have to move this pallet drop area over …to free up some space, and that type of thing.” WMHS
Want to know more about the Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA) members, standards and resources? Visit https://www.mhi.org/progma.
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