Experts Urge Caution When Working in Confined Overhead Areas

The Powered Access Interest Group (PAIG), a joint committee of the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) and the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), is calling on companies to take extra care when planning and using mobile elevating work platforms in confined overhead areas. This type of work has increased in recent years and led to a number of accidents.

PAIG is producing a best practice guide on the use of these machines in confined overhead areas. The best practice guide will be widely distributed and will draw on the work that IPAF has done with the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) to develop guidance on the safe use of mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) in constructional steelwork.

The initiative follows incidents in several countries where it was reported that operators became trapped between the machine and an object while working at height. In a number of these incidents, it was reported that operators were pushed onto the platform controls, which led to their sustained involuntary operation and the operator becoming trapped. Accidents like these should not occur if operators and management follow safe operating procedures that are covered by the IPAF training program or other industry training. Nevertheless, IPAF takes all incidents that can cause injury seriously and has reviewed its training program to increase operator awareness of such risks and the measures they should take to avoid them.

Additional graphical material is being produced for use by instructors in the IPAF operator course. This will reinforce the existing message on good and bad operating practices and continual awareness of the potential trapping hazards created by overhead objects and obstructions, particularly when working in confined overhead areas. Also, additional material is being included in the IPAF Operator’s Safety Guide, which is given to all operators who attain a PAL Card (Powered Access License).

Managers also need to be aware of specific precautions and procedures when planning and supervising work in confined overhead areas. To assist them, additional material is being prepared for use in the IPAF MEWPs for Managers course.

Members of the IPAF Manufacturers’ Technical Committee are assessing the possibility of operators becoming trapped against the platform controls on the machines of this type that they produce. Where necessary, they are looking at potential design developments that can help to protect against the sustained involuntary operation of platform controls.

“It is important to identify when operators are at risk and for site management to take particular care when work is planned in confined overhead areas,” said Gil Male, IPAF technical officer. “Site risk assessments, advice on the selection of MEWPs, and method statements for operating in areas where trapping risks are present are all measures that can help. The planned best practice guidance to be produced by PAIG will address these issues.”