Mezzanine, Platform & Pick Module Fall Prevention
Methods to help make elevated work areas safer
Mezzanines and other work platforms increase usable space in warehousing, manufacturing and fulfillment operations. That added floor space can sometimes make the difference between relocation or continuing to build on the foundation you already have. When companies install vertical storage platforms, the hustle and bustle of a busy working day can turn safety processes “soft” – a kind of soft that might lead to a very hard and very expensive landing. Here are some ways you can reduce issue with work platform falls.
Just how protected are your workers when on a mezzanine or pick module?
Most mezzanines have railing – hand rail, guard rail, mesh panels, etc. – but is your mezzanine truly safe? Can the railing withstand significant lateral forces before failing – say, 200 lbs. of side way pressure? How about the height – is it tall enough to keep someone from tumbling over the top rail? Those are the two most common ways handrail or guard rail fails to protect workers on a platform or second level over 4 feet high. Folks fall against the rail and it either can’t withstand the lateral pressure, or the railing is too short and they go right over the top rail.
Now, what about loading areas on a mezzanine? Simple gates, whether hinged or sliding, are not enough protection. It’s all too easy to get involved with the loading and unloading and step right off the mezzanine edge and fall onto the forklift or equipment and materials below, if you’re lucky enough to have something break your fall before hitting the floor.
Stairs should have handrails. It’s a good idea to have railing across the stair opening on a mezzanine to help prevent tumbles from the top of the platform. Same with ladders – they should have safety cages if the top rung of the ladder is more than 6′ high.
What are the right safety rails to use?
For general protection at the mezzanine edge, railing should be at least 42″ high with a mid-rail and toeboard to prevent materials from being kicked over the edge and to obstruct the opening between the top rail and the mezzanine floor level (you don’t want anyone falling through the opening below the top rail). Also, it should be sturdy enough to withstand a lateral force of 200 pounds point load with a 50 pound-force per linear foot load.
For loading and unloading bays, access gates should block edge access from the mezzanine level while materials are being raised to or lowered from the mezzanine. Once the load is in place or has been removed, the gate should be such that it closes off the mezzanine edge as access is gained to the load. In other words, the edge is not open to someone at mezzanine level at any time. There are a wide variety of gates that fulfill those requirements – but be sure you understand how they operate before you buy. Some gates do a better job than others of protecting that open edge.
Stairs and ladders should have a gate at the top-most access point to prevent accidental falls into the stair or ladder opening – whether the opening is at the mezzanine edge or at some inner point. If at an inner point, all sides of the opening must have protective railing.
Pick module safety
Pick modules can be two, three, even four levels high — much taller, and potentially deadlier than a mezzanine. Safety gates, rails or picker protection arms are recommended for any pick module application you have in mind. The video below provides a good overview of this type of application and how it can be inexpensively protected:
Anyone can see there’s a drop-off, right?
Wrong. Even your most conscientious workers can lose their depth perception when focusing on an activity near the edge of a mezzanine. It happens all too frequently (According to the 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 605 workers were killed and an estimated 212,760 workers were seriously injured by falls to the same or lower level. Not all of these falls were mezzanine related, but elevated work platforms are among the hazards). People can step off the edge, not realizing they were that close to a fatal step. They can sub-consciously move out of someone’s way and forget there’s only air behind them.
Protect your workers and don’t take any chances with the risk of falling. There are too many statistics showing just how common falls from heights are, and too many injuries and deaths on record to make you complacent about the level of safety you provide.
Safety railing, gates and other measures won’t protect someone who is determined to circumvent them, but these systems will help protect workers who are just trying to do their jobs right.
- Niosh: Fall Prevention Home Page
- OSHA Guard Rail Standards
- OSHA Standards: Guarding for Platforms and Stairways