Your access and fall protection solutions should offer flexible safeguarding and customization options.

Solving Vehicle and Warehouse Fall Hazards

Your access and fall protection solutions should offer flexible safeguarding and customization options.

With hundreds of fatal injuries and thousands more non-fatal injuries reported every year due to falls in the workplace, selecting and implementing the appropriate access and fall protection equipment is crucial to maintaining worker safety and productivity. Fall risks exist in a broad range of industries, including chemical processing, marine, utilities, refining, pharmaceuticals, food processing, oil & gas, water and wastewater, and more. For instance, in applications where liquid or dry materials are entering or leaving a facility, such as a manufacturing or chemical processing plant, a fall risk occurs when workers are required to get on top of the transport vehicles for loading and unloading processes.

Typically, vehicles that require the use of access equipment (such as isotainers, tanker trucks, and railcars) are as tall as a multi-story building, making any falls highly dangerous or even deadly. Therefore, understanding the various fall protection and access equipment, as well as their features and benefits, enables facility managers to ensure the appropriate level of protection for any application without hindering work. For additional application suitability, access and fall protection solutions should offer flexible safeguarding and customization options.

Multiple Solutions for Hazardous Situations
Access and fall protection are not "one size fits all" solutions. To accommodate diverse safety needs and application specifications, there are multiple solutions available, including gangways and safety bridges, loading racks, platforms, and more. Each application -- including tank trucks, railcars, and mezzanines -- should be fitted with access and fall protection solutions that are ideal from both a usability and safety standpoint.

Tank trucks are large vehicles used to transport a wide variety of materials, such as cement, gasoline, or industrial chemicals. They typically require access and fall protection equipment to make loading and unloading procedures safer and more efficient. Loading racks are easy to install and feature heavy-duty construction, making them ideal for outdoor applications.

With advancements in construction and design, loading racks are now less susceptible to breakage. If installed incorrectly, traditional, slotted mid-rail designs could easily break when force is applied, resulting in new safeguarding concerns. Loading racks with an innovative, telescoping mid-rail design can be selected to alleviate this concern. The telescoping mid-rail is easier to install and flexible enough to prevent breaking when subjected to force, ensuring sufficient fall protection.

Gangways and safety stairs also provide superior and customized access and fall protection for tank trucks. Primarily used to load and unload tank trucks that have a standard platform width, gangways can be equipped with an optional self-leveling hoop and can be mounted off the side of a platform with flush mount brackets. Standard gangways are designed for top loading or inspection installations, where the vehicle is located at a fixed position from the platform. These gangways provide an ideal solution when the working range, which is limited to the level of the platform and the vehicle being serviced, is within 15 degrees above or below the platform height.

Safety stairs specifically designed for applications that require access to the tops of vehicles are equipped with non-skid self-leveling grip strut treads for additional protection. Safety stairs are engineered for applications where the working range exceeds angles greater than 15 degrees above or below the platform height. They also feature handrails mounted on each side and an optional enclosure. Safety stairs give workers greater mobility while optimizing safety and stability.

Platforms are also used to increase flexibility and safety, offering everything from single-manhole protection to a structure that allows protected access to the entire length of a truck. For instance, elevated platforms designed specifically for tank trucks provide railing fall protection for all of the top ports. For applications where space is limited or for those that do not allow the use of permanent truck-loading platforms, portable platforms provide safe access and a stable, reliable loading area that promotes productivity in diverse applications. Additionally, to minimize downtime for repairs or routine work, portable platforms can serve as a temporary stand for maintenance work.

Railcars are vehicles that operate on a rail transport system and can be used to transport cargo or passengers. Typical loads hauled on rail cars range from liquids to gases and hazardous materials. Because they often exceed heights of 15 feet and are found in various shapes, railcars present an unstable work surface, which results in a high percentage of fall injuries every year.

As with tank trucks, implementing gangways, safety stairs, and loading racks can combat risks associated with railcars. With multiple customizable features in terms of material, flush or pivot mounting, side-track, and more, these safety solutions can be tailored to meet the access and fall protection needs of diverse railcar applications.

Further, given the inherent dangers associated with working atop railcars, gangways and safety stairs compensate for the elevated workstations by allowing users to easily manipulate them, reducing the amount of energy necessary to position them. They feature simple, compact tension spring balances, so moving the equipment is virtually effortless, requiring only a slight push or pull to position them for safe access. This is particularly ideal for railcars; stationary railcars often are passed by speeding trains on adjacent track, which creates excess wind that increases workersh' instability.

In addition to the above-mentioned equipment, lifeline systems can be used with railcars to provide additional protection when workers require mobility on the vehicle itself. Featuring durable steel cable supports, lifeline systems are designed to provide safe access and continuous fall protection to any operator requiring horizontal mobility. This promotes productivity while ensuring safety.

A mezzanine is typically a semi-permanent, intermediate structure between the ground and first floor. Within industrial environments, mezzanines are generally an area designated for loading, removing, or accessing materials between floors of a warehouse.

Mezzanines require moving loads between stories, and thus they present a significant risk of falling while placing or accessing goods in the mezzanine loading area. Therefore, to simultaneously enhance worker safety and improve production, heavy-duty mezzanine safety gates reduce the potential for falls and other accidents associated with mezzanine loading areas. Plus, unlike conventional swinging gates, mezzanine safety gates are engineered to preserve loading space.

Operating by automatically protecting the hazardous ledge while workers are present in the mezzanine loading zone, mezzanine safety gates allow employees to work unimpeded while preventing falls. When the ledge gate is open, loading areas are easily accessible by material handling equipment such as forklift trucks. Once a worker lifts the loading zone entrance gate, the ledge gate is automatically lowered, allowing the employee to access the materials while simultaneously guarding him from falling. Using mezzanine safety gates allows materials to be loaded or unloaded in the mezzanine and workers to safely, efficiently access and move materials within a facility.

To accommodate a variety of mezzanine designs or specifications, these industrial safety gates meet strict OSHA regulations and are available in a variety of styles to suit virtually any protection need. With options such as pivot gates, swing gates, and clear-aisle gates and offered in customizable lengths, these solutions can suit even the most challenging applications.

Protection with Flexibility and Longevity
Fall and access safety risks are numerous and diverse, which means most facilities face more than one hazard. For instance, a single company could be working with tanker trucks one day and the next day be loading isotainers, which are standardized, reusable steel boxes that are loaded onto another transportation device, such as a truck or freight train, for safe, secure storage.

To accommodate versatile risks, access and fall protection equipment must be flexible. Adjustable-reach gangways, for instance, allow operators to easily access vehicles of varying heights and lengths with ease. The extendable portion of the gangway can be manually initiated and securely locked into place.

Slide-track designs also promote safety versatility. By gliding along a slide-track carriage enabled gangway, operators have access to the entire length of railcars and trucks. Offered in custom sizes and moving left to right, slide-track enables users to access rail cars and trucks that have been misspotted. Given that railing extended upon this entire length would be impractical, the slide-track carriage features built-in swing gates that are 3 feet wide and feature the top-rail, mid-rail, and toe plate design that meets OSHA requirements. This arrangement is ideal for accessing vehicles with a single dome; for those that feature three domes, the slide-track is offered with a platform that moves along the track and features a safety hoop at the end to provide fall protection and facilitate access to all three domes.

In addition to flexibility, access and fall protection equipment must offer durability and longevity to ensure reliability in applications with minimal margins for error. Further, because the equipment lasts longer, even under the most demanding conditions, facilities increase the return on their investment. Prior to implementing a solution, facility managers must take their environment into consideration and select a solution that is durable enough to withstand extreme rainfall and/or high winds, such as for areas prone to hurricanes or tornadoes.

With numerous materials available, including carbon steel, aluminum, fiberglass, or a custom fabrication with a combination of each, access and fall protection can meet virtually any application specification. Aluminum is lightweight, making it ideal for applications where an extendable safety bridge or similar manually adjusted equipment is required, and it will not rust under ordinary use. However, for application environments where substances such as HCl or acid are used in the loading process, the aluminum should be galvanized or epoxy-coated to prevent corrosion.

Comprehensive Safety Solutions
Proper workplace safety continues to be a primary concern in any facility. In addition to promoting safety, facility managers are focused on increasing efficiency in order to reduce downtime and maintain high levels of productivity. Selecting access and fall protection equipment with advanced features and flexibility to suit multiple application needs through a single solution provides a cost-effective, comprehensive approach to safety that can adapt to a company's changing needs while still ensuring high-quality protection.

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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