Keeping focused: the basic principals of MEWP selection and use

By Maria Hadlow03 April 2012

Every country and even some regions within countries have their own laws and regulations, which it is required should be followed to ensure safe working at height. But good practice is universal: assiduous analysis of the job and work site and selection of the most appropriate method of getting to the job will help assure worker safety.

Before beginning any work at height, an assessment of the job and worksite should be carried out: work should be properly planned and organised.

When choosing the most suitable work equipment it is advisable to follow the fall protection hierarchy by asking yourself a series of questions to insure you arrive at the safest and most appropriate method of carrying out the work.

For the upmost safety, you should avoid working at height if possible, for example could second storey windows be cleaned using a mop on an extending pole?

If you must work at height is there an existing and safe place from which to carry out the work? If so, use that - it may require additional safety equipment such as harnesses, lanyards and additional guarding to be employed.

If you cannot reach the worksite without intervention then working equipment, which will deliver the worker to the jobsite safely for example a MEWP (mobile elevated work platform), should be provided. In that circumstance everything should be done to mitigate the distance and likelihood of a fall from the equipment. That means ensuring people using the equipment are fully trained and competent to do the work and that they are provided with and use suitable safety equipment such as harnesses and lanyards.

MEWP Selection

Choosing the right MEWP depends on what needs to be done, who is going to operate the MEWP and the training status of the person doing the work.

It may be that you supply a MEWP with a trained operator which will convey a skilled workman to the jobsite. Even in this circumstance it is vital that the "passenger" understands the correct and safe behaviours on the platform, for example not to lean out too far, nor climb on the guard rails.

Before choosing a machine decide when in the work schedule it will be required. From this you can establish important factors such as ground condition, obstructions both on the ground and at the worksite, what other vehicles, workers, members of the public might be in the vicinity and so on.

When considering ground conditions look at both the terrain at the jobsite and to-and-from the site. What is your site access? Where will the machine be delivered and can you get it from there to the jobsite? Will there be prepared roads or pathways or will the ground be rutted, muddy, sandy, wet or even frozen? Is the route to the jobsite littered with debris, other site machinery, workers or do members of the public have access to the area?

It is also important to consider ground bearing capacity at this point. Many models of MEWPs are heavier than you think, especially booms which can carry a lot of ballast in the chassis to prevent tipping at long outreaches. It is possible there are hidden underground cavities that will not support the machine's weight.

At the jobsite establish how much space you will have for your machine and whether the machine will need to work on a gradient. Is there enough room for manoeuvre and enough visibility?

Remember to assess conditions above ground level too. Are there overhead power lines or overhead structures, which the operator could be crushed against? Obviously you need to be able to reach the job from the basket without (as is sometimes seen) climbing on the guard rails or erecting a step ladder on the platform. Does the machine need up-and-over capacity to negotiate obstacles at height? Do you need to drive the machine at height?

Increasingly you will need to consider the how you machine is fuelled. If you are working inside, or in a confined space, or at night or near a residential area you will need to consider a batter driven, hybrid or bi-energy machine. Some countries, regions or even some worksites may have environmental policies, which make certain energy types attractive or even necessary. However, if you have to drive the machine long distances or over rough terrain, fossil fuelled equipment will probably be necessary - although electrically driven RT machines are starting to appear on the market.

If you are working in a public area such as a high street, there are the additional safety considerations of pedestrians and road users. Working at airports or on railroads for example can introduce even more unusual encounters.

Weather conditions can also be a consideration, from strong winds to sub-zero temperatures and desert conditions.

Finally to the job: how many people and what tools and equipment need to be lifted? If any materials need to be lifted, how heavy are they? What size and shape? Will you require special handling rigs? Also will you need a power supply, air or water delivered to the basket?

It is vital you have a trained operator, that the operator is trained in using that type of platform and you have proof of that training. IPAF training is recognised around the world, but some countries have their own training systems as do some companies. Many of these are excellent, but be sure of operator competence before letting him loose on a machine.

Avoiding injuries

Before moving the platform the operator should scan the area for obstructions and check the direction of the platform movement before operating the travel controls (booms in particular) and slewing.

While the platform is in motion the operator should repeatedly scan the area and move the machine at speeds that allow full control. The platform should be moved clear of obstructions before using the MEWP travel or main boom and users should take into account the over-run that can occur when the controls are released.

Maintain suitable vertical clearance between the platform and the obstructions when moving the platform or manoeuvring the MEWP. Do not lean over the guard rails while the MEWP is moving, do not lean over the control panel at any time and do not place objects on the control panel.

While working at height, whenever possible isolate the power to the MEWP. Do not operate a platform on ground littered with objects. Do not work with trailing leads or hoses on platform floor or loose material. Ensure a rescue plan is in place and always carry out daily checks.

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