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Prescriptive solutions

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

November 7, 2012 - Several UK based contractors are demanding the fitting of specific anti-entrapment devices to all boom lifts is this the way to develop safety solutions?

An article on this website announcing that a number of large UK contractors are beginning to demand the fitting of specific types of anti-entrapment devices to all boom lifts working on their sites appears to fly in the face of Health & Safety Executive advice, and is likely to cause supply issues and a significant distortion to the market and selection of equipment. [[link:http://www.vertikal.net/en/news/story/16102/]] See UK contractors dictate entrapment solutions [[link]]

The article has generated a number of comments on the site – some of which are very incisive and that raise points that deserve further consideration. One of the key threads that runs through them is that the global industry needs to work together more closely on such issues. Bulletins such as these have not been issued to cause dissent in the rental industry, but with the simple aim to improve safety and provide clearer guidance to site staff.

Forgetting for now that crushing and entrapment is very low down on the table of risks encountered on a typical job site, the fact is that aerial lifts are used for a wide variety of different applications, each of which involves different risks. This differs from many other types of equipment on site which pretty much do exactly the same thing no matter what the job and therefore have more centralised risk assessments.

When working at height each site and application needs its own risk assessment prior to selecting the equipment and specifying any additional safety features. As such handing down a prescriptive – one size fits all – bulletin can easily create more issues than those it attempts to solve.

What would be better would be a bulletin calling attention to the applications where crushing can be a risk, and listing all of the available solutions with their benefits and disadvantages. In this way the site safety officer can not only select a solution that best suits the job at hand but also one that is available on the safest and best machine for the job. The prescribed solutions are not available – at least not yet – on a variety of specific machines – for several reasons – which may cause a lift to be used that meets the demand of the bulletin, but that generates other significant safety issues.

Moving away from this specific item though – a key point here is how new safety features are developed and more importantly implemented. While contractors are best placed to generate requests for safety improvements demanding rental suppliers develop a solution and then dictating them on all sites regardless is almost certain to encounter unforeseen knock-on issues.

This specific development has come out of frustration on the part of one or two large contractors, who did try for some considerable time to persuade the industry that they wanted a technical solution to this issue. With one or two notable exceptions their pleas were ignored. One of the reasons that most manufacturers ‘dragged their feet’ on this issue until forced, was the exceptionally low incident rates – in other words overhead crushing was not showing up as a cause of a significant number of injuries- and often when it did it was down to poor training.

This is quite different from pothole protection on scissor lifts, overturning incidents on narrow slab scissors was comparatively widespread in the 1980s and 1990s. Pothole protection systems were gradually adopted as standard by manufacturers and the requirement was written into the regulations.

This is the correct way to tackle such issues But it can be painfully slow and contractor staff that have been involved personally with fatal incidents are understandably keen to see progress to stop similar incidents happening again on their sites.

What may come out of this is the on-going need for everyone in the industry to discuss such subjects honestly and openly with all parties, avoiding a tendency to be dismissive when a low risk issue is raised. Perhaps there needs to be a permanent and non-bureaucratic industry forum where such issues can not only be discussed openly, but where the industry as a whole takes any issues seriously and where all parties agree to be bound by any decisions/outcomes – easier said than done.

IPAF’s accident statistics could in future years - as the data base grows- play a significant role in this. But for this to happen contractors need to be a lot more open about reporting accidents and near misses.

Perhaps the current, and in some cases heated, debate could be harnessed into a really positive and practical outcome for the aerial lift industry?

To close it might be worth reminding everyone that aerial lifts are some of the safest forms of equipment built and have saved thousands of lives over the 40 or so years since they were introduced. All this at the same time as boosting productivity and quality of work – not a bad result for such a young industry.

 

 

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