Can a targeted safety campaign really save lives? Should we be challenging the industry over persistent rates of serious injury and deaths caused by the same type of incident? Surely, we all can agree that we should never get complacent when we see reports of people making avoidable mistakes and suffering catastrophic consequences.
The emphasis on safety falls on all of us. Only through proper collaboration and putting commercial interests aside can we properly prioritise planning, training, supervision and operation of work at height using powered access that allows all participants to go home safely at the end of each working day. It is incumbent on the industry as a whole to challenge statistics that indicate risks being taken and corners being cut.
Robust incident reporting (including near misses) and empowering all of the workforce to recognise the risks and act appropriately to reduce them, to the point of speaking out against those who would ask them to do something they know to be wrong, or even standing down from operations if people are being placed in positions of unacceptable or heightened risk without the recommended mitigations, is surely the goal and is the only way we can shift the dial on the most common causes of accidents leading to serious injuries and deaths when using powered access to work at height.
When we are devising and promoting our global safety campaigns, it is most effective to target a specific type of risk or incident outcome, emphasising the importance of working safely to mitigate specific concerns and avoid certain types of incident when using Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs). To this end the data gathered about incidents and near-misses across the globe is invaluable, both in calculating the areas that would most benefit from a whole-industry focus on awareness, and understanding risk factors and mitigation through planning and acknowledged good practice for safe operation.
Falls – the number one cause of injuries and deaths
As an example, the 2022 Don’t Fall For It! safety campaign outlines the possible underlying causes of falls from the platform when using MEWPs, which almost always lead to serious injury or death. The campaign offers operators and managers key advice to mitigate the most common risks and avoid accidents of this type, as identified in IPAF’s ongoing incident reporting and analysis via the www.ipafaccidentreporting.org portal.
Having been collecting and analysing incident reports for more than a decade, analysis of the available data across all of that period indicates that falls from the platform have remained stubbornly and consistently the number one cause of serious injury and death; something IPAF resolved to try and shift the dial on.
MEWPs are designed to safely conduct temporary work at height in just about every environment, but every year the most common type of accident we are seeing reported are falls from the platform. As you can imagine, this type of incident nearly always leads to serious injury or death.
We determined that our Don’t Fall For It! targeted global safety campaign should have a real impact when it comes to instilling safe working practices and reminding operators and managers of some fairly basic positive steps they can take to reduce the risk of such incidents occurring. The message is really simple – select the correct machine for the job, don’t take risks, don’t cut corners, and wear the correct personal fall protection equipment in boom-type platforms.
Operators can help avoid this type of accident by focusing on the principles we’ve set out as part of this campaign. If they are properly trained and familiarised on the MEWPs being used, then hopefully none of this guidance should be new, but we know that complacency breeds contempt, and that too often corners are being cut or fundamental principles of safe use ignored.
With this safety campaign, we are saying that, if you find yourself tempted to do something different to what you know is the right and proper way to work, or if you are ever asked to do something that you think isn’t safe by a work colleague or supervisor, then ‘don’t fall for it!’ Far better to think twice and save a life – whether it is a workmate’s or your own! Key points of guidance in the Don’t Fall For It! global safety campaign include:
- Plan thoroughly – conduct a proper MEWP site survey/assessment, select the correct machine for the work and use professionally trained operator(s) and supervisor(s).
- Know your machine – operators should be trained on the machine type they are using and familiarised on the specific model. Operators should assess that the machine is suitable for the task and conditions, and adequate in terms of reach, articulation, and load-bearing capacity. Machine knowledge includes whether personal fall protection equipment (PFPE) should be used and, if so, what type to use and how to attach it.
- Clip on – If personal PFPE is required, all occupants of the platform must attach their lanyard to the correct anchor point. Ensure movement within the platform is possible while attached, and do not move the machine or elevate the platform until and unless all occupants are attached.
- Set up and manoeuvre the machine/platform effectively – occupants should never need to over-reach, unfasten PFPE, step or climb on guardrails or otherwise extend the safe working envelope of the platform. Ensure vertical MEWPs are positioned and repositioned as necessary to allow easy access to the area of work to be undertaken Operators should not overreach or stand on guardrails to access a work area instead of taking the time and effort to correctly reposition the machine.
- Stay inside the platform/attached – the guardrails of the platform form the primary fall prevention and define the operational envelope of the machine being used. Always stay inside the platform. Where there is a requirement for PFPE, you must wear it. Do not exit the platform at height; unclip/exit only on completion of work when safely lowered to the ground.
Reducing electrocutions and electric shocks
The latest major global safety campaign is aimed at reducing electrocutions and avoiding contact with power lines. According to analysis of data gathered from incidents involving powered access around the world, electrocutions are consistently among the top three causes of serious injuries and deaths when using MEWPs to work at height.
The High Voltage! campaign aims to raise awareness of risks involved when using MEWPs around power lines, and how to plan for safe working. The campaign is underpinned by a comprehensive new guidance document, entitled Safe Use of MEWPs in the Vicinity of Power Lines, which can be viewed and downloaded free of charge in digital format and is also available print-ready, allowing organisations to produce co-branded hard copies as required.
As with previous industry safety campaigns, it has been informed by analysing data from the past ten years of accident reporting via the online portal. It is evident that incidents involving electrocutions and electric shocks have notably increased since 2015. One standout statistic is that reported incidents of electrocution are nearly always fatal.
Working in the vicinity of energised power lines can expose workers to health and safety risks including death by electrocution or electric shock. If a MEWP or its occupants contact energised power lines it can cause instant death, electric shock or other injuries caused directly or indirectly by electricity. Equally serious can be the effect of electricity arcing from the power line to a MEWP and its occupants.
As with all common causes of accidents involving MEWPs, workplace safety culture and behaviour can play a big part in reducing the number of incidents. Ignorance or lack of awareness of the main underlying risks can lead to complacency and potential exposure to unsafe situations. It was clear that this is another of those all-too-common type of incident that our industry should be doing much more to understand and eradicate, which nearly always result in serious, life-changing injury or death.
The guidance document aims to assist all those planning, operating and supervising the use MEWPs in the vicinity of power lines in identifying and understanding the risks, outlines measures that can reduce or mitigate these and in turn reduce the occurrence of incidents involving contact with or arcing from power lines. Key aims are to:
- Provide information for those who plan and manage MEWP operations.
- Provide information on the main causes of electrocutions with power lines.
- Raise awareness of the hazards and risks in working in close proximity to power lines.
- Provide information on the industry sectors where electrocutions and electric shocks occur.
- Identify risk control measures and Safe Systems of Work (SSoW) to implement and reduce the number of incidents occurring.
- Provide general global guidance for those who undertake tasks to prevent incidents occurring.
We certainly hope all those who read this document will let us know their thoughts. Like all of our industry safety and technical guidance, this is a ‘living document’ and we place huge emphasis on listening and responding to constructive feedback – we urge people to view and download the document, read and understand it, and share it with colleagues. Included among the key points of safety guidance included in the new document are:
Plan thoroughly – look out and around for power lines in the work area. Conduct a site survey and risk assessment ensuring an SSoW is completed. Correct machine selection is critical. If power lines are in your work area contact the Energy Supply Authority (ESA) before work commences. Ensure operators are briefed prior to work commencing and that they are made aware of any power lines in the vicinity.
Ensure all operators are properly trained – anyone involved in the safe use of MEWPs must be properly trained on the type of MEWP they are using and must receive machine-specific familiarisation. Managers must ensure MEWP operators, supervisors and spotters are briefed on the SSoW.
Stay outside exclusion zones – an exclusion zone is the prescribed safety envelope around live electric power lines. You must not operate a MEWP where there is potential for any part of it to enter an exclusion zone. Distances for exclusion zones can vary; these must be obtained from the relevant ESA.
Know your rescue plan – if someone has been electrocuted by arcing of electricity or has been in contact with a power line, call the emergency services immediately and call the ESA to have the power turned off and the lines isolated. Observe the Stay, Call, Wait protocol.
As with the Don’t Fall For It! IPAF global safety campaign, it is hoped that High Voltage! can help to shift the dial on the most common types of safety incidents involving powered access. This is a challenge that affects all of us in the industry, and we have a collective responsibility to act, so we hope to achieve buy-in at all levels to reduce common types of accidents and help the industry at all levels become as safe as it can be.
Digital advances and enhanced accident reporting
Innovative use of digital technology, including eLearning courses and modules, increasing use of sophisticated virtual reality MEWP simulators (VR sims) for training and familiarisation, and the IPAF ePAL App for MEWP and MCWP operators, which has seen more than 300,000 first-time downloads worldwide since being launched in 2021, have all had an important hand to play in making our industry safer across the board, and empowering individual operators to feel properly prepared and equipped for the job.
IPAF continues to encourage the reporting of all accidents and near-misses via its reporting portal and will continue to use the analysis of this data to produce free-to-download industry-wide documents like the IPAF Global Safety Report, as well as to inform all the work the Federation does, including informing and updating our training programme, safety and technical guidance. IPAF continues to work with regulatory and legislative bodies to develop and implement standards and to aid companies with compliance.
Looking at the latest available accident statistics, there are encouraging signs that, despite an increase in reporting, that the number of serious injuries and deaths sustained across the industry worldwide may have fallen significantly year on year. While it is difficult to point to the impact that IPAF’s Don’t Fall For It! campaign may have had in achieving this, if our global targeted safety campaigns can save just one life, then it worth all the time and effort that our team, and our members worldwide, continue to put in.
- IPAF offers further guidance on using MEWPs that provides more detail on specific risks and advises on 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 see www.ipaf.org/contact to find your nearest IPAF office or representative. Please visit www.ipaf.org/training and www.ipaf.org/resources for the full range of IPAF training course and the latest safety and technical guidance materials from IPAF.
Access a range of free safety resources
In support of the Don’t Fall For It! campaign IPAF in the past year has issued tailored safety guidance, including detailed documents about the Safe Use of MEWPs in Public Areas, Safe use of MEWPs to Manage Trees and Vegetation (www.ipaf.org/trees) and the MEWP Catapult Effect. Meanwhile the High Voltage! campaign is underpinned by the Safe Use of MEWPs in the Vicinity of Power Lines guidance document.
IPAF has published a host of new Toolbox Talks and Andy Access safety posters in the past 18 months, including briefings on: Safe Mast Climbing Work Platform (MCWP) and construction hoist (CH) loading; MCWP and construction hoist rescue planning; assessing Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP) tyre condition; and how to prevent falls from height – part of IPAF’s Don’t Fall for It! global safety campaign.
IPAF’s popular Toolbox Talks are a series of short safety briefings designed to share specific safety messages on work sites and in breakrooms. They are complemented by accompanying Andy Access safety posters to remind operators and supervisors of the principles of safe operation.
IPAF published several new Toolbox Talks across 2022, and those in charge of safety involving MEWP, MCWP or construction hoist operations are invited to download the Toolbox Talks and Andy Access posters free of charge and available in multiple languages, to build them into briefings and safe systems of work.
The full list of talks issued is as follows: Safe On-site Servicing of MEWPs, MCWP Loading, MCWP and Construction Hoist Rescue Plan, Construction Hoist Loading, MEWP Tyre Condition, Avoiding Contact with Power Lines and Falls From Height: Don’t Fall For It!
IPAF puts a lot of resource into preparing these Toolbox Talks and we now have a Toolbox Talk Work Group drawn together from across our membership. We create them based on feedback from across the industry, as well as trends we identify through analysis of data gathered through the IPAF accident reporting portal and in our annual Global Safety Report.