Horizon Platforms is an employee-owned national provider of powered access hire, providing safe and responsive provision of cherry pickers, scissor lifts and forklift trucks to the warehouse and logistics sector. To support industry during the current period of fast growth, Horizon have worked with industry experts to create a white paper, outlining best practice health and safety strategies for the installation of racking and mezzanine floors. Both types of installation use a combination of scissor lifts and forklift trucks, and the new white paper outlines tips and advice for safe working at height.
Chris Wraith is an independent health and safety consultant and the former IPAF Health and Safety Executive. He is also a key contributor to the new white paper. Here he outlines some of his thoughts on the subjects that the white paper explores.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I have been involved in the Access and Rental Industries since 1988, initially as a self-employed contract haulier, delivering and operating mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs).
I joined UK rental company Nationwide Access in the mid-1990s and went on to become an International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) Senior Instructor and achieving a first-class honours degree in Safety & Environmental Management at Hull University in 2006/7. During that time, I also became a lead auditor and a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (CMIOSH).
In 2005, I was appointed UK Quality, Health, Safety and Environmental Manager for Lavendon Group (parent company of Nationwide Platforms), Europe’s largest dedicated MEWP rental company at a time when it was acquiring and merging several UK rental businesses into the Group.
I joined IPAF as their first full time Technical and Safety Executive in 2011, where I was actively involved with national / international standards bodies and industry organisations to review and develop MEWP related standards, guidance, and good practice. I also worked closely with manufacturers, enforcement authorities, rental companies, and contractors, both in the UK and internationally, to promote good safety practices worldwide. While in this role, I became a frequent speaker on safety and MEWP related topics at events worldwide and regularly had articles published in industry magazines and journals.
How did this whitepaper come about?
To gain a better appreciation of the powered access needs of the racking installation industry, Horizon Platforms asked me, as an independent MEWP specialist and safety advisor, to visit a site and observe MEWP use. As well as watching the different sized MEWPs being used for various tasks, I talked to MEWP operators, installers, and site management to understand what they did, and why they did it in a certain way. Apart from observing many good practices, I also learnt about the aspects of MEWPs use, which caused both operators and management the most frustration, leading to lost time, unnecessary delays, or questionable use of equipment.
Based on what I learnt from the site visit and my knowledge and experience of the MEWP industry, I compiled a report highlighting the many good practices observed. The report also addressed my concerns for certain aspects of machine use and proposed actions and practical solutions to ensure their safer and more effective use.
The report was the catalyst for this white paper which has been developed following more discussions and site visits with key players in the racking industry.
Why should someone read the whitepaper?
When it comes to the erection of racking systems, working at height is an inevitable part of the job, yet completing tasks at height carries inherent risk. While the use of MEWPS (usually scissor lifts) and FLTs are vital in minimising risk, improper practice can still leave installers exposed to danger.
For site management, the safe and effective use of MEWPs and FLTs may only be a small but critical aspect of their daily duties.
The aim of the white paper is to provide some best practice advice for installers and other key stakeholders on some aspects of operating these machines safely. It is a useful guide for both newcomers and experienced personnel as a means of sense checking things are being done correctly.
What are some of the key takeaways?
For me it is having a robust planning process in place. The planning needs to covers all aspects from machine selection and delivery, the need for trained and competent operators, through to good site management practices and supervision backed up with access to expert support and advice.
The safety of installers is dependent on all aspects of equipment use being considered and appropriate measures being put in place. The absence of a suitable emergency plan; failure to familiarise operators and nominated ground personnel; failure to regularly inspect the machines; anyone of these can put people’s lives at risk. So robust planning is a must.
What are some of the bigger challenges facing the safe installation of racking?
The explosion of warehousing and logistics operations has continued at an increasing rate over the last 5 years. This high level of demand has led to increased pressures on the supply chain, including availability of materials and competent / experienced installers. Coupled with the demands from the client and imposed deadlines, any delay in a project can have serious consequences. It is these pressures that concern me as a safety professional. The health and safety of everyone involved in the installation process is essential. Unexpected delays and time pressures are not an excuse to lower standards, cut corners or not plan accordingly. Whatever the challenge we must ensure everyone goes home safely.
What most needs to change to ensure a safer industry into the future?
To my understanding the industry has a reasonable safety record when compared to other industries that involve work at height in restricted areas. That said it would be wrong to say no change is needed. I would suggest it is more about attention to detail and creating small 1% changes across many aspects of racking installation rather than 100% change of one particular aspect.
The white paper may help with that. It is one means of benchmarking your current practices to identify where any improvements can be made.
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