Shelf Containment System Nets Confidence, Productivity

Donna Muniz’s job is to keep employees working safely in one of cosmetics giant L’Oreal’s (Piscataway, N.J.) production plants. But for Muniz, being a safety health and environmental manager is more than a job; it’s a mission that follows her wherever she goes, every day.

Safety was at the top of Muniz’s mind after hearing of a tragic accident in a nearby automotive distribution facility. A lift truck operator, retrieving a pallet from a high shelf, inadvertently dislodged a pallet on the shelf behind it. The unseen pallet fell from its shelf, and struck a man working in the adjacent aisle. The injury was fatal.

As Muniz says, “Can you imagine being the one who has to tell a family they lost a husband or father or son, because of an accident at work? I wouldn’t want that job. I can’t let that happen.”

Taking Action Muniz’s immediate reaction was to call a safety meeting with all the lift truck drivers. She wanted them to know about the fatal accident that had occurred in their own neighborhood and to understand how the accident happened and recognize the importance of due caution in the warehouse.

Muniz also knew that the real key to preventing a tragedy was to make the warehouse environment as safe as possible. She researched several possible solutions for racking security systems. She also began accepting quotations from prospective suppliers. None of the proposals she saw were completely satisfactory, though. The problem was still on her mind when she traveled to Florida to visit family. On a chance visit to The Home Depot there, she noticed a heavy-duty plastic netting that the store had installed behind its racks. The netting was visibly different from the systems she was considering. Muniz took the initiative to track down the store staff who could tell her about it.

The inquiry led her to Industrial Netting (Minneapolis). The company specializes in producing industrial netting, mesh and tubes for a wide range of applications. It offers specialty plastic meshes designed for uses as varied as filtration components to pest control to scrap metal containment. Most recently, the company had introduced its RackGuard product, specifically for the safe containment of warehoused goods.

RackGuard is an engineered thermoplastic net, or grid, made from high-performance polymers to produce the high-tensile strength and dimensional stability necessary to protect warehoused goods from falling. As an extruded mesh, Rack- Guard achieves a significant savings in material, compared to knotted netting, and can also be cut easily to any size.

A system was designed that combined the RackGuard plastic mesh with steel pallet stops that, in effect, create a vertical rail system standing off three inches behind the shelves. The plastic mesh attaches to the pallet stops and, together, they offer a superior containment at a comparable cost.

Netting and rails prevent pallets from slipping off the back of the racks.

With the RackGuard and stops recessed back from the racking, a conventional 48-inch pallet has room to balance evenly on standard 42- inch-deep shelves. The stops prevent pallets from pushing material off the shelf in the row behind, while the RackGuard netting ensures that loose items can’t fall into the next aisle or into the flue area between racks.

RackGuard’s high-tensile strength polymer material is immune to dents and corrosion. It has exceptional dimensional stability, so it holds its shape well after absorbing impacts. The zip-tie connectors that attach RackGuard to the pallet stops are as strong as the mesh itself and help to distribute impact loads evenly. In comparison, the security provided by a steel grid is only as strong as the screws drilled into the racking.

With more than 6,000 linear feet of 20-feet-high racking, the L’Oreal warehouse is a large and extremely busy facility. Because the focus of the plant is production, not distribution, the warehouse is constantly challenged to keep up with maintenance needs with minimal downtime. “When production needs the space,” Muniz says, “we have to keep it clear!”

After the installation was complete, the warehouse staff was still on Muniz’s mind. “After our meeting about the death in the other warehouse, you could see a difference in how they did their jobs. But, now, I can see their confidence in the facility is back. Our lift truck operators say that loading and unloading pallets is a bit easier now. They tell me that they feel safer with the new containment system in place. And, they feel like L’Oreal management really does care about their safety.”

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