On Guard: Simple Warehouse Barriers for Protecting People and Products
Using the right type of barrier can make your warehouse a much safer place to work.
Each year, more than 110,000 workers in the United States are involved in forklift-related accidents, and every three days a worker is killed in one. OSHA estimates that 70 percent of these accidents are preventable (learn more in Forklift Safety 101: Tips for Preventing Forklift Fatalities).
There is a relatively simple solution to many of these accidents: barriers.
Barriers can also prevent other common warehouse accidents, and they prompt employees to be more aware of their surroundings.
There are a variety of barriers available. In this article, we’ll outline the best options to manage the most common warehouse risks.
Why Are Warehouse Barriers Necessary?
Warehouses tend to have an inordinate number of hazards, many of which can cause serious injuries and fatalities. More than 80 percent of forklift accidents involve a pedestrian, and these often occur in warehouse settings.
Some of the most common and dangerous warehouse incidents include:
- Lift trucks colliding with racks, causing product or the racking to fall
- Workers pinned between forklifts
- Workers pinned between a forklift and a wall or rack
- Workers struck or run over by a lift truck
- Workers or forklifts falling off open loading docks
It’s not hard to see how barriers can help mitigate these risks. So, let’s delve into some of the different types of barriers you’ll find in warehouses and what they are best used for.
Sometimes situations arise where you need protection, but not permanently. Portable barriers are perfect for these applications. They secure a temporary hazardous area from pedestrian interference, though the fencing isn’t usually strong enough to prevent heavy machinery from entering the area.
They’re lightweight, easy to install, and flexible in shape (since the fencing simply goes around the posts you set up), so you can use them in just about any area inside or outside the warehouse.
When to Use It
Use portable barriers to keep pedestrians out of a temporary hazardous area or away from warehouse machinery that is being inspected.
Forklift Barrier Gates
Loading docks are one of the most dangerous areas of a warehouse, and an estimated 7 percent of forklift accidents involve a lift truck driving off a loading dock.
Barrier gates are generally made of steel and are set at forklift height. They can withstand impact of up to 10,000 pounds moving at 4 mph, which prevents both people and lift trucks from getting too close to the edge.
Gates may be raised manually or by an electrical controller after workers have confirmed that a truck is at the dock and it is safe to approach.
When to Use It
Use forklift barrier gates to provide employees with a visual cue that a loading dock is empty and to restrict access to the empty loading dock or a parked trailer.
While painted lines on the floor can provide guidance for people and forklifts on the move, they do nothing to actually prevent accidents.
Pedestrian barriers provide a clearer visual indication of where the pedestrian walkways are and offer physical separation between pedestrians and heavy machinery and lift trucks. If a forklift driver makes an error or loses control of the vehicle, pedestrian barriers will absorb the impact to prevent damage to your product and injury to your workers.
When to Use It
Use pedestrian barriers to designate pedestrian-only areas, mark pedestrian walkways, and separate forklift traffic from pedestrian traffic.
Rack End Protectors
Rack end protectors prevent forklifts from making contact with storage racks.
Even slow-moving forklifts can cause a fair amount of costly damage if it hits warehouse storage shelves. This can compromise the structural integrity of the racks, damage the forklift, and cause product to fall unexpectedly – potentially hurting any nearby employees.
When to Use It
Use rack end protectors to ensure forklifts and other warehouse vehicles maintain a safe distance from pallet racks.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, bollards are sturdy, relatively short, vertical posts that can be installed throughout warehouses to help increase safety. They may be fixed in place or removable for temporary protection. Since they are standalone posts without gates, people can move through them, but vehicles cannot.
When to Use It
Use bollards to prevent warehouse vehicles from leaving designated areas and to protect critical areas in the warehouse, like building supports, power supplies, conveyors, and dock doors (learn about 4 Major Forklift Hazards Near Loading Docks). They can also be used to signal areas where employees should use extra caution.
Warehouses are hot spots for safety hazards and accidents, but they can be made a lot safer with the proper use of barriers.
Take the time to learn about your options and design a barrier system that works for your warehouse and your workers. Chances are good that you’ll be rewarded with fewer incidents, a stronger culture of safety, and some cost savings.
Written by Jessica Barrett
Jessica is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. She specializes in creating content for nonprofits and has written for organizations working in human rights, conservation, education, and health care. She loves traveling and food, speaks Spanish, and has two dogs, one of whom she rescued while living in Mexico.
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