Often, when safety professionals begin discussing railings, it’s in relation to working at heights. Many of us can rattle off how high each rail needs to be, how much force the rail needs to withstand, and when a toe-board is needed, but fall protection isn’t the only time railings are useful in the world of safety. One of the main reasons we see rails in use beyond fall protection, would be in warehouse and manufacturing settings to provide a physical barrier between human foot-traffic and heavy equipment, like forklifts, or other dangerous machinery. These pre-manufactured ground-based rail systems are now readily-available from a variety of vendors and have become more cost-efficient in recent years, as well as easier to install.
Warehouse and manufacturing floors can be very perilous places for people distracted by their work and visitors unfamiliar with daily operations. Between the constant buzz of forklifts and the ability to unknowingly approach dangerous machinery, physical barriers can play a vital role in the well-being of anybody on the floor of your facility. Rails can keep people where operators expect them to be, which is critical in avoiding accidents, even with the safest of drivers and operators, and can provide that extra level of safety when a driver drifts to one side, wants to squeeze by another forklift, or cuts a corner too tight (all of which should not be done by a properly trained forklift operator, but these things do happen in the real world). Many facilities employ the use of painted lines on the floor to direct foot traffic, but even if pedestrians voluntarily obey these restrictions, the painted stripes do nothing to protect people from mishaps that can occur when mobile equipment is passing by. In addition, the high-visibility colors of the rails can provide a safety reminder to everyone on the floor on a constant basis.
And, while we tend to think of rails for the role they play in directly keeping people safe, they protect people indirectly as well. Manufacturing floors, warehouses, and other facilities have many systems and materials that, if damaged by a forklift, for instance, could put a number of lives in danger, aside from the fact that the operator him/herself could be critically injured. From electrical equipment to steam and other pressurized lines to hazardous materials, a facility can be filled with potential dangers that affect nobody until released or encountered during an accident. A simple railing could be the difference between safe operations and an accidental collision that puts many at risk.
Though it was earlier noted that rails are important for reasons other than falls, facilities like these may potential for falls unlike the ones we’re discussing when we talk about 20, 30, 40 foot (and more) construction fall hazards. But falls don’t need to be high to be deadly, lower fall hazards are still fall hazards. Loading docks are a prime example. Workers are often at the edge – guiding trucks in, waiting to unload, waiting to jump down to chock tires, etc. – exposing themselves to falls. Or, sometimes a slight change in elevation of concrete is nearly invisible to somebody not specifically looking for it. A simple miscalculation can send a person off the edge of a loading dock or work platform or a forklift off the side of a ramp if no curb exists. Why not install a bright yellow railing to keep your drivers and other personnel aware of their position at all times?
Understandably, the idea of a permanent railing doesn’t always seem like the best solution to people involved in operations. A barrier isn’t always seen as a safety barrier. Sometimes a barrier is seen as a barrier to production, causing unnecessary extra travel for people, equipment, or product. If permanently installed, barriers may very well – in certain circumstances – hinder work. However, if they’re not permanently installed, are they actually helping? Luckily there are a number of products available that make the use of railings much more palatable to operations managers. Some manufacturers produce railings from which you can quickly remove individual members or sections allowing for easy pass-through when necessary. While a chain could be sufficient to temporarily block off access to a loading dock that’s frequently used, what about the one that is almost never used? Perhaps a rail is a better solution, if it’s one which can be removed fairly quickly on those rare occasions when that bay is utilized.
With quick setup, varying lengths, and accessories like self-closing gates, rails are a versatile safety solution customizable to almost any situation. They offer more protection than painted lines and chains, and don’t allow easy pass-through like spaced bollards. Consider your work and the potential danger your employees’ face when walking through your facility to see if rails might be the solution you’ve been looking for – or maybe even a solution you weren’t even aware you needed until now.