Keeping Distribution Center Employees at Heights Safe During the Holiday Rush

Guest blog by Aaron Conway from MHI Member Company Mezzanine Safeti-Gates

The holiday rush has already started; distribution centers have gotten ready for the accelerated push of products — some never stopped due to the pandemic. Material handling facilities are extremely busy, fulfilling millions of orders each week.

Distribution centers often utilize several pick modules in their operations where staged pallets are picked by an operator at the ledge, and empty pallets and totes are staged for removal. To meet fall protection industry standards and regulations, as well as to keep employees working on the upper levels safe, it’s imperative that the proper safety solutions are installed.

Space can be an issue in pick modules – every inch is considered as material moves through. Freestanding safety structures may not work for pick modules in busy distribution centers, be-cause products, equipment like conveyors and employees take up every inch of working space within the rack bay. Space concerns are not a valid reason to forgo employee safety, however.

If a freestanding structure would take up too much space and disrupt operations in a pick module or other rack supported system, safety gates can attach directly to the rack uprights, picking up a few inches of space in the bay width and staying clear from the picking aisle. In addition, the gates will not lag into the decking on the upper levels which might not be able to support that extra weight. That extra space can make a big difference in the pick module operations; for example fork truck drivers can place pallets easily into drop areas, and provide room for the operators to pick from the pallet.

A dual-gate system also kept employees safe on the upper levels of the module. When the ledge-side gate is up for the fork truck drivers to deposit pallets, the rear-side gate blocks employees from the ledge. When the rear-side gate is raised so employees can pick from the pallets, the ledge-side gate is closed, making a barrier and protecting employees from falling from the ledge.

Some busy multi-level distribution centers may choose to equip safety gates with power operation and the technology to interact with AGVs that are loading and unloading material to pallet drop areas on elevated work platforms. Safety gate systems can be designed to communicate with vehicles in this process, and equipped with sensors to allow the AGV to determine if the ledge gate of the safety gate was open or closed. In addition, photo eyes can be added to detect workers loading and unloading the pallet loads from the AGVs ensuring the ledge-side gate is in place when it detects workers on the platform.

During the holiday rush, temporary employees may be working in the distribution center to help keep up with demand. It’s extremely important to not only ensure the employees know the proper safety protocols and how to operate the equipment, but also that safety is as automatic and ergonomic as possible. Temporary – and permanent – employees may be tiring faster with the extra product and overall fatigue of the season. Added features like power operation and sensors can make the safety process more automatic and ergonomic. We wish you a productive and safe holiday season in your facility.