The Importance of Proper Safeguarding for Elevated Work Platforms, a ProGMA blog


Thursday, July 13, 2017

To complement a new educational video, thought leaders representing the Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA), an MHI product group, discuss the importance of protecting personnel, equipment, and inventory in industrial facilities.
 
ProGMA has recently launched the second in a series of videos about the importance of protective guarding products in the material handling industry. The video titled “Proper Safeguarding for Elevated Work Platforms” followed the inaugural, educational video titled, “Essential Safety Barriers for Automated / Robotic Workcells”. (http://www.mhi.org/progma/videos)
 
Here, representatives of member companies expand on the themes explored within the latest video in the group’s first blog.
 
Before we start, says Arlin Keck, corporate research and development engineer at Steel King (a manufacturer of pallet racks, mezzanines and guardrails), it’s important to clarify what we mean by “mezzanine” in this context. “The technical term for what my company and other members make is work platforms. Mezzanine was an old term for these systems; however, the word mezzanine had to be dropped because mezzanine, as defined in the building codes, refers to a specified type of floor within a building structure and carries with it added requirements for fire safety, egress, parking, and so on,” Keck explains.
 
A typical work platform is design to support the site-specific load that will be placed on the floor, be it palletized loads, pallet jacks, foot traffic, work equipment, filing cabinets, racking or shelving units, to name just a few possibilities.
 
Keck says that the main purpose of an elevated work platform is to add additional floor space into a building or room by taking advantage of surplus ceiling clearance that may exist in a warehouse or manufacturing facility. Aaron Conway, president at Mezzanine Safeti-Gates Inc. (a manufacturer of safety gates to secure the ledges of pallet drop areas on mezzanines and rack picking systems), says, “A company that has utilized all of its ground space can build upward. An elevated platform allows one to use the space for workflow or to store product.”
 
As Hue Schlegel, director of marketing at Wildeck Inc. (a manufacturer of mezzanines and work platforms), puts it, “Move up, not out.” He adds, “Depending on the available height in a building, platforms can be one, two, or three levels high, with the most common height being 10 ft. top-of-deck and supporting a floor load of 125 lbs. per square foot. Their length and width are only limited by facility size.” Importantly, he explains, they cannot occupy more than two thirds of a fire-rated area within a building.
 
Keck says work platforms are also used to create catwalks between separated platforms, and to serve as sortation and conveyance areas for mechanized systems. Conway agrees, adding, “Companies that supply elevated work platforms can fabricate them in virtually any configuration. They can be designed to accommodate specific workflow operations or to fit with existing structures in the building.”
 
Industrial buildings are getting bigger and elevated work platforms are scaling up with them. Say, 50 years ago, facilities were much smaller and ceilings lower so there were fewer requirements for elevated platforms. Further, the equipment to load at such heights didn’t exist. Now, the capability of equipment is greater and taller structures are being utilized as a result. Within them, work and storage takes place on multiple levels.
 
These multi-level work platforms present a danger of personnel and objects falling from height.
 
As the latest video warns, the pallet drop area of elevated work platforms can lead to accidents if the ledge is open without adequate guarding. Falls to lower levels cost employers $5 billion annually in compensation claims in the U.S. alone. OSHA reports that it costs on average 16 lost working days per injured employee.
 
Conway says, “Falling from an elevated level, whether it be people or products, is a serious danger and both should be addressed proactively, securing the situation before an incident occurs.” Schlegel adds, “The worst case, of course, is death; while the best scenario is that a worker survives a fall from the typical mezzanine height of 10 ft. sustaining only broken bones, fractures, and other injuries from hitting the concrete floor below. It is a serious matter not to be taken lightly.”
 
Traditional railing or guarding systems are effective at preventing falls from height as long as they include a kick plate that is installed in conjunction with ANSI MH 28.3-2009. Adding netting or expanded metal and safety products to traditional railing systems provides added protection by capturing small objects that might otherwise fall into the work area below.
 
OSHA Standard 1926.502, meanwhile, requires paneling or screening where tools, equipment, or materials are piled higher than the top edge of a toe-board or kick plate. ProGMA members also manufacture both netting and wire mesh panels that comply with that standard.
 
However, David Brentz, chairman of ProGMA and vice president of member company Industrial Netting (a manufacturer of plastic netting), says, “That’s only a minimum requirement; added protection is financially prudent. The cost to install netting or wire screens around the perimeter of an elevated work platform pales in comparison to the cost of a single lost time accident. ProGMA members offer several simple, cost effective solutions to protect employees below loose objects that may fall or be kicked off work platforms.”
 
Conway says, “In the past, properly guarding a pallet drop area or installing netting or wire was something that would be retrofitted, either after an incident occurred or after someone pointed out the issue. Designing proper safety guarding for the structure at the time of purchase makes for a much better fit; when retrofitting, there is often insufficient room for proper guarding and concessions have to be made. But, it is important to note that even if proper guarding wasn’t designed with the structure, it still should be installed. There are companies in the ProGMA that can customize solutions to fit these areas.”
 
He continues, “Don’t confuse luck with judgment. If I visit a facility that was built, say, 20 years ago, I’m sure to find open pallet drop areas or insufficient guardrails. Just because these areas have been around for a while isn’t a reason not to properly secure them. I’ve heard the line, ‘Well, we’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and nobody has gotten hurt’. To that I say, ‘You’ve been lucky!’”
 
Schlegel says, “The biggest safety risk is when a forklift access gate on mezzanine is left open creating a fall hazard for someone off-loading a pallet at the upper level. There are many products, provided by ProGMA members, that prevent the gate from being left open or that keep the operator at a safe distance, which should always be installed.”
 
ANSI says, “Any gate that provides an access opening through the guards for the purpose of loading and unloading material onto a work platform shall be designed such that the elevated surface is protected by guards at all times. Gates that swing open, slide open, or lift up, leaving an unprotected opening in the guarding are not acceptable.”
 
Dual gate systems such as a rolling gate ensure that the operator is separated from the ledge as well as the load. A pivoting gate ensures the operator is never exposed to the ledge and does not require him or her to walk near an open ledge to operate the gate.
 
Unfortunately, sometimes it can take an incident and a facility to be shut down during an investigation for companies to understand the serious financial consequences of a workplace injury. There are many other companies that understand the risks and proactively secure their work areas. These diligent companies end up ahead in the long run:
1. They typically get better solutions because they had the time to design them correctly;
2. They get a better price because they can take their time and research the solutions;
3. Safety solutions are in place before they need them.
 
Conway concludes, “The large majority of people don’t want to get hurt and are not acting recklessly on the job. Typically, they are performing a repetitive operation, and in their process miss a step or push something too far and someone gets hurt. Proper guarding should be in place to prevent injury if this happens.”
 
About ProGMA
The Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA) members are the industry’s leading suppliers of fixed protective guarding products designed to protect personnel, equipment, and inventory in industrial facilities. Member companies meet regularly to review, discuss, and revise the standards for design and performance of protective guarding products used in the material handling industry. ProGMA member companies are committed to the development, maintenance, and publishing of industry standard specifications for these systems. Visit the website at http://www.mhi.org/ProGMA 
 
About MHI
MHI is an international trade association that has represented the material handling, logistics and supply chain industry since 1945. MHI members include material handling and logistics equipment and systems manufacturers, integrators, consultants, publishers and third-party logistics providers. MHI offers education, networking and solution sourcing for their members, their customers and the industry as a whole through programming and events. The association sponsors the ProMat and MODEX expos to showcase the products and services of its member companies and to educate manufacturing and supply chain professionals. http://www.mhi.org
 
Contact
Anupam Berry Bose
abose@mhi.org
704-676-1190