Powered access is a proven safe way to work at height, but operators and managers must know the risks and plan ahead.
There are relatively few accidents involving powered access each year. Those that do occur are often down to poor planning, poor management, not selecting the correct machine for the job, untrained or unsupervised operators and a failure to conduct adequate risk assessments or work to industry approved safety best practice.
Many incidents or accidents when they do occur are incorrectly attributed to operator error. But what does that really mean? It sounds as though the operator did something avoidable, however, on closer analysis there are often underlying problems with the planning or management of the job.
By analysing accidents involving powered access equipment worldwide to look for trends and learn from them, research indicates that all too often the underlying cause of accidents involving Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWP) is an untrained manager choosing the wrong piece of equipment, or asking an operator who isn’t sufficiently trained to carry out a task. In reality, if and when things do go wrong, it’s all too easy to blame the operator without looking more deeply at the root causes of the accident.
The solution is for all managers and supervisors to undergo training on how to plan and organise the use of MEWPs. Anyone anywhere in the world can assist in collecting data and analysing the causes of accidents through the global reporting project (www.ipaf.org/accident); all reports can be made either anonymously or by logging in as a user and details of companies or individuals involved are never shared with anyone.
Global safety campaigns
The 2018 global campaign from IPAF was all about planning ahead for safety when using MEWPs and MCWPs, while the 2019 Street Smart campaign focussed on working safely when using MEWPs alongside roads and in public places. Common to both is the need to plan properly before work takes place, to select the correct machine, carry out risk assessments and assess weather and ground conditions, and to use trained and familiarised operators with sufficient experience and skill to complete the task.
With the risk of being struck by a passing vehicle such as a bus or truck, prior planning is needed so MEWPs can operate safely. The Street Smart safety campaign outlines the dangers particular to using MEWPs on or next to roads or in public places.
MEWPs are designed to safely conduct temporary work at height in just about every environment, including on roads or in public places. However, being hit by a bus or truck while operating a MEWP is a leading cause of serious injury or death, according to our accident analysis.
These accidents are almost always catastrophic. It is critical to segregate the working area to have separation from traffic. Operators should ensure they are seen by using signs, cones, beacons and high-vis clothing.
Key points of guidance include:
- Plan ahead – assess risk; develop and use a traffic management scheme.
- Be visible – wear hi-vis PPE to position cones/signs. Ensure vehicles are conspicuous (flashing beacons/rear chevrons) and work areas well lit.
- Manage traffic – use temporary traffic lights or close roads to separate the working area. Use signs and cones for maximum warning to oncoming vehicles.
- Implement an exclusion zone – segregate the working area from passing vehicles. Position the MEWP so it does not overhang into traffic
- Load and unload safely – in a well-lit area, away from traffic or obstructions. When unloading next to a road make sure it is segregated from traffic.
This campaign highlights key risks and how to avoid them. We hope that it will continue to help people use powered access safely.
“MEWP operators should ensure they are seen by using signs, cones, beacons and high-vis clothing”
Ground and weather conditions
Key to planning ahead is assessing ground conditions and weather as part of a full site safety risk assessment. Whether working on a controlled site, or alongside a road or in a public place, proper planning and assessment of risk and conditions are always key. Of course, there are many factors to consider when assessing ground conditions, winter weather being just one example.
Guidance on the assessment of ground conditions includes the following advice regarding the effects of weather on ground conditions for MEWP operations.
Heavy or prolonged rain
Heavy or prolonged rain can alter ground conditions and cause sinking of outriggers or wheels. If it is suspected that the ground supporting a MEWP is getting softer, regular checks should be made on machine level and the appropriate adjustments made to outriggers, packing mats etc.
Regular checks should be carried out when frozen ground is thawing out since frozen ground can appear much firmer than it actually is.
Extreme weather and temperatures
Likewise, extreme weather and temperatures should be taken into consideration when assessing safe working conditions. Very low temperatures can affect the machine’s ability to function properly; check the manufacturer’s guidance when it comes to what temperature range it is safe to operate the equipment within.
Notably, wind speed is the main factor to consider when working outside. All MEWPs (except those designed specifically for indoor use) are designed to operate in wind speeds up to a maximum which should be marked on the machine. Operation in wind speeds above this maximum may cause instability. Wind forces are assumed to act horizontally at the centre of area of the parts of the MEWP and persons and equipment on the work platform, and shall be taken to be dynamic forces. This does not apply to MEWPs intended for indoor use only.
Wind speed can be measured using an anemometer. It is very important to realise that wind speed increases with height and may be 50% greater at a height of 20 metres above ground level.
Care must be taken when handling building cladding, sheet materials, panels and other such materials which can act as “sails” and seriously affect the stability of a MEWP, especially in gusty wind conditions. For the same reason, signboards, banners and the like must not be applied even temporarily to the platform.
Users should be aware of the shielding and funnelling effects of high buildings which may cause high wind speeds on days when the wind speed in open areas is low. Other sources of local high wind speed to consider are aircraft slipstreams at airports and high-sided vehicles on motorways. Wind tunnel effects of working alongside or between high sided structures should also be taken into consideration when assessing safe working weather conditions.
“MEWP users should be aware of the shielding and funnelling effects of high buildings which may cause high wind speeds”
Working in electrical storms
Working in electrical storms is also unsafe. As a rule of thumb, MEWP operations should cease at the first sound of thunder or sight of lightning, and not resumed until at least half an hour after the last visible or audible signs of lightning activity. Rain, fog and snow can impact visibility and machine performance, and when working, travelling, loading or unloading MEWPs during the hours of darkness, adequate lighting must be provided and hi-vis clothing and visible warning signs such as beacons and reflective chevrons on MEWPs and transport vehicles must also be displayed.
Of course, if the weather or ground conditions preclude active operations, training and familiarisation tasks can still be carried out, using a MEWP simulator.
Offerings of training in virtual reality (VR) environments are being increased, due to increasing demand from contractors for a recognised qualifications demonstrating advanced operator proficiency and signifying a certain level of experience in using different types of MEWPs in a variety of challenging environments and scenarios.
Currently not all training centres offer VR training, but it certainly has its advantages. With non VR training, significant investment is required to purchase specific types of MEWP equipment and there is a need for a large and secure training area containing structures around and through which the candidates must operate during their assessment. Moving training into the VR environment, however, will open this up as a viable option to more training centres, and in turn make it more attractive to training candidates who will need to spend less time away from the worksite to successfully complete the assessment.
Andrew Delahunt, IPAF Safety and Technical Director
Further guidance is available on using MEWPs alongside roads with additional detail on risks and safe operating procedures. For more information on all of IPAF’s safety campaigns and links to relevant technical guidance visit www.ipaf.org/safe or contact your nearest IPAF office or representative (details at www.ipaf.org/contact).
eLearning for managers
IPAF’s training centres offer a six-hour course called MEWPs for Managers; it doesn’t teach people how to operate MEWPs but shows them how to plan and manage their use. In 2019, the course was completely updated to feature immersive 360-degree video scenarios, and for the first time it is available as eLearning.
IPAF’s MEWPs for Managers course is essential for managers, supervisors and all those planning MEWP operations. It can aid compliance with the requirement for manager and supervisor training in the updated ANSI A92 suite of standards in the US and has been recognised as an important qualification for managers at all levels by the UK HSE.
Paul Roddis, Training Manager at IPAF, says: “This is a bold step forward and just another example of how advanced technology can aid safety awareness and training. MEWPs for Managers has received a much-awaited upgrade and is also available as eLearning for the first time. This makes it convenient for project planners, site managers and supervisors to fit this essential training into their busy schedules.
“The updated course has been completely overhauled to make it easier to directly apply the learning in the real world. The redesigned course considers the whole process of MEWP management, from selecting the right machine, properly training the appropriate operators and providing the right protections, through securing the MEWPs to organising safe delivery and collection of the plant to and from work sites.
“The course is engaging, challenging and rewarding and is a must for all persons who plan, supervise, manage or control the use of MEWPs in the workplace. It utilises interactive 360-degree graphics and virtual scenarios that contextualise specific hazards and requires candidates to put various pieces of risk assessment and technical and safety guidance together to identify and control identified risks.
“The updated course, whether in the eLearning version or the tutor-led modules, promotes higher-order thinking skills and will aid retention of learning. The course is currently being rolled out in English-speaking IPAF territories including the UK & Ireland, North America and the Middle East, while work continues apace to complete translations into all official IPAF training languages.”
The eLearning version of the IPAF MEWPs for Managers course enables candidates to undertake the tuition in convenient sections and pass the online course at a time and place of their choosing, on compatible PCs and tablet devices. It utilises facial recognition across the online training and evaluation session to ensure the candidate’s identity and to prevent any attempt to obtain the qualification through fraudulent means.
In July 2019, following extensive development work and fine-tuning involving IPAF staff and member firms, IPAF launched controlled trials involving some of its training members to deliver PAL+ training that will test candidates using sophisticated MEWP simulators instead of real machines.
The other elements of the PAL+ course, notably the theory module of the course and the pre-use inspection, will be conducted as usual at an approved IPAF Training Centre, and the first batch of candidates has now successfully completed their PAL+ training at member firm AFI-Uplift’s Training Centre in Rothwell near Leeds, W Yorks, using simulators instead of real MEWPs for the assessment portion.
Paul Roddis was present to witness the first candidates take their test using a MEWP simulator, and comments: “There has been a huge amount of hard work put into making these assessment scenarios as lifelike and challenging in the VR environment as they are when using real machines; the next step was to prove the technology using real training candidates under genuine assessment conditions.
“We have worked with the developers of the simulator technology over many months perfecting the detail and quality of the VR environment, testing extensively at events including Vertikal Days, bauma and IPAF Innovate in the US, working out the fine details, gathering feedback and calibrating the simulators for use at IPAF Training Centres. I am pleased to say this hard work has paid off and IPAF now has its first official PAL+ advanced MEWP operators certified via simulators.”
Giles Councell, IPAF’s Director of Operations, adds: “Working with some of our training provider members in both Europe and the US, IPAF will continue these proving trials testing genuine PAL+ training candidates in the way we would normally. As with the first batch of candidates, if they pass the assessment on a VR simulator rather than a MEWP, they will be issued with their certification to PAL+; these aren’t ‘dummy runs’.
“We are now looking to fully develop the IPAF PAL+ course into eLearning and VR by developing a digital version of the theory module and simulated pre-use inspection, to be launched later this year. It’s a very exciting step forward.”
IPAF continues to work closely with members and those developing VR systems to assist the industry in recognising new opportunities to apply and adopt new technology in training, safety awareness and equipment familiarisation, and to enhance the safe and effective use of powered access worldwide.
For more on IPAF’s eXtended Reality (XR) Strategy, read www.ipaf.org/XRstrategy
To find an IPAF Training Centre near you, please visit www.ipaf.org/training
IPAF is a not-for-profit members’ organisation that promotes the safe and effective use of powered access equipment worldwide. Members include manufacturers, rental companies, contractors and users. Details at www.ipaf.org