Elevated Workplaces Should Be Gated Communities

Access gates add safety to the convenience and space efficiency mezzanines provide.

Mezzanine areas provide extra staging and storage space in warehouses and distribution centers, where space is at a premium. Often located nine feet or more above the ground floor, mezzanines can also present a serious hazard to workers who must access freight delivered or stored at this level.

OSHA standard 1910 Subpart D stipulates that employers must provide protection for personnel on walking-working surfaces — which include any surface higher than four feet above the ground floor. Many mezzanine areas are surrounded almost entirely by railing; however, for loads to be successfully delivered, this railing must contain a gap wide enough to allow freight onto the platform — and this section cannot contain a permanent guardrail.

Mezzanine safety gates play an important role in industry, protecting personnel as well as maintaining OSHA compliance. While some may be tempted to use a simple chain rope strung across the railing gap to satisfy OSHA's requirements, a rope serves more as a visual warning than an effective means of protection. Personnel may lose balance and fall over the chain or onto it — potentially breaking the barrier due to the weight applied, making it an insufficient solution.

If a lift-out gate is used instead, the barrier is more stable but still exposes the worker to an unprotected ledge. An additional concern with both these solutions is avoiding the hassle of removing and replacing the rope or gate each time a load is delivered. An operator may purposefully leave the gap unguarded, presenting a critical risk.

Why a Gate?

A mezzanine swing gate installed within the railing gap can provide more effective personnel protection. The most operator-friendly and safe design opens only 90 degrees in one direction — toward the operator, rather than off the ledge — and features a self-closing design. However, this arrangement still requires the employee to approach the very edge of the mezzanine to open the gate, placing them at risk. In addition, if the prior person who accessed the mezzanine mistakenly left the door unlatched, the next worker could be exposed to a hazardous situation.

Pivot-mount

A pivot-mount mezzanine gate eliminates the risk of an open gate. This gate mounts directly beneath the mezzanine platform and replaces a single door with two cage-like enclosures that pivot on a central hinge, with a fixed framework on each side of the pivot mount. When the enclosure nearest to the edge of the mezzanine is lifted to allow load delivery to the platform, the second enclosure is resting on the mezzanine itself — effectively blocking personnel from accessing the load and possibly falling.

To access the load, the operator lifts the second enclosure, and the gate pivots so that the initial enclosure rests on the mezzanine floor. The operator can then step beneath both enclosures to access the load safely, without exposure to the mezzanine ledge.

Operators cannot bypass this gate and cannot be exposed to the mezzanine ledge, making it ideal for satisfying OSHA and insurance requirements. In addition, it is easy to use, since operators open the gate independently of handling the load. These gates are often painted “safety” yellow and may feature a durable, all-welded design that makes them ideal for withstanding harsh industrial and chemical environments.

The pivot-mount mezzanine gate is not suited for every mezzanine area. Because it consists of two enclosures, it consumes several square feet of mezzanine floor space. At times, space is at such a premium in these areas that the required square footage cannot be spared — either due to other equipment located within this area or stored goods that consume a majority of the available space. Plus, a pivot-mount gate only allows access to the front of the load. Side access, which is required for some loads, is not possible with this style.

Clear-aisle

A clear-aisle mezzanine gate provides a low-profile design ideal for mezzanine areas with space constraints. This gate consists of two posts, 10 inches deep, mounted on the mezzanine ledge. A three-sided “corral” between them is approximately 60 inches deep. A sliding gate on the drop side by the ledge facilitates load delivery. When the sliding gate is up, the corral rests on the platform, thus protecting people from falling. Once the load is delivered, this framework is manually raised over the operator's head, thereby closing the sliding gate and blocking access to the mezzanine ledge. The overhead design allows the operator access to the load and work area on three sides and reduces the risk of obstructing nearby equipment or storage items.

Customization

Sometimes gates must be customized to meet specific application requirements. A pivot-mount gate may be designed so that the raised enclosure reaches a lower-than-standard height, making room for low-hanging ceiling beams or sprinkler heads. The framework of the gate itself may also be extended to accommodate larger loads or higher product stacks, as well as to work around any tanks or machinery installed in the mezzanine area. This allows simple delivery of many material loads — including material that may be used on-site to fill these tanks or other machinery on the mezzanine, while ensuring operator fall protection.

Gate construction may also be customized to withstand challenging application environments. For instance, a gate with a powder-coat finish can be used in areas prone to corrosion, while stainless steel gates can be a sanitary solution in food and beverage areas.

Whatever the industry, properly designed mezzanine safety gates and well-trained employees can make for a safer workplace.

Laurie Benko is sales manager for Benko Products, a provider of mezzanine safety gates and other industrial solutions.

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