When it comes to construction sites, accidents that occur when working at height are one of the biggest causes of death and serious injuries. While much of the focus is on keeping safe on ladders and scaffolding, a number of recent incidents involving mobile elevated working platforms (MEWPs) illustrates the importance of keeping safe while operating a work platform. In this short guide, we look at what you can do to minimise the risks and properly control the hazards MEPWs can pose.
What are MEWPs?
As defined by BS EN 280:2013, a ‘Mobile Elevating Work Platform’ is a mobile machine which consists as a minimum of a work platform with controls, an extending structure and chassis; that is intended for work at height.’
According to the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), there are four main classifications of MEPWs: ‘vertical’ (such as scissor lifts) and ‘boom’ (such as cherry pickers), which are then subdivided into either ‘static’ or ‘mobile’, depending on whether the MEWP can still be self-propelled backwards or forwards once the platform is raised.
Interestingly, according to the HSE, the most significant MEWP dangers arise from operation and use of the machine rather than from their movement as a site vehicle.
While undoubtedly a vital piece of equipment on construction sites and beyond, the HSE reports that a number of operators have died as a result of accidents involving MEWPs. Most fatal and serious injuries arise when operators become trapped (often between the basket and a fixed structure), when the machine overturns, from a fall, or during a collision, either with pedestrians, overhead cables or nearby vehicles.
Preventing MEPW accidents
Under The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, hazards posed by MEPWs must be controlled. In addition to selecting the right MEWP for the job and having a well-rehearsed plan in place to rescue someone if something goes wrong, the HSE offers a number of specific precautions that can reduce the risk from MEWP hazards, including:
- Confined overhead working: Brief operators on the dangers, and the safe system of work to be followed. If there are overhead structures against which an operator could be trapped and then pushed onto the MEWP controls, consider selecting a MEWP that has been designed to prevent such accidental contact.
- Ground conditions: The platform should be used on firm and level ground. Any temporary covers should be strong enough to withstand the applied pressure.
- Outriggers: Outriggers must be extended and chocked before raising the platform. Spreader plates may be necessary – check the equipment manual.
- Guardrails: Make sure the work platform is fitted with effective guard rails and toe boards.
- Preventing falls: If there is still a risk of people falling from the platform a harness with a short work restraint lanyard must be secured to a suitable manufacturer provided anchorage point within the basket to stop the wearer from getting into a position where they could fall from the carrier.
- Falling objects: barrier off the area around the platform so that falling tools or objects do not strike people below.
- Weather: high winds can tilt platforms and make them unstable. Set a maximum safe wind speed for operation. Storms and snowfalls can also damage platforms. Inspect the platform before use after severe weather.
- Handling materials: if used to install materials check the weight and dimensions of materials and consider any manual handling and load distribution issues. You may need additional lifting equipment to transport materials to the work position.
- Nearby hazards: do not operate a MEWP close to overhead cables or other dangerous machinery, or allow any part of the arm to protrude into a traffic route.
You should also ensure that all MEWP operators have attended a recognised training course and are familiar with the controls and operation of the specific make and model of MEWP they are using.
Finally, it’s vital that all MEWPs are subject to a programme of daily visual checks, regular inspections and servicing schedules, in order to ensure they are safe for use. As a piece of workplace machinery, MEPWs are subject to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). For more advice about PUWER, please see our ever-popular PUWER guide.
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