So, you’ve decided to buy a Safety Gate! Great! But you know it’s never that easy. As with any other purchase, there are questions to be answered and options to be selected. Gates, while effective, convenient, relatively inexpensive, and easy-to install, are not one-size fits all. Yes, many gates can each be attached in a variety of locations, but it’s not the size of the connection that is the issue, but rather the actual function for which the gate is needed. Let’s take a look at some of the questions you will need to answer prior to your purchase and see how the gate’s function plays into your decision-making process.
1. Why are you Installing This Gate?
You are going to need to start with the basics, and the most basic of all questions is “Why?” Why are you installing this gate? What purpose will it serve? Who will use it? Have you had problems before that have led you to this decision? Are there safety regulations that require its use? Your answer may be simple or it may be complicated, but whichever it is, it is going to help you make the proper decision.
Some of the reasons you may be installing a gate could be to control access, as a warning of an upcoming hazard, or as fall protection. Different applications will mean different gates. The difference can be something as simple as the direction in which the door swings or if there is some type of lock on the gate. Gates used for fall protection will need to be a specific height to meet the standards and must be as strong as railings are required to be. Hash out your needs before deciding what to buy.
2. Where is the Opening Located?
Where your gate will be installed will play a big part in deciding what material your gate will be made of. An indoor gate, for instance, could be made of steel and last a long time, as long as you’re not in a humid environment or an industrial environment that could expose the gate to other corrosive materials. Using it outdoors, however, could be a problem because rain and ambient humidity could cause steel to rust. Your best options for an outdoor gate will be aluminum, galvanized steel, or stainless steel. All will be corrosion resistant, with the steel options being stronger – and heavier – than the aluminum option. Galvanized is probably the most economical way to go and will achieve the same corrosion protection.
3. How Big is Your Opening?
There are different sized gates for different applications. If you are simply setting it up for single person access to a ladder, then you might need an 18” or 21” gate. If you want a two person gate, you’ll obviously need a wider one. But the options don’t stop there. You could want a mezzanine or pallet gate. These are not only a wider design, but pallet gates are configured in such a way that when opened, the pallet itself is protecting the opening. All of the gates, when finished, return automatically to their original position, whether they be vertical sliding gates, horizontal, or swing gates.
4. How Much Use Will the Area Get?
The use could determine the type of gate you want. Heavy use could call for an automatic gate that doesn’t require your employees to push it open every time they pass through. Something used less frequently may not warrant this. Either way, the important thing is to ensure your gate has been cycle tested to the ANSI standard. ANSI BS 6375-2:2009 Clause 6.5 says that a gate should be tested through 90 degrees 50,000 cycles.
5. Do You Have Industry Requirements?
While OSHA does not necessarily require safety gates to be yellow, you’re going to want them to be highly visible. If it blends into the background, it can be just as dangerous as not being there. However, depending on your industry, there could be other requirements. For instance, the food industry may be required by the FDA to have stainless steel only. It is important that you know this so that in attempting to bring yourself into fall protection compliance with OSHA, you do not take yourself out of compliance with any other regulatory body you may be beholden to.
6. Who is Doing the Install?
Safety gates may be fairly simple to install, depending on where they are being installed, but you want to make sure the person doing so is competent. Lives could depend on it. Know that if you are planning on having somebody in-house install the gates, your supplier will often offer tutorial videos or other forms of instruction to provide all the help you need. If you are even remotely unsure of your installer’s competency, pay the extra money to have it done by a professional. Don’t take chances with your employees’ lives.
7. Has it Been Tested?
In addition to cycle testing, OSHA requires that gates meet certain load requirements. You can’t assume that just because a gate is made of steel that it will meet the requirements. Springs, hinges, and stoppers could all be potential points of failure if the gate is not tested. Do not assume just because a product is commercially offered, either, that it has been tested. Ask to see the proof of testing. A manufacturer should have no problem providing this testing, as Kee Safety does in this document.
While many safety gates might look the same, there could be some key differences. Use this list to help you determine what you need so you can provide the safest working environment for your employees. Gates can be simple, yet effective safety tools. Don’t let the selection of the wrong one be the cause of a tragedy you were trying to protect against.
We’ve discussed skylights and the associated fall hazards in a number of blog posts, most notably in this article, but our point of view has always been in looking out for the well-being of a company’s employees. That perspective is necessary because, ultimately, a company is responsible for the people that work for them, as far as OSHA is concerned. The problem with this is that that’s often where building owners draw the line because skylight protection is not written into building code. If building owners don’t have employees that will have any reason to access their roof, then it doesn’t matter to them what kind of hazards exist. Yet, what they’re not taking into consideration is that their employees aren’t the only ones who might access the roof. Sometimes it’s a contractor and, rightfully so, they expect the contractor to address any safety issues they might encounter. However, you might also find yourself faced with a situation where, in a fire, firefighters might go up there trying to vent the building. These firefighters, rushing in to a blaze, will not have the time to develop a safety plan, discuss your roof situation with you, and map out what they are going to do – not if you want your building saved. In some instances, this won’t be a problem as the roof has been designed to hold a person’s weight and skylights are protected, but, to be honest, that is unusual.
What firefighters are more likely to encounter is either a) A strong roof with unprotected skylights or b) A weak roof with unprotected skylights (are we seeing a common denominator yet?). Skylights can be a critical hazard for firefighters. In fact, just last July a Denver firefighter died as a result of injuries suffered from falling 25’ through a fiberglass skylight during a response to a small, routine fire. Dome-style skylights, while still a hazard, might be visible, but other types, such as the ones involved in the Denver firefighter fatality, are designed to look exactly like the roof. Visible when illuminated from the opposite side, these panels tend to blend in to the roof otherwise. Ironically, in a fire, most would either crack or melt away, automatically venting the building and eliminating the need for the firefighters to go on the roof, but if firefighters aren’t aware they exist, they could easily find themselves falling through one.
Hopefully, fire departments are training their members to stay off these types of roofs (and it appears that in the case of the Denver firefighter, a similar “near-miss” incident just months earlier should have served as a warning, but was never shared department-wide). However, even if they do train everybody, there will always be the chance that somebody makes a mistake or rushes in without thinking. There will also always be the possibility that something like these panels are used in an unexpected place that the firefighter could not have anticipated. That’s not to mention the unprotected dome skylights. Just because they’re more visible doesn’t mean they’re safer. One trip, one backwards step without looking, one accident could send a firefighter crashing through one to their death or at least severe injury.
So, what can you do? Survey your roof regardless of whether or not you will have employees on it. Protect skylights with OSHA compliant cages or, better yet, railing (many cages designed to hold the weight of a person might not be sufficient to hold the weight of a firefighter falling on it in full gear). Invite your local fire department out to check your facility so they are aware of the hazards, particularly if you have the plastic panels so that they can instruct their firefighters that there is no need to go on the roof.
Firefighters and other emergency response personnel already put their lives on the line for us, the very least we could do is try to make it so that we’re not adding hazards to their work – that we’re not increasing the likelihood of injury or death simply because we never took the time to consider those that we depend on in emergencies.
Take a look around the neighborhood you live in. How many fences do you see? Probably quite a few, right? And, where you see fences, how many have no gates? I would venture to guess that the answer is “very few if any.” That’s because a fence is put up for a reason: to keep animals and/or people either in your yard or out of your yard. Without a gate, the fence cannot truly serve its purpose. And yet, on jobsites across America, railing after railing is erected to protect workers from falling – on roofs, on scaffolds, on all types of elevated work areas - without any mechanism to protect those same workers at the edge or floor opening from which they are accessing that work area. Why? How can railings be effective if they don’t offer complete protection? What good does a perimeter railing do if a worker can fall through the hole in which their ladder is situated?
Safety gates have been around for a long time, but for a variety of reasons, they are often not used. Sometimes it’s a lack of planning, other times it is lack of knowledge of product availability, and other times maybe it’s cost (though, if you’re spending the money to build or purchase a rail, the addition of a gate is minimal cost-wise). Whatever the reason, workers are being left unprotected and, worse yet, being given a false sense of security.
So what does OSHA say on the topic of Safety Gates. Are they required? Well, not outright. Let’s remember that OSHA rarely, if ever specifies how you must abate a hazard. What the regulations will say is that if you choose to solve it via method x or method y, then here are the requirements that method x or method y must meet. For example, OSHA provides regulations stating what criteria fall protection equipment must meet, but at no time does OSHA state that you MUST use rails, or nets, or personal fall arrest systems. The same applies here. OSHA doesn’t say you MUST use a gate, but gives situations in which a gate could be your solution and, if you so choose, what requirements must that gate meet.
Confused? Okay, here’s what OSHA says, for example, about guarding a ladderway floor opening or the access area to your platform:
Every ladderway floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a standard railing with standard toeboard on all exposed sides (except at entrance to opening), with the passage through the railing either provided with a swinging gate or so offset that a person cannot walk directly into the opening.
So, while OSHA is stating that these openings need to be protected by rails, they are stating that a gate is one way to protect the opening, the other being an offset. From a best practices standpoint, a physical barrier is always better than something that requires human diligence because humans make mistakes, humans get tired, humans get distracted. Keep in mind, if you decide to use the gate, it must offer equal protection to the rest of the railing. That means, top and mid-rails at the same heights and being able to withstand the same amount of force.
Another organization you should be familiar with, ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) addresses safety gates in relation to pallet drop areas. In ANSI MH 28.3-2009 section 6.4.3, a barrier is required to be in place to secure pallet drop areas at all times, even while the area is being used for handling materials. This means that a simple swing gate, sliding, gate, chain or removable railing is not acceptable. Only a dual-gate system would work in this situation because a barrier would remain in place at all times. Remember, ANSI are not regulations, they are guidelines. Often, OSHA will consider them best practice or industry accepted practices, but unless they are incorporated into the OSHA regulations by reference (or into the regulations of the state agency under whose jurisdiction you fall) they are not law. However, when a standard exists which is safer than what you are doing, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to meet that standard because in a court of law, you would need to be able to defend why you didn’t follow the recommendations of an organization as well-known, and widely referenced as ANSI, if their methods might have prevented an accident at your facility or site.
Safety gates are an easy to install, easy to use control that leaves very little room for human error. They do not hinder productivity or work quality and will help keep your employees, inspectors, contractors and visitors safe. A small investment keeps you compliant and your employees free from harm.
Go to You Tube, search any topic, and you’re bound to come up with videos showing what you’re looking for. Fall protection situations are no exception. With a little searching, you can find videos showing good examples of fall protection, bad examples of fall protection, complete lack of fall protection, or even videos which appear to show fall protection saving the day.
Appear to. I say this because, on the surface, the lives and well-being of workers are preserved. There is no discrediting this. But, sometimes, that isn’t the whole story. Let’s take the following video for example:
Here we have a couple of workers who have climbed a scaffold in order to cut away a piece of steel. Steel falls, hits the scaffold and knocks it over, but the men are saved by their harnesses. And there was much rejoicing.
But wait, let’s take a closer look at this video from start to finish, because I have some serious concerns.
1. How well was this planned?
Okay, sure, we’ve got harnesses, lanyards, and an anchor point that apparently worked, but why did this piece of steel strike the scaffold in the first place? In the video, you can clearly see a tag line of sorts tied around the piece of steel they are cutting – all the way to the right. When the piece falls, there is nothing on the left to help pull that steel away from the scaffold. The right side is already cut, so when the side they are currently cutting gets weak enough, the beam falls away. The tied side stays away from the scaffold as intended, but in doing so, causes the left side to crash back into the scaffolding. If somebody had taken the time to look at the situation, this should have been readily apparent.
2. Sometimes doing the bare minimum isn't enough...
I have to make some guesses about scaffold dimensions here because I obviously can’t measure it, but OSHA regulations say that any scaffold 4x higher than the least base dimension must be secured to the structure. Judging from the height of the men, I’m going to say those are 6’ high sections of scaffold, 3 bays high – totaling 18’. I’m going to assume the least base dimension is 5’ for arguments sake, front to back. So, in order to be in compliance, if the scaffold was 20’ or more in height they would be required to have it secured to the structure. Fine, they have not reached that point so they are compliant.
But look at the work they’re doing. Wouldn’t it be prudent, knowing you will be dropping steel to the ground, to take as many safety precautions as possible? Why NOT secure the scaffold just in case something like this were to happen? In the safety world, we cannot base our preparations only on those things that are definitely going to happen, or even those things that are likely to happen, but on the actual worst case scenario.
Now, I do understand that this is a steel beam with a lot of weight. Perhaps if the scaffold was secured to the structure it still would have been torn from its anchors or, if the anchors held, it might have broken into pieces. Who knows? But what we do know, is that without it, the scaffold was quickly and easily toppled.
3. What now?
Ahhh. Now, here is the one that concerns me the most. What now? Judging by the gentlemen that enter the frame at the end of the video, there isn’t much of a rescue plan in place. While everybody is straining their arms patting themselves on the back at how well the personal fall arrest systems worked (and they did, again, I am not taking away from that), these workers could start to experience suspension trauma at any moment (as written about here). Suspension trauma can occur in in a matter of minutes and, while everybody was happy to see that nobody fell, the suspended workers are in the process of losing a leg – or even their life. Now, in this particular video, the scaffold doesn’t go too far away. Maybe the workers will be able to right themselves so they can wait to be rescued without danger, but maybe they won’t be able to. Maybe in another minute, that scaffold falls away completely. There is no way to know. In other scenarios, that scaffold could have crumbled to the ground or the suspended worker could have been knocked unconscious, rendering him incapable of helping himself in any way. Rescue plans are of the utmost importance. Just saying, “We will call 911” doesn’t always resolve the problem. They may not be able to get to you or may not have the equipment and training needed to perform a rescue. A great way to rescue the workers in this situation would be via a boom lift, but I’m going to assume that if they had a boom lift present they would have cut the steel from it (since the body of the machine at ground level could have been kept far away from the falling steel). If no lift is available, these people are left to devise a rescue plan in a matter of minutes while the workers’ lives literally hang in the balance. No pressure.
Now, I don’t want to look at just the bad. Again, the men seem to be properly wearing their harnesses. The lanyards quickly arrest the fall, keeping the workers from experiencing more force to their body than the allowable MAF and they seem to have chosen a suitable anchor point that didn’t come crashing down around their heads. This is all good, but if we only look at the good, we learn nothing. Plan ahead, determine if the OSHA regulations (a bare minimum) are enough to protect your workers, and be ready to rescue them in the worst case scenario because, as is evident by this video, sometimes the worst case scenario does happen.