Staying safe on MEWPs
Discussions of what more can be done to prevent entrapment accidents have reached fever pitch recently as an Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report revealed that awareness of risk factors– and indeed knowledge of just what entrapment is – is low in many key industries.
The problem is particularly associated with the use of MEWPs, which are increasingly being used in ever more challenging confined settings. It has been claimed that because some MEWPs are so easy to use and greatly reduce the risk of falls from height, they can sometimes engender an ethos of complacency among users, making them less likely to manage other risks appropriately.
Entrapment is a danger whenever work is performed near overhead obstructions such as steel piping or beams. When such work is taking place, working processes should be structured in order to minimise the hazard and protect against the risk.
A site assessment must be carried out and a practical method statement developed. Supervision should be in place to ensure work is carried out within the agreed methods, and it goes without saying that all operatives and managers should have received the appropriate practical training before they even step foot on a site.
Unfortunately, practices which are common – though not safe – such as driving vehicles through door frames, can lead to crushing hazards, and even just having a hand outside the guardrail of a machine can lead to crushing even when no overhead objects are present.
There are two main ways in which advances in the development of MEWPs are helping to keep operatives safer; protective structures are offering operators a safe envelope to work from (e.g. Sanctuary Zones), while pressure sensing technology, which isolates control functions, enables the machine to cut out when a risk is detected, therefore minimising the chance of injury.
Despite the fact that such technology is available, it is suggested that fitting it in MEWPs as standard may actually be counterproductive, leading to a false sense of security which will put operatives at risk in the long run. Ultimately, whatever the advances in the design of these machines, there is no substitute for excellent training as with the PAL+ Course, careful preparation and thorough supervision in hazardous areas.