In 2014, there were 4,679 worker deaths. That’s 13 people dying every day – mainly from falls. The unfortunate truth is these kinds of deaths are alarmingly common. The good news is they are also largely preventable with proper safety equipment. Previously, we covered many of the most common situations when fatal falls may occur, and in this article, we’ll discuss one of the best tools for preventing falls: safety gates.
It is important to remember that this is just a starting point to cover basic information. For more details about the rules and regulations surrounding proper safety gate usage, please refer to the official OSHA website.
What’s a Safety Gate?
This might seem like a silly question, as almost everyone will have some kind of idea what a safety gate should be. However, there are very strict OSHA regulations about the form and functions of a safety gate.
Here are 3 important things to check so as to ensure your safety gate meets all necessary safety requirements before you make a purchase.
First and foremost, the gates must be solidly built. A second-rate safety gate that is made from inferior material won’t keep anyone safe. Gates should be solidly constructed – meaning no hollow arms on the gate. They should be made from durable metals, such as steel or aluminum.
Additionally, gates should also be resistant to corrosive materials. There are different ways to achieve this, such as galvanized steel or protective powder coating. Both methods will safeguard the metal from scratches to keep it structurally sound. Lastly, gates must be rated to hold at least 200 pounds of downward pressure on the top rail and should be installed so that the top rail is at 42 inches above the work surface +/- 1 inch with a mid rail at 21 inches. This will keep workers safe even if they lose their balance and fall into the gate.
2. Automatic Closing
This is an incredibly important feature of a proper safety gate. There are many cases in which an injury or death is the result of improper equipment usage, such as simply failing to close an open gate. It doesn’t matter how solidly-built a safety gate is if someone forgets to close it. A self-closing gate removes the chance for human error and lessens any possibility of a fall injury or death. The gate should be able to open and swing in both directions, and the closing action should be powered by stainless steel torsion springs.
3. Universal Attachments
Finally, the gate must be easily attached to a variety of structures. A proper safety gate will be easily attached to squared- or rounded-uprights, as well as directly onto a wall. Many safety gates are also designed to work together with other safety equipment, such as roof hatches, railings, and toeboards.
Sizing is also especially important. Safety gates come in a wide variety of sizes to keep workers safe in any number of situations. Take care to measure all openings to ensure you buy a properly-sized gate. This means the gate covers the entire distance it is intended to protect and that it also swings easily without hitting other rails or obstructions while leaving enough distance to prevent pinching. Some manufactures gates are adjustable, so be sure to follow instructions on how to properly size and adjust the gate to fit the opening required.
Situations Requiring a Safety Gate
Now that you know what to look out for when investing in a safety gate, here are some of the most common situations that can be dangerous if not adequately secured.
1. Floor Openings and Ladders
It is an absolute no-brainer to use safety gates around raised platforms and ladders. This is so important that it’s the very first thing on OSHA’s list of regulations for walking and working surfaces. Any walkway raised more than 4 feet off the ground (including stairways) requires railings, openings, and safety gates. Similarly, entrances to ladders must be protected by a gate to keep a person from unknowingly stepping into the hole.
2. Pedestrian Traffic and Security
While your workers may have an eye for the dangerous areas at your work site, those who are visiting or walking by it may not. This is another key function of safety gates. People are generally very obedient when it comes to observing safety guidelines, but only if they know about them first. By placing safety gates in key areas, you can prevent a pedestrian from putting themselves in harm’s way. It also provides security by clearly labeling where the public should or shouldn’t walk. Seeing someone inside a safety gate they shouldn’t cross is a big signal that something dangerous could happen – either through ignorance or mischief.
3. Machine Guarding
While machine guards might seem more like covers because of their sliding safety glass components, they are an important subset of safety gates. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study from 1992 to 1996 demonstrates how dangerous machinery with moving parts can be. Over the 4 year span, more than 34,000 serious injuries occurred, in addition to nearly 200 deaths. Though the study covers a period from 20 years ago and while workplace fatalities have undoubtedly decreased since then, it’s important to know how dangerous these situations can be.
All improvements to worker safety since that time are due to better awareness and safety equipment. Without proper protection, the number of worker fatalities could just as easily rise again. Because machine guarding is so important, it has its own set of guidelines. Please refer to the OSHA site for the full list of rules and regulations.
Because injuries and deaths can be so common in the workplace, it is important to identify where they take place and how to prevent them. Be sure to look out for trouble areas, such as raised walkways, floor openings, ladders, and machinery with moving parts that might pose a threat.
Thankfully, in many cases, the solutions to these problems are clear. Just a small amount of effort and time can prevent a tragic injury or death at your workplace. By using safety gates that fit all of the OSHA requirements, you can be sure to protect both your workers and the public from experiencing a terrible injury.