Picking From Height: Ways to Keep your Employees Safe

Picking from items stored atop pallet rack can be safe, if you use the right equipment and plan ahead for success

Many companies need to retrieve goods from these positions, and there are several options. Rolling warehouse ladders, lift truck picking cages, and wave pickers are among them. Another is to use a lift truck, unload the pallet, pick what’s needed, and replace it. At some companies, employees have even climbed the rack, which is obviously unsafe.

What’s the best method? Let’s break it down.

Avoid picks at height entirely or minimize the need

The first question to answer is if the picks at height can be avoided. If you’re frequently picking from height, you probably need to re-slot that product to a lower, more accessible position. Periodic re-evaluation of where your most frequently picked items are stored can yield big results for both safety and productivity.

A pick at lower position tends to take less time than one at height, so slotting items that are being picked frequently to a floor position is usually a productive move. If you can improve things by changing your storage layout, segment the warehouse so that the manually picked items are placed away from lift truck areas, segregating pedestrian and vehicle traffic as much as possible.

Picking from Ladders

Ladders can be good, but the larger and more unwieldy the item, the less effective and more unsafe they are.

Although a correctly-specified rolling warehouse ladder with proper railing system can be a safe, fast, and effective order picking method, there is always the risk of falls when people climb ladders. If you use a ladder, be sure it has a large work platform and guard rails, and be sure people aren’t using it to pick heavy, bulky items that can more easily unbalance them.

You should never pick from a conventional stepladder or extension ladder. Neither have sufficient working platforms or safety guards.


Picking with Forklifts

Using forklifts works, but it comes at a price in time and productivity if you have to ensure aisles are always clear and that a lift truck is always available when something needs to be picked.

It can be done in two ways:

You can remove pallets, lower them, and order pickers can take what they need. This allows a picker to stay on the ground and lets the lift truck position the pallet right where he needs it, at a good working height. It can be more ergonomic than picking from a pallet on the floor. This either takes two workers, a driver and a picker, or a single worker doing both tasks.

The other way is a forklift work platform that lifts the picker to the top level product. Too often, companies allow workers to do this on pallets, which is an accident waiting to happen. A work platform is the solution. It’s good for maintenance projects as well as order picking. A good work platform will have a non-slip deck, a toe plate to contain loose objects, and will be held to the lift truck with security chains. They tend to have side rails that are around 42″ height and separate the worker from the vehicle.

Automated Solutions

Vertical automated storage will eliminate the need to pick at height entirely. These types of solutions are ergonomically safe and can provide high density storage when the operation has high ceiling heights. They are good for managing parts and assemblies (or WIP materials) supporting other operations. Examples would be Use-Point-Managers for manufacturing and assembly operations, tool room applications, and floor space constrained distribution or packaging centers, etc. They are usually better at maximizing higher available cubic storage capacity within a facility than the horizontal solutions.

Vertical Carousels

These systems are very reliable, economical and are capable of presenting a broad pick face to the operator with each stop. They are typically applied in a manual picking mode. Note that all levels turn simultaneously in the vertical direction. The photo at right shows a typical vertical carousel unit. The vertical carousel units can be “banked” together and integrated with various order picking strategies.

Vertical Lift Modules

A vertical lift module is similar to the other vertical storage systems, but with additional flexibility for expansion in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Each “module” has it’s own lift device that travels primarily in the vertical direction. Their modular approach makes them easier to reapply if the business changes. They are also capable of higher throughput rates than the traditional vertical systems. The illustration at left shows a typical vertical lift module system.

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