Installed around a building column at its base, column protectors are industrial guarding devices that serve to minimize the effect of an impact by a motorized vehicle or forklift. They are most often found in aisle or areas of a warehouse, distribution center, or manufacturing facility where vehicle traffic occurs, and therefore the columns (or posts) are at an increased risk of being struck. The protectors not only make the columns more visible to vehicle operators, they are also intended to absorb the impact and reduce the risk of a structural collapse due to a severely damaged column.
While column protectors come in a range of configurations, styles, designs, sizes, and materials, they are typically manufactured of polymer, steel, or a combination of the two. Depending on the material used, the device will respond to an impact in one of two ways: steel will bend as it deflects the impact but will not return to its previous shape; polymer will flex to deflect the impact but will return to its previous shape.
Generally speaking, column protectors can be classified as one of three styles: a polymer, wrap-around cushion; a rigid steel cage; or a hybrid steel and polymer frame. Each provides different degrees of protection and offers both advantages and disadvantages depending on the application in which they are deployed.
Polymer, wrap-around cushion style column protectors are designed to form to the shape of the column they protect. They are typically provided in two lightweight, hollow pieces that are placed in immediate contact with the column around its base and rest on the floor. To secure the protective device to the column, a series of two or more Velcro or webbed straps are used. This prevents the column protector from separating. For further stability they are often designed to be filled with sand or water to add weight.
Typically, wrap-around column protectors are safety yellow or orange in color, making them highly visible to vehicle operators. Because they are made of polymer or plastic, however, they can be easily damaged by a vehicle impact — particularly the forks on a lift truck. When installed around an I-Beam column, if not specifically molded to match the profile a gap can exist on between the column protector and two of the four sides of the column. Such openings are prone to becoming used as garbage receptacles.
Additionally, because these protectors are solid walled, with no gaps or openings in their construction, they can hide any damage that may exist or occur on the column. For all of these reasons, this type of column protector is most often recommended for areas with less frequent or lower speed vehicle traffic.
Rigid steel cage style column protectors are typically positioned in a slightly off-set position around a column. They are bolted to the floor with heavy-duty anchors and often bolted together in two (or more) assembled sections to fully surround the column.
While steel cage style protectors offer a higher degree of protection than the polymer wrap-around style, they are often constructed with gaps to reduce their overall weight. These gaps make it very easy to visually assess the condition of the column itself, as they do not obscure it. Conversely, depending on the amount of spacing, a fork could bypass the frame and impact the column through the openings.
Further, while they offer more resistance to an impact, their rigid nature makes them susceptible to damage or even dislodging of the anchors. Steel cage style column protectors are often ideal for areas with moderate to heavy vehicle traffic moving at lower to moderate speeds. They are also ideal for columns that serve as structural supports, either for a mezzanine or elevated work area, or those that are integral to the facility’s integrity.
Hybrid steel and polymer frame style column protectors incorporate steel uprights and horizontal beams connected to each other with flexible elbow joints and to the floor with flexible boots made of polymer or rubber. These column protectors resemble a four-legged table without a top and are assembled and anchored to the floor around the column each protects.
Their hybrid design brings both the strength of steel with the flexibility of polymer, enabling them to provide a higher level of impact protection. However, although hybrid style column protectors are offset from the column — making it easier to see any damage that may exist or occur — they also have gaps that could be penetrated by a fork.
Additionally, because of their multi-material construction, they are also frequently the most expensive option. Therefore, they are most often recommended for areas and aisles with heavy traffic traveling at high speeds, or for structural support columns that hold up mezzanines, elevated work platforms, or critical building components.
When considering which of these three types of column protectors to utilize within a facility, bear in mind that a combination of all three solutions may be the most appropriate and cost-effective depending on the type and volume of vehicle traffic within a given aisle or area.
For additional guidance and recommendations on where and what type/configuration of column protector is optimal for an application, work with a qualified supplier of these solutions. A good place to start is with the members of the Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA).