Three Trends in Safety for Fall Protection
By: Aaron Conway, Contributor
Did you attend the 2023 ProMat Show? If you were there, you already know that the material handling industry is continuing to grow and change rapidly. Being on the ProMat show floor was exhilarating; booths featured robots in many forms, forklifts and AGVs, software demonstrations, equipment and machinery for facility operations and so much more.
As we went through the week at the show, many common themes about safety and fall protection emerged. The trends move beyond facilities growing larger and adding more storage for material. Here are three trends we discussed quite a bit, and we expect them to be hot topics throughout the year.
Fall Protection is a Top Priority – It’s Not Only for Employees
While it’s obvious that attendees would come to our booth for fall protection solutions, many people we spoke with had harrowing tales of walking through a facility and almost being hit by a product falling from a pallet drop area above. Products are often contained by guarding made of netting that is used within storage rack systems, but often pallet drop areas have space for products to fall from upper levels, even when a safety gate is in place. Accidents that cause products to fall can happen—for example, the palletized material may not be wrapped, or a pallet jack may jostle products as it is moved into place.
This issue of products falling is not a new one; the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2021 recorded 227 employee fatalities due to being struck by falling objects or equipment in the United States. We were also contacted for a solution due to an incident from a customer well before heading to ProMat.
One solution to keep material from falling from pallet drop areas is adding a product containment option to a new or existing dual-gate safety system. When netting is added to the ledge gate of a fall protection system, it will not only prevent employees from falling from upper levels, but also contain products. Remember that any netting systems on the pallet drop safety gates must compact into the system to ensure the pallet loads don’t get caught up or cause netting to tangle.
Automation, Automation, Automation
Automation continues to be important in material handling and warehousing facilities for a wide range of reasons, including making processes more efficient and increasing the speed in which products move through the system. The ProMat show halls were filled with all kinds of products and tools to help bring automation to fruition in many facilities.
Safety products like our pallet drop gates can also be automated; adding technology can not only help to improve efficiencies, but it can also help to make some of the handling activities by employees much more ergonomic. For example, our dual-gate safety systems are often manually operated, and the movement is assisted by counterbalancing the two safety gates. By adding power to one of our dual-gate safety systems, forklift truck operators can send a signal to the safety gate to let it know the ledge gate should open so the pallet drop area can be filled. It can then send another signal when the material has been loaded for the safety gate to close the ledge gate and provide a fall protection barrier while employees pick from the pallets. The gate movement is done completely automatically, requiring no effort by the employee to move the gates in and out of place.
If your safety systems are not under power quite yet, consider looking into retrofitting safety gates with commercial power motors. Photo eyes and other sensors can be added to add extra safety measures and help the safety gate system communicate with other equipment in the facility.
Robots Won’t Replace People Quite Yet
Looking around the show floor, it seemed robotics of all kinds were on display; at a quick glance one could assume that these robots were going to take up all of the jobs humans have in busy material handling facilities. That is not the case, at least for the near term.
However, robots and humans are working in tandem in many material handling facilities, including in pallet drop applications. Pallets are often loaded from automated vehicles, and then employees often work to move the pallet loads for picking. Many facilities are moving to pallet drop areas that are multiple pallets wide or deep, which can help keep the employees separated from robots and vehicular traffic. Another trend is back-to-back picking aisles, which helps employees pick from both sides, but also narrows the aisles, leaving little room for safety equipment. Fall protection is always a must when employees work around pallet drop areas in elevated structures, and custom designed safety systems can be created for these elevated bays that have more extreme dimensions.
While it’s not a shiny new concept, safety for employees—especially those working at heights—will continue to be a very important issue within material handling and warehousing facilities. Make sure you are keeping employees safe within your facility, and if you have questions about how to make sure people and products are protected, reach out to your equipment providers to learn more. WMHS
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