From the Ground Up: Preparing for Safe Working at Height in MEWPs
All work sites contain potential risks and hazards that need to be addressed long before anyone elevates a Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP), such as boom lifts or scissor lifts. A comprehensive risk assessment should cover these key areas:
- Site survey and risk assessment
- Selecting the correct MEWP
- Pre-use inspections
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) selection
- Last-minute checks
Site survey and risk assessment
The site survey must be carried out by what is known as a Competent Person. This is a legal term for someone who has the appropriate training and experience. Riwal can advise you on which risks you should be considering, but it is vital that your own Competent Person actually carries out the risk assessment.
You have a legal and moral obligation to carry out a comprehensive site risk assessment. This aims to identify and address potential risks to employees, colleagues and other contractors working in the same area. This should identify potential hazards and identify the level of risk for each hazard. A risk assessment must be specifically tailored to each site and application – you cannot adopt a “one size fits all” approach.
Key steps in a Risk Assessment are:
- Identify hazards - anything that could cause harm
- Decide who might be harmed, and how that could happen
- Assess the risks and take the right precautions
- Make a record of your findings
- Regularly review the risk assessment and update it as required
Potential risks to consider include:
- Shallow pits and holes - including those hidden by water, ice, mud and debris
- Ledges, slopes, and rough terrain
- Pot holes, drains, man holes, trenches and other excavations
- Ground-level obstructions such as boulders, bollards and debris
- Overhead obstructions, crushing/trapping hazards, and electrical conductors
- Hazardous locations and atmospheres
- Ground or floor load-bearing capabilities
- Wind and weather conditions
- Presence of unauthorised persons
- Potential collisions with other machinery
For MEWPs, one key consideration is becoming stuck in the air while the machine is elevated. So an important step in the risk assessment is ensuring that you have an emergency and rescue plan. This includes having people on the ground, working nearby, who are trained in using the ground controls and the emergency lowering system.
In addition, many boom lifts and scissor lifts are now fitted with a secondary guarding device to help prevent the operator being crushed by an overhead obstacle. There can be differences in how these devices work. So it is vital that an understanding of anti-entrapment forms part of your risk assessment, if you identify any hazards from overhead objects.
On construction sites in particular, the environment is constantly changing. So be prepared to update your risk assessment as the situation develops – for example, as additional contractors or construction equipment begins working in the same area as your MEWP.
Selecting the correct MEWP
The site survey and risk assessment will enable you to select the most appropriate mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) for safe and efficient working at height.
Some of the key considerations are:
- What is the intended task?
- Will the platform be working indoors, outdoors, or both?
- What platform capacity and size do you require?
- How many occupants will be in the basket or platform?
- What working height and outreach do you require?
- What are the ground or floor surface conditions?
- Do the operators have the right training and qualifications?
- Are there any obstacles on the ground and at height?
- What are the MEWP maintenance requirements?
- Are noise pollution or exhaust emissions an issue?
The key benefits of selecting the optimum aerial lift are:
- Ensure operator and occupant safety
- Ensure the safety of other workers on site
- Complete the task in the most efficient manner
- Reduce work stress for the operator
- Reduce the likelihood of equipment damage
- Reduce the likelihood of property damage
Wim van Meer is Group SHEQ Manager for Riwal; and Robert Cavaleri is Regional Safety, Training and Compliance Manager for Manlift.