Jean-Paul Gatel, managing director of Verlinde explains why safety in the warehouse needs good products as well as good practices

Many years of stringent health and safety legislation have ensured warehouses are not quite the dangerous places to work they used to be. But there is no room for complacency, and the need to have safe working practices entrenched with safe equipment has never been greater.

Here in the UK, the risks posed by storage, racking and vehicles in warehouses is well known, but fire tends to be reduced to knowing and keeping escape routes clear and is not always associated with equipment. Yet lifting equipment can play a critical role in reducing fire risk, particularly in warehouses that may store and process potentially explosive substances.

Verlinde specialises in explosion-proof cranes and hoists and regularly supplies such hoists to the petrochemical industry, but these types of lifting product are required in other more benign market sectors too, of which the warehouse environment is a good example. There has been an upsurge in demand for Atex cranes and hoists, not just from the traditional industrial, petrochemical and offshore markets, but new manufacturing, engineering environments and warehouses needing to comply with EU and other global industry standards. Since 2003, all European organisations must protect employees from atmospheres, which can be caused by gases, mists, vapours or combustible dusts of even seemingly benign everyday products.

Many materials in dust form (if they oxidise) can generate a potentially explosive mix. Coal is a well known example, but paint ink, adhesives, cleaning fluids can all produce potentially flammable vapour. While no one will be surprised to see coal and adhesives on a list of potentially explosive products, it’s the more mundane substances – flour, sugar and even powdered milk that can be equally dangerous. This puts Atex cranes high on the menu for the food industry and any warehouse needing to store and move such products safely.

The ease by which liquids give off flammable vapour to ignite on the application of an ignition source is called Flashpoint. Substances are classified as extremely flammable, highly flammable, and flammable. The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) and Atex require employers to assess the risk of fires and explosions and to eliminate or reduce these risks.

Verlinde’s key products in this field are the Eurolift, Eurochain and Eurobloc hoists, which remain identical in performance to the standard cranes of this type but are fully EX (Atex certified) explosion proof. The use of ‘spark proof’ materials (such as bronze) is said to set these products apart, together with sealed units to protect them from flammable gases or dusts.

Hoists and lifting equipment also need to be safe for employees. Eurochain specialises in this, delivering the highest levels of explosion proofing, user safety, productivity and ease of maintenance. Designed to provide users with the maximum level of safety, even the standard version of Eurochain features a new patented lifting load wheel concept, very low voltage command (just 48V), safety electric limit switch and  full compliance with the CE machine directive, yet can still safely lift up to 2.5 tonnes on one wire. For employers needing to be mindful of noise, Eurochain’s high precision machining on the gear trains guarantees operation with very low noise levels. The patented 5-slot lifting loan wheel provides perfect control and avoids any risk of jamming.

Verlinde’s global experience has taught us that health and safety is not about winning one battle, but an ongoing war to secure employee safety and fight against the risk posed by over-confidence. Be it a warehouse in Belfast, Bristol or Beijing, all of us want success and productivity, but the price of success must never be paid in human lives.

For more information,­ the Warehousing Health and Safety forum and the HSE are good starting points.