Although aerial work platforms are acknowledged to be the safest means of providing temporary access at height, there are still risks, including an operator being trapped or crushed while working at height. This can happen in a variety of ways and situations, but mostly users become trapped either over the guardrail, due to moving too close to an overhead obstacle. Operators may also become trapped over the machine's controls, which can cause the controls to cut out and increase difficulty in rescue and lowering of the lift. According to the HSE, there were six fatal accidents caused by trapping between 2003 and 2009 - therefore it is important to be aware of the dangers and ways in which you can ensure the safety of your staff when using powered access equipment.
Risks arise when an operative approaches an area at height in an aerial work platform. This includes scissor lifts, boom lifts, personnel lifts and trailer-mounted lifts. Roof spaces, beams and overhead obstacles all pose risks to users and extra care should be taken when working under these kinds of conditions. The most common situations for trapping accidents are in the following confined overhead areas:
l during the erection of steel framed buildings
l while installing ducting in a roof space
l while working in a clear roof space
l while working adjacent to an obstacle or object
Accidents generally happen because hazards have not been properly identified, operators are not paying attention to the obstacles around them and the movement of their aerial work platform, or by making an attempt to squeeze past an obstruction. Trapping can also occur when travelling in or out of a work area, for example over a curb or uneven ground, where movement is greatly exaggerated on the platform. Even rising over a small curb can result in an operative being trapped between the aerial work platform and an obstacle or roof above.
To safeguard against trapping and crushing accidents, a few simple steps should be followed whenever you are working in confined overhead areas:
1. Carry out task-specific assessments - plan your work and make sure operatives are aware of their surroundings and the possible hazards to avoid.
2. Select the correct equipment - consider which type of aerial work platform will be most appropriate, including the size of platform and method of access it provides.
3. Ensure all workers are trained to use the required powered access equipment - be aware that controls and use vary on each type and brand of aerial work platform. Both IPAF and PASMA training are widely available from powered access suppliers.
4. Follow basic safety procedures - such as checking your work area before moving the platform, controlling the platform slowly and carefully, not leaning over handrails, always looking in the direction you are travelling and never try to squeeze past an obstacle at height.
5. Ensure you employ trained rescuers who can help in the event of a trapping or crushing incident - this includes all your staff either knowing what to do or who is the correct safety personnel to contact for help. Rescuers should be familiar with the emergency lowering systems on each type of aerial work platform you use.