The safe management of racking MEWPs on site – Part 2
I recently had the opportunity to observe the use of mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) during a large racking installation and alteration project in Chesterfield. My visit prompted me to develop a step-by-step guide on how to select a MEWP for use in the racking industry. As a follow-up to my guide on MEWP selection, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the safe use and management of MEWPs on site. I hope you find it useful.
How to use a racking MEWP safely on site
A site manager’s responsibilities start as soon as a MEWP arrives on site by making sure there is a level area, clear of pedestrians, traffic and obstructions for the driver to unload and hand-over the MEWP. Loading and unloading of MEWPs is a high-risk activity and site managers have a legal responsibility and duty of care to make sure it is done safely.
On delivery, site managers take legal responsible for ensuring the MEWP is well maintained, has all the necessary examinations, inspections and checks at the right time and is only used by trained and authorised operators. This was certainly the case on the Chesterfield racking site. The project site manager made a record containing the details of each platform, when the six-monthly thorough examination (LOLER) was due and the contact number of the hire company in case of a problem. Where a LOLER was due during the contract, he could liaise in advance with the hire company to make sure it was examined with minimal disruption to work schedules.
As training is a legal requirement, the project manager kept detailed MEWP training records. He required all MEWP operators to present evidence of relevant and current MEWP operator training before being allowed to operate on the site. The majority had the 3a (scissor lift) category on their IPAF PAL Card, as this is the most commonly accepted training scheme for MEWPs in the UK.
Individual SEIRS installers regularly used different makes and models of MEWP, depending on the specific task to be carried out. Not everyone could be familiarised at hand-over, so trained operators were expected to familiarise themselves with each and every model before using it. In order to do this, it was essential for every machine to be supplied with an operator manual. Familiarisation toolbox talks or training sessions for different models is a more formal means of familiarisation offered by some hire companies, especially for more complex MEWPs. Another way to reduce familiarisation requirements would be to limit the variety of manufacturers’ machines and models used on site.
Ensuring pre-use checks are always performed can be a management challenge. Attached to the base of every scissor lift on the Chesterfield site was a pre-printed identification sheet with a template pre-use inspection check list. This was completed by the operator at the beginning of each work shift. The ‘MEWP pre-use check record’ also contained information and contact numbers in case of breakdown. The same MEWP daily check record acted as a visual reference for supervisors and managers when undertaking safety walks of the site. At the end of each week the manager filed a copy of the inspection sheet with the machine records.
Key Learnings for the safe management of MEWPs in racking installation
During my visit to the Chesterfield project, I observed well-established procedures for MEWP delivery, operator training, familiarisation, pre-use checks and site supervision, all of which resulted in a well-managed and safe site.
In general, the use and operation of MEWPs throughout the racking industry and across the many differing projects does present key issues that project managers need to be aware of and address in order to maintain operator safety. These issues include:
- Material handling and tool storage: When being operated, platforms are regularly used to lift heavy materials to height by resting them on the guard rails or even the platform access gate, sometimes preventing the gate from closing. Similarly, improvised methods to carry tools are developed. Neither demonstrate good practice. Consideration should be given to developing specific material handling attachments and tool carriers for the racking industry to minimise the risk of entrapment and falling objects.
- Overreaching: Racking installers are often challenged with accessing restricted areas when reconfiguring existing racking. Standing on the platform’s kicker plate to gain extra reach or operating the MEWP controls while overreaching near overhead obstacles are not good working practices. Where these activities are observed it is essential to make the operator aware of the risk, but also ensure the operator is not under undue work pressures and has the most suitable MEWP for the task. The use of skilled operators, increased supervision and/or supplementary operator training and support is strongly recommended in such situations.
- MEWP quality: Many sites choose to hire inextra scissor lifts ‘just in case’ of breakdowns and reliability issues. The additional cost of this contingency can soon mount up, particularly on a long installation project. A more cost-effective strategy would be to find an alternative MEWP supplier with a reputation for quality and reliability.
- Length of the hire period: Depending on the scale of your racking installation job, you may only need a MEWP for a single day, in which case, a short-term hire contract is sufficient. If, however, you know you will need to be on site for weeks or even months, long-term contracts are a more cost-effective and convenient option.
- With short-term contracts, delivery times are critical to ensure you get a full day’s use from your MEWP. There are few things more annoying than paying for racking installers to stand around waiting for a MEWP to arrive. A more serious consequence of late delivery is that it may put your installers under undue time pressures while operating the MEWP. Accident data shows exposing employees to avoidable time pressures significantly increases the risk of an accident. Make sure you choose a reliable MEWP supplier who will deliver your choice of platform on time, every time, to suit you and your work schedule. Some suppliers may also be open to delivering your machine the previous day and delaying the start of hire charges.
- Another way to avoiding delays with delivery is to make sure you provide your chosen MEWP supplier with an accurate delivery address and contact details for someone who will actually be on site. The Chesterfield site was an existing warehouse so the postcode was known, but many new sites may not yet have postcodes allocated.
- And finally, to hire or to buy? It is not a simple question, as many factors have to be taken into consideration when calculating the total cost of ownership. These include: expected days of use per year; maintenance, repair and inspection costs; purchase cost and potential re-sale value; transport costs; and of course, the environmental advantages of hire over ownership. If your work-at-height requirements mean that it makes more sense to buy rather than hire a MEWP, many reputable powered access providers such as Horizon Platforms will be happy to find you a new or used platform from their trusted suppliers.