ProGMA Pioneers Pick Module Safety

The Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA) has published a blog to supplement its latest video on safety at pick modules. The video can be viewed at mhi.org/progma/videos. 

Here at ProGMA, we have produced a series of educational videos on protective guarding equipment in the material handling industry. ProGMA members provide fixed protective guarding products to protect personnel, equipment, and inventory in industrial facilities. A variety of such items are designed for installation at pick modules, which are multi-level structures typically constructed out of pallet rack that allow multiple pallets of product to be stored, broken down, picked, and packaged into specific orders for shipping.

Our video is targeted at end users, system integrators, material handling warehouse design consultants / engineers, distributors, and safety professionals in manufacturing and distribution centers in the material handling industry, as well as students studying the sector. Many household and industrial goods we interact with every day were once stored or passed through a pick module. At the distribution centers of companies like CVS Pharmacy and Rite Aid Corporation, for example, goods are stored before being repackaged and shipped to individual stores.

As the 2:23min-long video says at the outset, pick modules can have several elevated levels of materials that are handled by both automation and personnel. Although everything in the material handling industry is becoming more automated, separation of full stored cases into smaller, individual shipments is still being completed manually. The size of pick modules has been increasing over the years; in the past, you may have seen a floor plus one level system, then a floor plus two levels, and now it is not uncommon to see three or even four elevated levels. This increases potential hazards.

As the video continues, it is of paramount importance that proper guarding is used from the ground up to protect structures, the product they hold and, most importantly, the people working within and around them. Rack upright columns can be difficult to replace and costly to repair because often the area has to be closed off, product has to be removed, and multiple sections need to be disassembled. These components are all dependent upon one another, so if one part fails, the entire system can fail.

The video highlights three “easy and affordable” solutions:

  1. Free-standing pallet rack column protectors
  2. Post cushions
  3. Bumper guards

However, ProGMA members offer a variety of products for ground-level protection including guardrails, bumper guards, column protectors, bollards, rack guards, and product containment enclosures  (i.e., wire mesh or netting); and for upper-level protection, such as side and back product containment enclosures (wire mesh or netting) to prevent products from falling below.

What does ANSI say?

The video continues, and quotes American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 6.4.3, which states that “…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 or leave an unprotected opening in the guarding are not acceptable.”

However, it is important to note that there are many mezzanines that were installed before the ANSI standards were created that used more conventional gates, such as removable, sliding, or swinging systems—and that is the same for pick modules. Systems can be retrofitted to achieve conformity with current standardization. There is no grandfather clause for ANSI (or OSHA) so all systems whether new or old should follow their guidelines. Note that many of the protective guarding products found in the video and on the ProGMA site are easily retrofittable to these older systems.

As the video stresses, only dual-gate systems should be used. The same gates used on a pick module are also the preferred method for securing all elevated pallet drop areas whether they are in pick modules, on mezzanines, or on elevated work platforms such as storage or production / blending areas. The ANSI standards that recommended the use of dual-gate systems were written specifically for elevated work platforms and since a pick module is a type of elevated work platform that should be applied.

The video demonstrates how a dual-gate system uses two counterbalanced and interconnected gates that are configured so when the first gate at the ledge is open, the second gate behind the pallet is closed. Fixed guarding on the sides—often the frame of the pallet rack in a pick module—prevents access into the side of the areas. This allows material to be loaded into the area while keeping employees a safe distance from the ledge and the material. When the rear / operator gate is opened, the ledge gate automatically closes, maintaining a barrier at the ledge while the pallet is accessed and picked. This creates what ProGMA calls a controlled-access area so there is always a barrier between the worker and the ledge.

For information, ProGMA members that manufacture such solutions include Mezzanine Safeti-Gates Inc., Wildeck, and Heartland Engineered Products. Although companies still provide swing gates for pallet drop areas where a single pallet is loaded and staged, they are not an acceptable solution according to ANSI and could potentially create a situation where they are in violation of OSHA code.

 

A self-closing swing gate, also featured in the video, should only be used when integrated with pallet flow lanes where multiple pallets are loaded into the system. The pallet flow lanes are pitched so the pallet rolls into the storage area. This allows the gate to immediately close once the pallet is loaded.  By comparison, when used for a single pallet position without flow rails, the staged pallet would hold the swinging gate open, preventing it from closing.

For securing multiple deep pallet flow lanes, a dual-gate system is the preferred safety method because not only does it make sure a barrier is in place all times for fall protection, but it also keeps people out of the pallet flow lanes when pallets are being loaded. The two types of incidents we see in these areas are falls from the ledges and pallets being pushed into the legs of employees who have entered the lane. Only the dual-gate system keeps people out of the lanes when the lane is being loaded. The self-closing swing gate, however, does secure the ledge for fall protection.

Hand in glove

Oftentimes, a safety aspect can be used to increase productivity. For example, the self-closing swinging gate on pallet flow lanes will allow pallets to be quickly loaded into the system. Any time the lift truck operator wants to load a pallet into the area, they just push the pallet through the swinging gates. The dual-gate system has the potential of the gates being in the incorrect position for loading, meaning that the ledge gate is closed when the lift truck is trying to replenish pallets into the area. So they can go to load but a barrier is in place preventing them from doing so.

A user can power operate these gates for remote operation but often this isn’t feasible due to the number of areas. Manual operation can actually create a safer and faster environment. The position of the gates in a dual-gate system can be used as a signal between the picker up on the platform and the lift truck operator below. In other words, when the ledge gate is closed that means the picker is picking from the pallets or the area doesn’t need to be replenished.

When the picker has finished in that bay or when they notice the pallets need to be replenished in that bay, they just manually close the gate near them, which opens up the ledge gate. Now the lift truck operator can look up and see which areas are safe and ready to be replenished. This is an example of a safety system helping communications among the different workers.

In conclusion, it’s evident that, despite automation, people remain at the center of activity in and around pick modules. ProGMA and its members are a one-stop-shop for leading safety solutions, whether it be for preventing hazards associated with falling boxes, product, or workers; or structural protection of the system itself from impact. As the video serves to reiterate, even in automated systems there are still people moving around the facility, either on ground level or on the elevated levels. Even if people are not used for the picking of material, there are areas where empty pallets or totes are removed that need to be guarded.

The product-centric video doesn’t feature specific brands, but free-standing pallet rack column protectors, post cushions, and bumper guards are available from ProGMA members including Adrian’s Safety Solutions, A-Safe USA, Bluff Manufacturing, Boplan, DamoTech, Folding Guard, Husky Rack & Wire, Heartland Engineered Products, Jesco, McCue, Slowstop Guarding, SpaceGuard Products, Steel King, Troax, VisiPlas, Wildeck, and WireCrafters.

Costs range from inexpensive, light-duty products to more expensive, heavy-duty solutions. Importantly, talking with the manufacturer about the application will help source the right product/s for the facility. No two pick modules or applications are completely alike and that’s what the member companies of the ProGMA are here to help with.

The ProGMA website—mhi.org/progma—features details of 22 member companies and hundreds of solutions to help companies with older systems find protective guarding solutions to update / upgrade their pick module system.

See the latest video and others in the series at mhi.org/progma/videos

Should you be using a ProGMA member to enhance the safety and productivity of your pick modules?

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.