By Damian Edge, IPAF Instructor
Ground strength is quite literally the foundation of your safety when working at height. MEWPs – whether static or boom operated – rely on stable ground conditions to keep level during slew and when moving over different terrains. Due to the weight of MEWPs, the ground can settle under heavier loads causing the machine to tip and overturn – sometimes resulting in damage and the catapult effect.
In fact, IPAF training warns that the pressure applied by the wheel of a MEWP onto the ground underneath can increase by 80% of the total machine weight dependent on its configuration and loading.
So, underestimating your ground conditions is an unnecessary risk to the safety of your operator. Our 3a & 3b IPAF training recommends that – when using self-propelled platforms with outriggers and jack-legs in particular – it’s essential that you know how to properly assess the lay of the land.
With this in mind, make sure to identify these seven ground condition hazards during your IPAF-recommended pre-inspection.
- Uncompacted Fill
If loose soil or other fill material isn’t properly compacted, the ground can shift or give way under your MEWP unexpectedly. This may be found piled along the line of a backfilled trench.
Look for cracking when assessing ground conditions to stabilise before MEWP use.
- Proximity to Excavations
As part of your pre-inspection, make sure that there are no open trenches near your working area. Here, the ground could easily collapse or slide under the weight and movement of your MEWP.
If you need to be close to a slope, then a geotechnical engineer must undertake a risk assessment to understand how best to secure safe working conditions.
- Floors, Cellars, and Basements
Before you take a heavy MEWP onto floors or into cellars and basements you need to know the strength of its construction. If there’s any doubt, you could risk it collapsing without warning.
Our IPAF training experts would recommend a full assessment of the location of cellars and basements with an engineer or architect before work commences.
- Paved Areas
Where possible, you need to avoid paved areas as, while they may look strong, paving can be laid on weaker ground that shifts underneath. Not only would this endanger your operators, but there’s the risk that the MEWP could cause significant damage.
Be careful of lesser used roads, car parks or estates when assessing ground conditions. While roads regularly used by heavy commercial vehicles are more likely to be safe, you’ll need to ensure that there are no signs of distress before using a MEWP.
- Underground Services
Before working on a site you need a good working understanding of the underground work that lies beneath. Sewers, drains, manholes, and gas and water mains could be crushed under the weight of the MEWP if the ground collapses above.
Plus, it’s more likely that the ground will be less stable if it’s not compacted underneath.
- Weather Conditions
Throughout the year, weather can pose a problem for MEWP operators. Heavy or prolonged rain can cause outriggers to slip or sink; frozen ground can decrease the MEWP’s stability; strong sun can cause melting or glare; and high wind speeds can tip your machine.
You must always regularly check your machine level if you suspect ground is getting softer – making the decision to halt work when conditions are unsafe.
Make sure to read the MEWP’s manufacturer’s manual before use to check the maximum wind speed considered safe for that particular machine.
Assessing ground conditions is vital for the safe use of MEWPs. Our IPAF training experts run courses throughout the year to get you up to speed on the latest industry advice – that way you’re sure on how to play it safe.
Need further training? Book onto our IPAF training courses, available 6 days a week.