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Time we sang from the same hymn sheet

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

February 9, 2014 - A recent incident, in which a man was dragged to his death by his harness and lanyard, highlights significant policy variations within the powered access - and to a lesser extent the crane industry- on when, and when not, to use a harness and lanyard. 

In late January two men were welding or cutting the side of a new bridge in Waco, Texas, while working from a self-propelled boom lift, which was located on a jack-up barge floating in the river below.

The barge was substantial and stable, having been used by the crawler cranes that installed the main bridge beams. The boom lift was probably the ideal tool for the job, and both men were wearing a harness with short lanyards attached to the anchor points provided in the platform. All very good you might say, Well No actually!  They were working over water so in the case of an overturn their odds of survival were likely to be better if they were simply thrown in the water if they were catapulted out of the platform.

What exactly happened next we will probably never know for sure, they either inadvertently operated the drive controller or some sort of impact caused the lift to shift, either way the net result was that it went over the side of the barge into around six metres of cold water.  As if that was not bad enough the two were of course tethered to what was effectively an eight tonne anchor and were dragged under. Miraculously one of them managed to unclip his lanyard and get to the surface, while the other -Jose Dario Suarez - 55, failed to, and drowned.

Ever since IPAF began promoting the use of harnesses with lanyards in boom lifts it has included the caveat,” except when working over water”. As far as I am aware there have been very few examples of this type of accident, whether this is because everyone heeds the advice, or as is more likely, booms rarely fall into the water while being used - I don’t know.

What it does highlight though is conflicting advice on harness use, and one of the worst involves using a harness in a scissor lift. Again IPAF – correctly in my view – states that ordinarily a harness and lanyard should not be worn in a scissor lift. In spite of this some manufacturers, not only recommend it, but insist on always showing them being used in their literature. There are those who will argue in favour of their use with scissors, although in my opinion they are misguided.

IPAF does allow for exceptions by saying that where a risk assessment clearly indicates they should be used – then they should of course. However this will normally be limited to a few specific applications, such as when working on aircraft with the guardrails lowered. 

Why not wear one? Well, the platform has built-in fall protection in the form of a guardrail, and with scissors unable to generate the catapult effect, or suffer a platform levelling failure both of which  oblige their use in a boom, why would you?

Secondly unlike a boom lift when the centre of gravity of a scissor lift moves outside its overall width, it will go over. A boom will often recover, or the boom will come to rest on an obstacle preventing the basket from hitting the ground and thus providing a cushioning effect, so your odds are better if you can stay in the basket. When a scissor lift starts to go over, it is going all the way, and the last thing you want is to be tethered to the damn thing.  Just like when that boom slipped off the barge. Your best bet is often to jump clear as you approach the ground or as we have seen in some cases grab on to the building you are working on.

The advice to wear to tie-off in a scissor lift contradicts that published by the international association to which the manufacturers belong, in addition we have contractors enforcing other rules such as “100 percent tie-off No Exceptions”. A sweeping directive such as this may well have been the reason why our two men in Waco found themselves being pulled into the depths by what is a safe piece of equipment?

Either that or their training did not highlight the overwater issue, which raises another point – manufacturers introducing their own operating training programmes, rather than adopting one of the already well-established industry certification schemes. One assumes that those in favour of using harnesses in scissor lifts for example, teach this in their programmes. In spite of the wide body of evidence indicating the dangers of doing so?

I could go on for a lot longer on this subject, but the point I am trying to make today is that if the powered access industry is to continue with the incredible progress it has made over the past 15 years. And be taken seriously by contractors, who in the absence of strong clear guidance, will make up their own rules - it needs first of all to hammer out single clearly worded global policies on subjects like harness use, and stop ignoring such illogical contradictions as if they did not exist.



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Will we ever learn

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

Once again we are on the verge of a major trade war as a tariffs and protectionism are promoted as a simple solution a range of complex issues. Will they work? Are they misguided? Or just a simplistic reaction the challenges of change?






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