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Mobile Elevating Work Platforms: Raising ‘Fall From Height’ Risk?

Elevating work platform
17th September 2013

In June 2013, Bradford Council was fined £12,000 when a 22-year old council worker broke his spine, pelvis, collar bone and a leg when he fell from a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), which became unstable and overturned during tree pruning work. The council was found to have failed to assess the risks involved in the tree pruning work and provided inadequate mats to stabilise the vehicle feet.

Among the most commonly occurring accident claims are ‘falls from height’. In the period 2011/12, they were frequently reported as the second most common type of accident after slips or trips, accounting for nearly 15 per cent of the 22,433 major injuries reported. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were  more than 7,000 types of injuries reported as a result of a fall from height, 2008/09.

One of the safest methods of working at height...

Latest figures from the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) show that fatalities involving mobile elevating work platforms had slightly increased, worldwide, in the first 6 months of 2013. Nevertheless, MEWPs, which include cherry pickers, scissor lifts and vehicle-mounted booms, can provide one of the safest method of working at height. Workers are provided with easy access to reach a task quickly and easily indoors or out, and are protected by guard rails and toe boards to prevent a fall.

Most fatal and serious injuries involving MEWPs are caused by entrapment, where an operator is trapped  between part of the basket and a fixed structure. Other accidents associated with MEWPs involve falling from or being overturned by the basket and collisions with pedestrians, overhead cables or nearby vehicles. Ten of the deaths were caused by platforms over-turning, nine were actual falls from height, five were a result of entrapment and three deaths caused by electrocution.

Risk assessment and safety harness...

As with all tasks involving working from height, a risk assessment is vital to evaluate if the MEWP is correctly specified for the job, ground conditions to ensure stability, avoid overturning and if the operators are trained, competent and fit to undertake the work.

On-site inspections should include the possibility of the MEWP becoming caught on any protruding features or overhead hazards, e.g. steelwork, tree branches or power lines ( causing electrocution) and the likelihood of collisions with passing traffic.

MEWP operators may also need to be issued with either a safety harness (to prevent any attempt to climb out of the MEWP) or a fall arrest system (which will stop an operator hitting the ground if they do fall out).

Under the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007, employers, the self-employed, and any person who controls the work of others have a specific duty to ensure “all work at height is properly planned and organised, the risks assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used.”