Operating MEWPs in Restricted Spaces

Using MEWPs to install and construct racking in restricted spaces significantly improves efficiency and safety. That said, it’s still important to ensure the correct precautions are put in place to minimise the chance of an accident while working at height. 

So what precautions should MEWP operators and managers consider when using MEWPs in restricted spaces? In this blog, Horizon Platforms shares advice on selecting the right cherry pickers or scissor lifts for operating in restricted spaces, along with some important safety tips. 

Planning Your Racking Installation 

When it comes to planning your operation, there are some key points to take into consideration. From choosing the correct machine for your installation to employing trained operators, if you’re a manager or site supervisor you should ensure safety is at the top of your priority list. 

  1. Choose the Correct MEWP

It’s important to choose the correct machine for your racking installation. Specific MEWPs are designed to operate in restricted spaces, so make sure you choose the right platform for the job. For example, a low-level personnel lift might be most suitable for navigating a restricted space. 

You should consider:

  • The maximum working height your MEWP will need to reach – this will help you choose a machine with a suitable platform height. 
  • What kind of outreach is required – a vertical MEWP (scissor lift) is probably most suitable if significant outreach is not needed. Remember, a scissor lift platform with an extending deck provides a small amount of outreach, which could be just enough for your job.
  • How noisy the MEWP is – in tight spaces, this is likely to be more important compared to a sprawling outdoor environment. 
  • The space you need to manoeuvre – does your MEWP need to fit through a tight door, or swivel within a confined corridor? If your job has width restrictions, you need to select a MEWP that’s small enough to fit the space!
  • Choosing an emission-free battery/electric-powered MEWP rather than a diesel-powered platform. Not only are these more environmentally friendly, they prevent potentially harmful fuels being emitted.

For more information, take a look at our advice on how to select a MEWP for racking installations

Choosing the wrong machine can be a dangerous decision, and could lead to accidents if operators take risks such as over-reaching. Using a MEWP that’s not suited to restricted spaces could also cause damage to the area, equipment and any professionals working on site – as well as providing a potential trapping risk. 

If you’re not sure about which machine to choose, use our Platform Finder or speak to our expert team, who’ll offer personalised advice and recommendations. 

Should I Hire or Buy a MEWP? 

If you already have a fleet of MEWPs, never select one of your existing machines if it isn’t suitable for the job in hand. 

Whilst buying a MEWP can be a big financial decision, you may find hiring a MEWP presents a better option. This gives you the flexibility you may need to find the perfect machine for a specific job, such as a racking installation within a restricted space. If you want to find out more about hiring a boom lift or cherry picker, check out our blog on the questions you need to ask before hiring a MEWP

2. Be Aware of the Risks

There are many risks associated with using MEWPs but, with the right risk management and planning procedures in place, you should be able to minimise the chance of an accident occurring. 

In a restricted space, there is an increased risk of becoming trapped – particularly as MEWPs may have a slight rocking movement when moving around in an elevated state. Operators should ensure that no items protrude further than the footprint of the platform, as this could catch or snag on obstructions.

It’s also worth noting that MEWP operators at any risk of falling from a platform – whether in a restricted space or not – should wear the necessary fall protection equipment.  

Confined Space vs Restricted Space

While a confined space and a restricted space are terms that are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences. Restricted spaces are places that are typically tricky to enter, exit and maneuver around. A confined space is an enclosed space that presents additional potential hazards, such as a lack of oxygen. It’s worth noting that a space can be both a restricted space and a confined space. 

As restricted spaces refer to the physical restrictions that may impact activities (such as operating a MEWP), you’re more likely to find operators and MEWP professionals using this term. 

3. Employ Experienced Operators

Restricted spaces, such as areas between racking aisles, are considered higher risk areas and as such experienced operators should be utilised. Higher levels of supervision are also recommended to prevent accidents occurring. 

Individuals operating a MEWP are required by law to be able to demonstrate they have completed the relevant training, while those planning lifting operations must be competent and trained to do so. It’s recommended to complete the relevant IPAF training courses when working with powered access platforms such as cherry pickers or scissor lifts. These training courses will ensure operators have the relevant knowledge and experience to identify risks and work at height safely. 

As a very obvious example, MEWP operators should never do anything that could cause them to lose control over the control panel (such as leaning over the platform guardrail or control panel while moving, or using a mobile phone while operating the MEWP). This could massively increase the risk of an injury or entrapment occurring while working in a restricted space – a thoroughly trained operator would know these basic rules like the back of their hand! 

4. Consider Your Restricted Space Rescue Plan

It’s a legal requirement to have a rescue plan in place when using MEWPs – but does your current emergency plan take into account working in restricted space? Consider the impact that the position of the machine in restricted space may have on your MEWP rescue plan. For example, you may find that the nominated rescue person is not able to access the ground controls in restricted space in an emergency – something vital to the rescue plan. Ensure emergency recovery can take place if the operator becomes trapped between the MEWP and an adjacent object. 

To familiarise the team with the rescue plan in restricted spaces, why not conduct rescue exercises and toolbox talks? This will help to establish the procedure, ensuring a rescue plan goes smoothly if it ever needs to be executed. 

Operating MEWPs Safely In Restricted Spaces

Even the very best plan can go awry if safety procedures aren’t followed when working on an installation job. Operators should ensure they are familiar with their MEWP and know what preventative measures to take in order to lower the risk of an accident occurring. 

  1. Familiarise Yourself With Your MEWP

Operators should double check the controls and familiarise themselves with the machine before moving any MEWP. Each individual machine is designed differently, and scissor lift control boxes are often movable, so it’s important not to dive straight in until you know how that particular machine works. 

For example, the forward and reverse controls may be different across different machines and could be mixed up by the operator – a surprisingly easy mistake to make. Some machines also toggle between drive and lift, resulting in confusion if due attention is not provided.

Conducting a pre-use inspection doesn’t just help ensure that your MEWP is working correctly – it also gives you an ideal opportunity to get to know your machine. 

2. Put Your MEWP in Slow / Creep Speed

MEWPs have low and high-speed drive, and will automatically drop into a slow-speed drive when elevated above a predetermined height. However, it’s good practice to operate in low-drive speed around people and structures too, as this gives greater control over the MEWP. 

Operators should never rely on slow speed activating once the platform is elevated, as it may not have yet elevated to the predetermined level needed. Instead, manually operate at low-drive speed until you know it’s safe to do otherwise. 

3. Use Controls Carefully

So you’ve conducted adequate pre-use inspections and you’re fully prepared to operate your MEWP in low drive speed – great! Now what about using the MEWP’s controls? 

With a number of variables such as the height of the platform affecting MEWP speeds, it’s recommended to use a gentle touch.

You should take particular care when moving the joystick forward, increasing the speed of movement slowly. The joystick is usually like an accelerator pedal in a car. The more you move it, the faster the machine will attempt to accelerate. Sudden or erratic movement of the joystick increases the risk of collision, as well as your ability to keep the MEWP under control.

For more information about the safe installation of racking, visit our blog or take a look at our MEWP training courses if you really want to up your game. 

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