AWP on a Barge? Take Extra Care.

OSHA recently issued its citation for an accident that drowned a carpenter at a bridge-construction site in St. Louis, Mo. The worker was in an aerial lift that was knocked off a barge into the river.

OSHA is fining the joint venture that is the project’s general contractor $15,300 for four safety violations related to the accident. At press time, it was unknown whether the joint venture would contest the citation.

According to the accident summary on OSHA’s website, the carpenter was working on a boom lift atop a barge when a pipe piling fell and knocked the lift into the river, taking the worker with it.

The four violations that OSHA cited include: not following all of the aerial lift manufacturer’s requirements for safe use; lack of safe practices and procedures for installation of pipe pilings; failure to adequately protect employees installing pipe pilings from work hazards; and failure to train employees on safe operation of the lift.

While it’s possible that no amount of preparation would keep a boom lift aboard a barge if it were hit by a falling 34,000-lb. pipe pile, the accident and the wording of the OSHA citation has me thinking about the extra safety precautions needed when using a boom lift on a barge.

One violation came because the boom lift was being used on a barge when the lift’s operations manual said not to use it on a moving or mobile surface or vehicle.

That raises the question, “How stationary must a barge be in order to qualify as not being ‘moving,’ so that a lift can be used on it legally?”

A contact in the rental industry told me that boom lifts are not uncommon on barges for marine construction. But are those barges immobilized? Are they only prevented from horizontal movement, or are they also prevented from rising, falling, and rocking with waves? It would seem that making a barge completely immobile would be nearly impossible.

Some boom lift manufacturers do grant permission to use their equipment on barges, though they consider each request individually and list many special conditions that must be met.For example, the guidelines typically require that the lift be securely chained to the barge, the drive function be disabled, and the wheels be blocked. Whatever special precautions a boom lift manufacturer requires for on-barge work, users should make sure to meet them all.

An alternate method for checking that your barge-mounted use of an aerial lift meets safety standards is to have a qualified person review and approve it, in writing, per ANSI/SIA A92.5-2006, section 8.10(21). ANSI/SIA leaves it up to the employer to decide who is qualified.

One sure-fire way to meet the ANSI standard is to have a qualified and experienced engineer analyze the application. Although it may seem excessive just to put an AWP on a barge, working on water involves many additional factors to consider, such as required barge size, list, where on the barge the lift can sit, and more. Expert analysis up front can help avoid an accident down the line.

To quote Jeffrey Koch, president and CEO of Westbrook Associated Engineers Inc., Spring Green, Wis.: “When you’re working with an aerial lift on water you can’t be in the ‘hope’ business. You need to know the safety factors and how much of them you are using.”

While I’m sure it’s tempting to just drive a boom lift onto a barge and go to work, this is a case in which an ounce of prevention can be worth a ton of cure.

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About the Author: 

Mike Larson

Mike Larson has been writing about heavy equipment and construction for more than 25 years. He joined Heartland Communications Group in 2011 as editor of Lift and Access. During his career, he has edited Western Builder and Midwest Construction, and has been a regular contributor to Engineering News-Record and Constructor magazines. Larson also worked in and managed marketing communications for Manitowoc Cranes. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.