What do people think when they hear the term guard rail? Is it something on an elevated platform that prevents people from falling? Is it that low-profile metal strip that runs along the freeway? Or maybe nothing significant comes to mind? Unfortunately, the latter is often the case, especially when talking about guard rail in an industrial setting. Guard rail is one of those components in a facility that typically is not top of mind with companies, until it’s too late.
Soft federal guidelines for guard rail use have helped contribute to its low awareness within facilities, and have placed the onus for use on individual companies to implement. When used properly, guard rail can effectively protect equipment, assets and personnel in and around a facility. The key is to identify areas in need of guard rail, correctly specify it for the application and take action.
Why Guard Rail?
While industrial guard rail protects machinery and provides a safe and efficient work environment, its most important role is protecting people. Forklifts, tugger AGVs and other material handling vehicles are commonplace in manufacturing facilities, and often operate in close proximity to employees. Sometimes their paths do cross — with deadly results. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are about 85 fatal forklift accidents per year in the United States; 34,900 accidents that result in serious injury, and about 61,800 accidents that are classified as non-serious. Additionally, slightly less than half of the estimated 85 annual fatal forklift accidents occur in manufacturing facilities; of that, about 10 percent involve people getting struck or run over by a forklift.
OSHA says that most accidents could be prevented with better operator training, yet it’s still easy to see how they can occur. Many manufacturing facilities have tight lanes for forklifts to drive. If a turn isn’t executed properly, the wheels or forks could stray into a designated safe area occupied by employees or expensive equipment.
Place an inexperienced driver behind a forklift and the risks increase. Well positioned guard rail can help reduce the chance of accidents by keeping forklifts and other vehicles from entering hazardous or off-limits areas.
While there are OSHA guidelines regulating the use of hand rail and other guarding devices in facilities for structures such as stairs, mezzanines, temporary manhole covers, etc., there is no direct guidance for the use of guard rail around machinery or designated vehicle travel paths. As such, many facilities simply mark the floor for off-limit areas, travel paths and pedestrian walkways with yellow-striped tape —which provides absolutely no protection against vehicle impact. What happens if the forklift driver experiences a medical issue, such as a heart attack, or is inattentive to his surroundings due to texting on his cell phone? A yellow piece of tape will certainly not stop an out-of-control forklift.
Differences in Guard Rail
Although it may look similar in appearance, not all guard rail is made the same. Many manufacturers build guard rail to have an impact rating of 10,000 pounds traveling at 4 mph. An average forklift with a load generally weighs between 8,000–10,000 pounds. Guard rail with a 10,000-pound impact rating means it should prevent a forklift from driving through the guard rail at a speed traveling at 4 mph or less. The goal of industrial guard rail is to maintain its integrity and deflect an impact. In contrast, highway guard rail is designed to absorb and disperse an impact, which is why at an accident scene that type of guard rail is typically crumpled up.
But sometimes a 10,000-pound impact rating may not be enough. The added value that a higher-rated guard rail brings to a facility is an increased level of safety and peace of mind and something like 13,000-pound impact rated guard rail will withstand a more severe impact and offer a lower deflection rate.
For example, when a forklift strikes 10,000-pound impact rated guard rail traveling at 4 mph, it can deflect, or push back, up to 12-15 inches. When that same forklift strikes 13,000-pound impact rated guard rail, it typically deflects only 10 inches or less. A few inches may not seem that great, but in facilities and distribution centers where space is often a premium, those few extra inches mean that closer equipment and fixtures will be protected and additional manufacturing or storage space can be obtained.
The purpose behind certified testing of guard rail is to demonstrate and prove that it is actually able to handle and deflect the specified amount of weight that it was designed to withstand. Wildeck enlists the services of a registered professional engineer to oversee its testing process to preserve integrity. In testing 13,000-pound impact rated guard rail:
- Two guard rail assemblies were bolted to a 5" x 5" x 3/16" column. The base plate was 12" square and 3/4" thick; base plate holes measured 5/8" in diameter.
- The column assemblies were properly secured to a concrete floor using four 1/2" diameter x 4-3/4" long Rawl anchor bolts.
- A 12,700-pound forklift with a 200-pound driver was driven into a marked midpoint on the guard rail traveling at 4 mph.
The resulting impact showed that the guard rail did its job and successfully stopped the forklift’s forward progress. The guard rail was permanently deflected at both the lower and upper rails, but the measured permanent deflection was only 5-3/4" on the bottom rail and 4-3/4" on the upper rail. The anchors on the columns remained in place, and there was no damage to the columns in the areas of the rail-mounting holes. While both rails were damaged and would have to be replaced, both maintained their structural integrity and protected everything beyond the deflection of the rails.
A manufacturer can design and build the best guard rail in the world, but it does no good if it’s not being used. Many businesses have never had equipment damaged or personnel injured as a result of a vehicle accident and, as such, guard rail isn’t given too much thought. Of course once an accident occurs, facility managers quickly see the value that protective guard rail can provide.
That said, the importance of installing guard rail to protect people and equipment prior to an accident seems to be resonating more and more. Despite fluctuations in the economy, sales of protective guard rail have increased. One rationale is that since companies don’t have the resources to purchase new equipment, they’re looking to protect what they have, and guard rail is a relatively inexpensive way to provide that protection.
Think of guard rail as insurance for your facility and equipment and the products it produces. How much money will it cost your company if production stops for a day or more due to damage inflicted by a forklift accident? And what is the cost to cover workman’s compensation or a lawsuit in the event of an injury or death? Installing a relatively inexpensive, quality guard rail system can prevent those types of accidents and provide peace of mind knowing that equipment and personnel are protected from harm every day.Wildeck offers three types of guard rail systems, each rated to provide a level of impact protection ideally suited to meet specific safety and budget needs. For more information, visit www.wildeck.com/wilgard-guard-rail.html.