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Anti-Crushing Devices on Boom Lifts Brought to Forefront This Spring

Although still in its infancy, a major technological advancement in the safe use of aerial work platforms is having an impact on the access industry—and you probably didn’t even know it.

While an operator being pinned or crushed between a stationary structure and a boom lift’s controls or top guard rail is not the industry’s leading cause of injury, it is still a major safety concern. This rare, yet often fatal, event has spawned a number of safety devices to be designed to help prevent this kind of injury. I am sure the issue will also drive development of even more safety devices to prevent operators from being pinned or crushed while operating boom lifts.


Niftylift first with solution

Niftylift first addressed the issue with SiOPS (Sustained Involuntary Operation Prevention System), which was developed in response to the U.K. Health and Safety Executive’s growing concerns about crushing fatalities on aerial work platforms.

After considerable research, Niftylift engineers mounted a sensor bar on the boom lift’s control console. If the operator is forced onto the controls by an overhead object, the bar senses the pressure. SiOPS instantly stops the lift’s operation and sounds an alarm. That gives the operator time to operate an override switch to move the platform away from the danger. If the operator cannot activate the switch, a person on the ground can use the turret-mounted base controls to lower the basket out of harm’s way.


SkySiren follows lead

Following Niftylift’s SiOPS lead came the SkySiren system, now owned by Lavendon Group plc. The SkySiren’s main element is a pressure-sensitive, longitudinal rubber strip between the operator and the control panel. Putting pressure on the strip stops the boom lift functions immediately and sounds an alarm.

SkySiren differs from SiOPS in that it can be retrofitted to nearly any boom on the market. This opens up a huge can of worms for AWP manufacturers and owners.

In some ways, you can correlate this to the advent of pothole protection on scissor lifts. For those young enough to not have gray hair, allow me to reflect back to the early 1980s, when there was no such thing as a pothole protection system. Recognizing the need to make narrow scissor lifts safer, Mayville Engineering Co. developed the first pothole protection system. One by one, every producer of scissor lifts was compelled to follow suit by developing some semblance of a pothole protector. Today they have pretty much become standard equipment.

The key difference between these two safety innovations is it was not structurally or economically feasible to retrofit a pothole protection system. That is not the case with anti-crushing devices (ACD) like SkySiren.


Next steps for safety

End-user adoption is already taking place. Skanska UK has mandated that all self-propelled boom lifts used to construct the London Summer Olympic facilities be equipped with them. Based on this policy, it seems logical that Skanska’s U.S. operations will require the use of ACDs on jobsites in North America. It isn’t a matter of whether the requirement to provide anti-crush systems will hit our shores; it is just a matter of when it will get here. This spring, Genie and JLG showed prototypes of their ACDs, indicating these devices will be here sooner rather than later.

JLG showed a prototype of its SkyGuard system at the National Construction Safety Executives spring meeting in early April, as well as at Intermat. Similar to the SkySiren, SkyGuard features a pressure bar that extends over the upper control console. It takes approximately 50 pounds of pressure to activate the system. Once triggered, the system will passively reverse the most recent movement of the unit’s operation and an alarm will sound simultaneously.

SkyGuard will be optional on all JLG units produced after Intermat, and it is expected to be retrofittable to all JLG booms produced since 2009. Unlike the SkySiren, the system will not fit other brands. I understand there may be plans to offer the system for models built prior to 2009, but it will be not be available for some time.

Add to the mix Genie’s Operator Protective Structure (OPS). A prototype OPS shown at Intermat resembles a roll bar and can be attached to boom lifts with 6- to 8-foot platforms. The tubular steel structure is designed to transfer the kinetic energy into surrounding structures while maintaining a protected area for the operator. It is bolted directly on the boom lift’s platform; no modifications are needed.

How will other OEMs address this issue? More important is the potential impact this will have on rental fleet operators. Jeff Stachowiak, national safety training director for Sunbelt Rentals and vice president of the Scaffold & Access Industry Association, believes it is only a matter of time before the entire industry will have to use ACDs systems similar to these. As Jeff puts it, “The genie is out of the bottle.”

Enhanced control protection is the term OEMs will want you to become use to using. Although these products all have the same purpose—to reduce the chance of an operator becoming crushed or pinned between the controls and whatever is above or besides them—they all do it in different ways.


Lift & Access is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.