How to select a MEWP for racking installation | A Guide

Racking up safety standards on site – Part 1

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 selecting and using MEWPs in the racking industry. In the interests of knowledge sharing and boosting safety standards, I thought it may be helpful to share my thoughts in the form of two blogs. This blog focuses on how to select the right MEWP for your job. The second blog in the series covers the correct use of MEWPs. I hope you find them both useful.

How to choose the right MEWP for your racking project

Installing and configuring racking involves the high-risk activity of working at height. The risk of falls from height can be significantly reduced by using a MEWP. Selecting the right racking MEWP will also drive efficient working, making the job easier enabling and a project to be completed safely ahead of schedule.

To help select the right MEWP for racking installation, you will need know:

  • The maximum height you want to work at
  • Outreach required
  • Site width restrictions between racking aisles
  • Load capacity, weight of people, tools and equipment to be lifted in the MEWP
  • Power sources allowable on site

Remember you will need different MEWPs for different tasks: your on-site risk assessment will help you determine how many different machines may be needed.

Consider the maximum working height you will need to reach. Some warehouses may have racking of up to 18 metres high, but at the Chesterfield site, the racking was only 13 metres, which allowed them to use MEWPs with a platform height of 11 metres, so the workers could comfortably reach up to 13 metres.

Where no significant outreach is needed, a vertical type MEWP – commonly known as a scissor lift – will be the preferred option, as was the case in Chesterfield. Many scissor lifts have a platform with an extending deck which provides a small amount of outreach (1 – 2 metres); this has the added benefit of enlarging the working area inside the platform. Another advantage of selecting a scissor lift is generally they have a greater rated capacity – the total weight the MEWP is designed to lift – than a boom type MEWP.

MEWP width is key. Thankfully, nowadays there is a good choice of narrow and ultra-narrow models available for use in restricted spaces and the confines of a narrow aisle. Where new racking was being erected in Chesterfield, width was not a restricting factor, however, many of the other tasks on site had width restrictions requiring MEWPs of considerably less than 2 metres width.

Load capacity is critical when selecting a MEWP as they now have load sensors fitted to prevent elevating if overloaded. In addition to the operator, MEWPs are used to lift significant weights of materials and tools, so you need to know the total weight (rated capacity) the MEWP is designed to lift. Overload a MEWP and it will not lift. Where there were no width restrictions, the preferred minimum rated capacity of larger scissor lifts used on the Chesterfield project was 950 – 1000 kg; where access between installed racking was needed, the preferred rated capacity of narrow scissor lifts was 350kg.

Power source: Emission-free battery/electric powered MEWPs and those powered by propane gas are the common choice when working indoors. The development of bi-energy MEWPs and hybrid MEWPs means the range of environmentally-friendly MEWPs is continually expanding. Diesel powered MEWPs should be limited to external use.

One other thing to consider before placing an order for a MEWP is the need for non-marking tyres to prevent marking the floor surface in warehouses and distribution depots. It is possible to use wheel covers on larger MEWPs but non-marking models tend to be the preferred choice, as they are easier to manage and less susceptible to damage, particularly for indoor-only projects.

If you’re not sure, ask: In my experience, the best MEWP suppliers offer to carry out a no-obligation site survey free of charge so they are in the a better and more informed position to recommend the right platforms for your project. If this service isn’t available – or if there is a charge – it may be worth trying an alternative MEWP supplier.

Use a reputable MEWP supplier: Cost shouldn’t be the only factor when it comes to hiring a MEWP. The quality of platforms and the service you receive can vary hugely form supplier to supplier, so make sure you do your research. Ask around or search online. Look for key statistics such as delivery reliability, breakdowns and response times. Client testimonials can also speak volumes. The Site Manager on the Chesterfield site hired in extra scissor lifts ‘just in case’ a platform broke down or arrived with a flat battery. A more cost-effective alternative would be to hire good quality MEWPs that are well maintained, regularly serviced and thoroughly inspected before every hire.