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Operators can maneuver low-level access scissor lifts into spaces that might be too hazardous for ladders or scaffolding
Operators can maneuver low-level access scissor lifts into spaces that might be too hazardous for ladders or scaffolding
April 14, 2015 7:00 AM CDT

Low-level lifts can fit the bill

Fall protection safety

By

People often can be tempted to make do with available tools, risking bodily injury for the sake of saving time and energy. This temptation applies to nearly all tools and equipment, including those designed to provide access to elevated work heights. For centuries, ladders and scaffolds have been the go-to solutions for elevated work, such as helping Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. But their safety features have yet to meet the robust safety expectations of the modern world.

The risk of falls from elevated working heights is very real. According to Liberty Mutual’s 2013 Workplace Safety Index, these types of incidents ranked as the fourth leading cause of workplace injuries, and they led to $4.9 billion in direct costs to businesses in 2011.

This is where low-level access lifts enter the picture. These lifts have many features that raise the level of safety on jobsites.

Hand over hand

One of the most common tools, and often the first one that people think of for working at heights, is the ladder. Ladders can be relatively quick to set up; are graded for a variety of applications; and they’re an attractive option, since they’re fairly inexpensive. But ladders can carry with them inherent problems.

Ladders come in four duty ratings: Type III household, Type II commercial, Type I industrial heavy and Type IA industrial, which can withstand as much as 300 pounds. If that workload is exceeded – for instance, if a worker decides to use a household ladder while installing heavy equipment, the ladder could snap under the combined weight of the worker, tools and materials and cause severe injury.

With a low-level lift, on the other hand, the worker can load materials onto a lift and move from place to place on the jobsite. Some of the lifts are even equipped with overload sensors that alert the user or limit the lift height, if there is excess weight on the machine.

Selecting the right height also is critical. If a ladder is too short it could tempt a worker to ignore safety precautions and stand on the top rungs or overstretch beyond the rails, either of which could lead to a fall. A ladder that’s too tall is more likely to be set up incorrectly against a wall and can slip from underneath a worker, because there is not enough friction to hold it in place. Low-level lifts address these potential pitfalls by offering working heights as high as 20 feet, and they can reach the exact height that offers the greatest productivity.

But let’s say you’ve selected the right type of ladder for the job. The challenge can be setting it up properly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that a ladder be one-quarter of the working distance away from a wall. For instance, if you know the wall’s height is 40 feet, the base of the ladder should be 10 feet away. To access an elevated surface, OSHA says the top of the ladder should extend three feet higher.

Furthermore, the American National Standards Institute recommends ladders should be set at a 75 degree angle. It’s often impractical to measure for these recommendations on the jobsite. However, not following them can lead to improper setup, substantially reducing the stability of the ladder, and increasing the risk of falls. Low-level access lifts are ready to use when they arrive on site, meaning less setup time is needed to ensure a safe ascent.

If you are working on a ladder, being productive and safe can become a juggling act. When large projects require moving the ladder as work progresses, the contractor needs to climb down, fold up the ladder, carry it a few feet over, set it back up correctly and climb the rungs to start again. This constant moving, climbing and standing on ladder rungs can easily fatigue a worker, which also increases the risk for falls.

By comparison, with a low-level access lift, the contractor can simply use the controls to move the platform up and down. This eliminates fatigue and reduces the hassle of moving a ladder to a new location. By eliminating daunting climbs and providing a step-in height as low as 20.28 inches, the lifts allow workers to quickly relocate without the hassles of disassembly and reassembly.

An operator might also overreach or “walk” the ladder to avoid moving it, either to save on effort or time. Overreaching shifts the center of gravity from between the ladder rails to either side, which can cause it to shift and topple over. “Walking” the ladder is just as dangerous. This is when a user tries to alternate the weight from side to side on the rungs to make the ladder “walk” forward. This can cause the ladder to tip on its side or fold up on itself. With low-level access lifts, the user brings the lift to the ground and pushes the unit to the next location, and with a self-propelled lift, he can simply drive.

Side loading also can be a safety concern. When a user standing on a ladder performs work that exerts force against the wall, like drilling or sawing, the ladder can tip due to lack of counterweight. Additionally, if the worker tries to pull up heavy tools or materials from the ladder’s side, he can actually pull himself down. Most lifts employ counterweights to address side-loading issues, and some even have tilt sensors that alert the operator when loads become imbalanced.

When project managers deem a task too impractical or dangerous for a ladder, they might opt for a scaffolding system. While scaffolds might offer more platform space than ladders, they can be just as dangerous.

More benefits of low-level lifts

Low-level scissor lifts come assembled and can be pushed or, in some cases driven, onto hard, level surfaces. Workers save time, since they don’t have to carry cumbersome poles, bulky deck pieces and tools. Most units are small enough to fit through doorways and into elevators. On a low-level scissor lift, workers remain on the platform and have no sides to climb or decks to assemble.

Lifts also offer a fully encircled work platform with 38- to 42-inch-tall railings and toeboards. The railings help prevent workers from misstepping and falling from an elevated lift, while toeboards protect people below from falling tools and materials. For added fall protection, some low-level access lifts come with lanyard tie offs. Workers have the option to attach their safety harnesses or lanyards to the tie off, and the system will catch them if they start to fall.

On self-propelled low-level lifts, the user can focus on the wheels’ path to avoid obstacles and uneven work surfaces while driving to the next location. Push-around units have automatic locking mechanisms on the wheels to prevent the unsafe surfing practice.

Elevated decision making

The International Powered Access Federation recommends that a complete jobsite assessment be completed before a project begins. It should address factors such as how people will gain access to the project, its scope and size, and the working environment overall. Only after they’ve completed the assessment should contractors and project managers select the right tools and equipment for the job.

When lifts are part of that tool and equipment mix, remember to inspect them daily and before each use. It’s also important to have a qualified aerial lift professional perform required annual inspections. Annual inspections keep users safe by addressing any mechanical issues that might arise through normal wear and tear.

By using low-level access lifts, contractors and project managers can continue making gains in both safety and productivity. And, they can be confident in knowing the masterpiece is more than the finished project; it’s the time and people that have been spared in the process of completing it.

Originally published in Masonry magazine.


About the Author

Justin Kissinger is marketing manager for Custom Equipment, Inc.

 

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