Fall Protection in Pick and Pallet Flow Modules

Guest Blog by Aaron Conway from MHI Member Company, Mezzanine Safeti-Gates Inc.

Most distribution centers utilize rack modules in their operations in order to maximize storage space and operational efficiency. Rack modules can be designed in a wide variety of configurations depending on the applications. Often these configurations require space for workers to pick from the pallet drop areas throughout the rack structure, or to stack empty pallets and empty totes into open bays.

A dual-gate safety system is now a standard in the industry for fall protection. The dual-gate design creates a physical barrier between the picker and drop area as pallets are loaded into the area by a lift truck, and then between the ledge and employees while the pallets are picked. While dual-gate safety systems will maintain a safe environment for employees at all times; there are are number of considerations to make before choosing the right model for your facility.

Because we’re talking about integrating with a rack-module, the existing bay size determines the width of the gate, but you’ll need to decide on the depth and the height that is required. The safety gate needs to be deep enough to accommodate the pallet without being so deep that it projects too far into the picking aisle. With a standard 48” deep pallet, the safety gate should provide a minimum of 56” in clearance to provide room to load the pallet into the area. Because most uprights are only 48” deep, often the safety gate will extend beyond the upright, either back into the picking aisle or into the lift-truck aisle with a platform extension.

The safety gate should be made tall enough to accommodate the tallest pallet with some room factored in for fork truck lift-off space, and to allow pickers room to enter the bay to work the pallet, without being too tall that the raised gate is difficult to reach. Sometimes a beam may need to be removed to provide adequate height. Many dual-gate systems that are both free-standing and rack-supported can be power operated with remote radio frequency controls.

Another point to consider is rack supported or free standing models. Rack supported safety gates attach directly to the existing rack uprights instead of being lagged down into the decking. The rack-supported model has three main advantages over a freestanding model: (1) space savings, (2) more secure connections and (3) cost savings. By utilizing the existing pallet racks for support, the rack-supported model takes up a minimum amount of space in the rack bay, gets tied into the entire rack system and uses few components.

Pallet flow lanes are often installed over upper levels pick module rack systems and have been traditionally left unguarded because workers are not supposed to enter the lanes; instead they are instructed to pick from the pallet while standing on the platform. Reality, however, shows employees often enter these lanes to retrieve a dislodged item or square up a pallet or simply because they can. This exposes them to being hit by a new pallet entering the lane, as well as to falling from the upper level.

Because this positions the worker directly in front of an opening in the floor (and to prevent small items from falling off of the pallet), the lanes are often decked over. This solves the issue of loose items falling off the pallet, but it does not secure the employees from the opening in the floor, it simply moved this opening to the beginning of the lane. Given there is an egress on to the lane and a ledge above ground level, the flow lane should be guarded. In addition, since a pallet can be pushed into someone standing in the ledge, the guarding should be configured that no one can enter the lane while it is being loaded. Dual-gate safety systems are needed to provide fall and injury protection for pallet flow lanes.