How to safely manage MEWPs in racking installation | A Guide

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.

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.

IPAF Training – Wearing harnesses at height with MEWPs

By Damian Edge, IPAF Instructor

Working at height with a MEWP is secure and reliable – but only if you put your safety first and follow the necessary precautions. While there’s no legal requirement for wearing harnesses at height, they’re strongly recommended – particularly for boom lift operators – to help protect you from fatal falls.

If your platform swings, jolts, or tilts unexpectedly away from your machine’s centre of gravity your operator can suffer whiplash or even be flung from the basket. And the higher you are, the faster you’ll be thrown. Read more “IPAF Training – Wearing harnesses at height with MEWPs”

IPAF Training – Safely operate MEWPS in cold conditions

By Luke Jones, Internal Accounts Manager

Working at height in a cold environment is safe and productive if you take the right precautions – and know how to notice key warning signs that your MEWP isn’t performing at its best. Safety is paramount when working at height, so getting up to speed on the latest IPAF training from industry experts is vital.

Working indoors in cold store and food distribution industries, an electric boom or scissor lift can be essential for stock taking, planned or emergency maintenance, and racking. However, sub-zero temperatures can limit your machine’s capability. Read more “IPAF Training – Safely operate MEWPS in cold conditions”