Staying safe while using mobile elevating work platforms

by Alex on December 16, 2014

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Working at height is one of the more dangerous types of work that takes place on a construction site, and falling is one of the most common causes of serious injuries and fatalities—which is why the HSE takes the precautions for working at height very seriously in their inspections. Earlier this year, the HSE released a new document providing guidance for working with mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs).

Before we get into the highlights of the guidance document, it’s important to remember that not working at height is always preferable to working at height. If there’s any way that the work can be accomplished without a worker being exposed to the danger of a fall, that route should be taken instead.

Selecting an appropriate platform

When choosing a mobile elevating work platform, it’s important to take a number of factors into consideration. The full list of factors can be seen in the HSE guidance document, but a few of them bear mentioning here. The type of work taking place; the amount of room that can be dedicated to the work platform; the presence of overhead or subterranean hazards; the type of terrain at the job site, both at and approaching the final location of the platform; and whether the machine will be expected to move in the elevated position are all important factors in choosing the proper equipment.

Once you have a very clear picture of what you need the platform to do, you can make a decision on the type that best suits your work—it could be a scissors-type lift, a self-propelled boom, a trailer-mounted boom, a vehicle-mounted boom, or another type of lift. Discussing your needs with an expert in MEWPs will ensure that you get the best platform for your needs.

Safety in moving a platform

Because of their considerable weight, a number of factors must be considered when moving and positioning a mobile elevating platform. Ensuring that the terrain is level enough for safe travel and operation of the platform is crucial, as raising a worker or even an empty platform can significantly alter the vehicle’s center of balance if the terrain isn’t level. Other things that can potentially cause overturning include trenches, manholes, and uncompacted backfill.

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The weight of the vehicle can also damage underground tanks and culverts, inspection covers, concrete slabs, kerbs, and other ground-level and subterranean features, making a thorough examination of the site a necessity. Knowing where the maximum load point is—whether it’s under a wheel, a track, or a jack pad—is also important.

Overhead hazards can include electrical wires, scaffolding, beams, bridges, building features, and trees, and should be carefully inspected before moving or using an elevating platform. In addition to causing damage to—or being damaged by—the platform, overhead hazards can unbalance an operator, increasing the chances of a fall. There have also been cases of operators being trapped or crushed between the platform and an overhead hazard.

Preventing falls while working from an elevated platform

In many cases, working from an elevated platform is significantly more dangerous than from another elevated position. Not only do many workers forego the necessary fall-prevention measures, but there’s also the risk of being thrown from the basket of a boom-type lift if it quickly changes direction or speed. An impact with surrounding structures or getting snagged on hazards can also increase the risk of a fall from the basket.

The HSE’s guidance document states that the preferred method of fall prevention is the use of a full-body harness attached to the basket by a lanyard. The lanyard should be short enough that it does not allow the worker to reach a point where they could fall. Using retractable-type fall arrestors is not recommended unless they’ve been specifically approved for this type of work.

An important part of height safety

The use of a mobile elevating work platform is often necessary in construction, but it remains a significant source of risk. Familiarising yourself with the HSE’s guidance on using these platforms will help keep your workers and your site safe (you can download “The selection, management, and use of mobile elevating work platforms” here). And remember that safety with mobile work platforms is just a part of height safety: it’s also important to take into account the HSE’s general guidance on working at height.

Image credit: Elliott Brown via flickr, (2).

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia Anderson September 6, 2016 at 3:26 pm

My husband has been looking into options for choosing a mobile elevating work platform. I think that he will appreciate this information that you have posted. Thank you!

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Alex September 15, 2016 at 9:13 am

No problem Patricia – hope it helps!

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