Adding mezzanines can be a relatively inexpensive way to nearly double your warehousing area. However, they bring with them a number of safety challenges. Many solutions are available, some of them generally more expensive than others, and some safer overall than others. This article should help you to think through the pros and cons of the different types of gates so you can make the right selection for your particular situation.
We just tie-off…
A lot of businesses choose to use an active system, such as anchors for tie-offs because of convenience or cost. However, the requirements for using an active system are very different from a passive fall protection system like a Mezzanine gate.
Active systems can be easy to use incorrectly. That’s why employees must be specially trained and scheduled for regular renewal of training. In the instance of using lifelines while trying to unload and move product on a mezzanine, it’s also easy for the lines to become entangled in the product causing loss of productivity and potential hazards.
Additionally, active systems need to be inspected and re-certified annually, they have to be engineered by someone trained and certified as an OSHA “Competent Person,” and you must have a well thought out rescue plan in place.
These are just a few reasons we believe a mezzanine gate is going to be safer, more productive, and less expensive in the long run.
The simplest and most common type of mezzanine gate has to be the horizontal opening gate. This type of gate functions as a piece of your guardrail system when closed, and when you want to open it, it simply rolls back along the ground leaving a gap for loading and unloading. One of its advantages is that if an especially wide opening is needed for your application, it can be pretty straightforwardly customized to accommodate.
However, this design does have its safety drawbacks. For example, while it’s open, if a worker should get too close, it’s the equivalent of having no railing system or protection of any kind; just a sheer drop! The same danger arises if workers take short-cuts and begin unloading pallets before closing the gate, or if a worker thoughtlessly walks alongside the danger zone while she’s rolling the gate open manually.
Limited Real Estate
The vertical gate is perfect for locations where you don’t have enough space to accommodate a horizontal opening. This type of gate raises to allow the offloading and then lowers again. In general the price is a little higher for the vertical gate over the horizontal gate, but not by much.
The design has some of the same safety drawbacks as the horizontal gate, in that while it’s open, workers who are too close are in danger; and this can be especially true for opening and closing a vertical gate manually. For increased safety you may like to opt for a powered system that workers can operate from a safe distance.
This type of self-closing safety gate is actually pushed open by the pallet as it’s being offloaded onto the mezzanine, and then springs shut when the pallet is removed. This is also a time saver as the forklift operator can push the product through without needing a person to operate the gate. Additionally, in general, it’s the least expensive solution you can implement.
The only potential safety drawback occurs after product is removed, because if the empty pallet itself is not also removed it will hold the gate open. These kinds of potential safety hazards can be dealt with by making sure your employees are properly trained.
Always Closed = Always Safe
The dual gate is ideal for pallet loading and unloading. It has two gates that operate in tandem: while one is open, the other is closed. This mezzanine gate is the safest for your workers in that it leaves so little room for error. While the pallet is being loaded onto the dock, the worker is behind a closed gate. When the worker opens the gate to get to the pallet, the opening on the edge of the mezzanine is automatically closed off.
These gates can be a little more pricey than some of the other solutions, but, as they say, you get what you pay for. The dual gate allows workers to confidently work faster and harder without endangering themselves because the safety factor is automatic.
However, the dual gate is not always ideal. Because they are a custom fabricated product, the lead time may be a little more than what you want to deal with (generally somewhere around 8 days). Additionally if you need an opening wider than around 100 inches, you may need to consider a different solution.
According to OSHA, fall protection hazards are the number one violation they have to deal with. Making sure your workers are safe on the mezzanine is one way you deal with those hazards before any problems occur.
By Peter Kavia
CAI Safety Systems
Peter has been a safety expert for almost 20 years and is certified as a Qualified Fall Protection expert. He currently holds the title of Director of Operations for CAI Safety Systems, a custom turnkey fall protection company in Southern California.