In this blog post, it is explained why (and how) fall protection should be used to safely work with a cherry picker, also known as a boom-type elevated platform, or MEWP (Mobile Elevated Work Platform).
Unfortunately, not all countries have a law which prescribes that it is mandatory to use fall protection when working with a MEWP. Yet, the use of fall protection is often recommended.
When working with a MEWP, the absence of the right PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) leads to an increased risk. In that case, the party responsible for worker safety (usually the employer or the main contractor) will be held responsible if an accident occurs.
PPE can prevent users from falling out of the working platform, and thus exclude a major risk.
Why are accidents with MEWPs so common?
Cherry pickers (MEWPs) are a popular means to work at height, because they are mobile and quick to deploy. The majority of MEWPs are rented without an operator.
So all those MEWPs are circulating between many different (usually untrained) drivers. Although the possession of a certificate is a requirement in most industries, this is not usually demanded when the MEWP is rented. Crazy but true: anyone over 18 can rent a cherry picker in most European countries!
Therefore, it is no surprise that accidents involving MEWPs happen on a regular basis. The vast majority of these accidents is at least partially caused by human error.
Why use fall protection?
Users often need to reach outside the platform in order to carry out their work, sometimes while working with heavy tools such as chainsaws. Of course, it is strictly forbidden to climb or stand on the guardrails of the working platform, but that doesn’t stop everyone.
The most underestimated danger, however, lies in moving the cherry picker. A small pothole or bump in the surface can cause the user to be ejected from the platform with great force. Even with the platform in a low position, this can cause serious injuries.
When is fall protection mandatory?
The short answer is: whenever it is stated. And it almost always is. If not in a risk assessment or job safety analysis, then surely in the manual of the MEWP. In many industries, there are specific safety regulations or work instructions which prescribe the use of fall protection equipment when working with MEWPs.
So despite the fact that even in 2016, there’s no European law that explicitly states that wearing fall protection in a cherry picker is mandatory, failure to comply with written procedures may still cause a fine in case of an inspection. It will even lead to increased liability if an accident occurs.
What kind of PPEs are needed?
According to the well-known ABC of fall protection, a personal fall protection system must always consist of the following three elements:
- Body Support
- Connecting Device
This also holds true for fall protection in MEWPs.
When working from an elevated platform with guardrails on every side, a fall protection system should be used to restrain workers. With a work restraint system (also known as a work positioning system), the length of a user’s lanyards prevents him/her from getting in a position from which a fall might occur.
If the use of fall protection is included in the manual of a MEWP, then the work platform should have a safety eye, usually at low height. If there is no safety eye, then the MEWP is NOT safe for use!
Contrary to what one may read in the manual of a MEWP, wearing a waist belt inside the working platform is not recommended. If a user happens to fall out of the platform (through misuse of the equipment) and his fall is arrested by a waistbelt, then the shock on the body of the user can cause serious (spinal) injuries.
An approved body harness, on the other hand, is suitable to protect a user even if (again, through misuse of the equipment) a fall occurs anyway. Work in the platform of a MEWP requires a harness with an attachment point on the back.
Since working with a MEWP means that the fall height is variable, the use of an energy absorbing lanyard in not recommended. Instead, a lanyard that is suitable for work restraint (also known as work positioning) should be used. A lanyard with a fixed length excludes the risk of misuse as much as possible.
In summation: users can safely work with a MEWP using a restraint lanyard that is attached to the back of the harness they are wearing, and secured to the safety eye that is integrated in the work platform.
Under certain conditions, the use of fall protection in a MEWP is not recommended, for example if the work takes place above water where the danger of drowning is greater than the danger of falling. In that case, using a life jacket would be a better safety solution. However, such a decision would have to be sufficiently substantiated in the risk assessment or job safety analysis.
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