UK hire companies are turning their hands to product design and manufacture in a bid to tackle the much-publicised danger of operator entrapment and crush injuries.
Responding to pressure from clients – principally main contractors – several hire companies have come up with a variety of systems to prevent platform operators becoming trapped between their control panel and fixed objects such as bridge soffits and roof beams.
Last month Wakefield-based access hirer AFI Uplift won an international safety award for its own anti-entrapment system, called SanctuaryZone, which it claims is one of only two Tier 1 protection systems currently available in the UK.
SanctuaryZone, which won the Contribution to Safe Working at Height award at the International Awards for Powered Access Summit in Miami, is a crash-bar type cage which the firm says fits virtually any access platform basket.
Tier 1 protection
Developed with help from the Health and Safety Laboratory and manufacturers Haulotte and Genie, SanctuaryZone physically prevents fixed obstacles from entering the inhabited space inside the basket – so-called Tier 1 protection.
AFI Uplift director Austin Baker says the system has already won product approval from five more platform manufacturers – JLG, Skyjack, Niftylift, Versalift and Snorkel.
Mr Baker says that pressure from main contractors stimulated the R&D effort: “Contractors have been quite vocal about this issue and have gone to the hire industry asking them to do something about it,” he says.
Skanska leads the way
Last year Skanska became the first main contractor to rule that only platforms fitted with systems designed to prevent “sustained involuntary operation of controls” would be permitted on its sites.
Other hirers, including Nationwide Access, Hi-Reach and Kimberly Group, have also developed their own safety systems in response to contractor requests.
“The manufacturers didn’t develop systems because they were never asked to,” Mr Baker explains. “In fairness to them, most of their customers won’t pay for safety systems. They’re in a global market and if people aren’t asking for this, why fit it?”
International Powered Access Federation chief executive Tim Whiteman says that some manufacturers have developed systems of their own. “Nifty has a clever system, as does JLG,” he says.
Genie also has a system, based on the AFI Uplift design.
Safety is a management issue
“But our position is that working at height is always a high-risk operation and safety is a management issue,” Mr Whiteman says. “You can’t rely on a clever system without planning, training and managing the operation.”
Last year IPAF launched a new ‘MEWPs for Managers’ training course designed to improve standards of health and safety in the industry.
Between 2003 and 2009 more than a dozen people died from either crush injuries or asphyxiation after becoming trapped against the machine’s controls by an overhead obstruction.