10 May, 2024

Street smart – AWPs in public spaces

Long used in a managed and controlled environment for construction tasks, AWPs are now recognised as the preferred means of access across all industry sectors. This means both individuals and contractors responsible for undertaking work at height tasks should be aware of the safety measures necessary for responsible use in a public area. The safety principles of AWP management and operation are constant, no matter where or how an AWP is to be used, but public areas present extra challenges.

Challenging to control

An increasing number of AWPs are being used in areas where members of the public might be present, which is more difficult to control and not always segregated from unrelated work activities, vehicular traffic and the general public. IPAF incident data have indicated that approximately one third of all reported fatal or injury incidents happened in areas that would be classed as public areas, roads and highways. Among these are cases of electrocution, hits, falls, burns, overturns and entrapment.

A site visit is recommended to fully appreciate the potential risks and identify appropriate safety measures required, including:

  • Provision and size of a ‘safety zone’.
  • Use of temporary signage and diversion of traffic and/or pedestrians.
  • Requirements for signage and marking of vehicles.
  • Need to control traffic flow by engaging a professional traffic management company.

In many cases, appropriate planning authorisations and permits may be required from lead highway authorities in order to work from or immediately adjacent to the road. It is advisable to check with the authorities well in advance of the work to see if such permissions are required. Failure to gain the necessary authorisations may result in legal action and unnecessary delays to work. Where the user is not familiar with local/regional traffic management requirements, they should recognise this fact and seek the advice or services of a competent person who is.

Reducing risks

To ensure that the works progresses safely, the client or property owner commissioning it, the contractor/employer responsible for completion of the work and the AWP operator accessing the work area have to focus on the following:

Risk reduction focus areas

Risk assessment

Identify existing and potential hazards, from delivery of the machine through to completion of the work at height and the removal of it from site, and the risk they impose when using a AWP near roads or where public and/or vehicles are not prohibited will likely require a site visit. It is also important to bear in mind circumstances may differ significantly when it comes to completing the task at a later date. The risk assessment should also consider the fact that those completing the AWP-related task may be working unsupervised, in unfamiliar surroundings, have limited control of work environment or changes in the immediate surroundings, such as an unexpected increased volume or variety of vehicular traffic or pedestrians.

Machine selection

Much of the safe use and operation of an AWP depends on selecting the correct machine at the planning and risk assessment stage. Thorough risk assessment and site assessment should help identify the most suitable AWP for the specific work at height task(s). Apart from determining common requirements such as height, outreach, minimum rated load/people, wind speed, power source, etc, there are other factors to be considered. These include duration of the work, distance the machine will travel, types of ground the AWP will have to travel over and operate on, and the proximity to other hazards, all of which should influence correct machine selection.

Safe system

It is the user’s responsibility to ensure that suitable and sufficient arrangements in the form of a safe system of work are devised, communicated, and implemented to keep both those within and those outside the work area safe. The risk assessment should identify additional signing, lighting and guarding.

Pedestrian management

Where footways and pedestrian areas are affected by AWP use, it is the user’s and operator’s responsibility to make sure pedestrians passing the works remain safe. This means protecting them from the AWP, the work area including the potential from dropped objects and passing traffic.
-travelling and manoeuvring the AWP

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

When working in public areas or alongside vehicle routes, it is important to be seen to make others aware of your presence as soon as possible, so they can take appropriate action to ensure everyone’s safety.

Other factors to consider

The precautions required when travelling an AWP in a controlled environment of construction site or commercial premises are also relevant when travelling a MEWP in a public area and should be applied and managed accordingly. However, there are additional risks to consider, such as pedestrians unaware of the dangers presented by a AWP, anticipating and managing pedestrian behaviours, including the young and less abled, and vehicle movements in more challenging areas like car parks.