Taking elevated work platform safety to new heights

4/20/2016 3:41 PM CET

Working at heights can be dangerous – but it’s safer using mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs). And it’s much safer if the platforms are equipped with devices that protect operators from being pinned against overhead objects. An industry-wide call by Skanska to improve MEWP safety helped raise the safety standard of the entire construction industry.

An industry-wide call by Skanska to improve mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) safety helped raise the safety standard of the entire construction industry..

We’ll be highlighting safer MEWPs as Skanska conducts Safety Week starting April 25 in our home markets. "Plan for Today" is the theme, and naturally choosing the right equipment is crucial for safety.

Tragic outcomes

The need for safer MEWPs was obvious: In 2014, IPAF (International Powered Access Foundation) recorded 11 fatalities due to entrapment and crushing injuries. Since 2008, three MEWP operators died from crushing injuries on Skanska projects. These outcomes are tragic and unacceptable.

"Our analysis of the fatal accidents showed that working safely required MEWPs to be improved," says Neil Moore, Skanska senior vice president of safety. "As an industry leader in safety, we had to act to prevent this type of accidents being repeated. The best technology and active management was needed on Skanska jobsites."

Advocating for safety

Skanska started to push the leading MEWP manufacturers and suppliers to provide technology that improves MEWP safety as standard equipment on their machines. Called secondary guarding, it chiefly refers to a pressure-sensitive strip that’s installed above or below the MEWP control panel. If the operator becomes pinned against an overhead object that pushes their chest down on the control panel, the machine stops working and sounds an alarm, and might even retract slightly. Such life-saving equipment shouldn’t be optional.

To amplify our message to equipment providers, we sought peer companies to join with us, and many did.

Joint success

Our industry's unified message was heard by MEWP manufacturers and suppliers. Now, leading manufacturers Genie, Snorkel and JLG have made commitments to install improved secondary guarding on new models. Top suppliers have committed to make these upgrades to existing MEWPs.

"This is a great success story to be shared by all organizations involved," says Paul Haining, Skanska USA chief environment, health and safety officer. "Still, technology is only one part of the solution: we also need to focus on worker competency and selecting the right equipment."

Secondary guarding is mandatory on Skanska worksites. From January 2016, this is in place on all Skanska projects, for both our own crews and those from subcontractors.

Training also key

To improve another aspect of MEWP safety, we have introduced training courses for both operators and managers through a cooperation with IPAF. Now, our people can gain a clearer understanding of how and when to use MEWPs, as well as the risks and benefits connected with elevated work platforms.

"If we can save just one life or prevent one injury, it will be well worth the effort," says Dylan Roberts, Skanska UK director of health and safety. "Doing nothing was not an option after experiencing such a fatality. Nevertheless, it's important to stress that working at heights is always associated with risk. It is vital that we analyze these risks, plan ahead and train our operators and site managers."

Consistency important

Neil concludes: "This shows we can make a difference. We will prevent further fatalities and injuries by having a Group-wide and consistent approach to MEWPs. Moreover, we are demonstrating true leadership by engaging and influencing the industry as a whole."