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Tips Working at Heights - Maintenance Cruz

Updated on May 23, 2015

Many facilities either own or rent high lift equipment for maintenance operations high above the ground. With this type of equipment come several inherent hazards come into play. The obvious hazard being risk of fall, but this equipment poses more issues and a few I have witnessed first hand.

This equipment comes with operation manuals and must be kept with the equipment, but I have never seen anyone read this material, ever. I careful and thorough training on this equipment is an absolute must, never take a person word they know how to operate this equipment. Everyone authorised to operate the equipment should complete a written and operations test of this equipment. I personally witnessed an untrained person operating a boom lift with pretty disastrous results, luckily no one was hurt.


Pay Attention To Electric Wire Ways

The first serious issue with this equipment (other than fall hazard) is the likelihood of contact with electrical equipment. Few factories have underground electrical wireways and most distribution is hung overhead. I repaired four sets of metallic conduit damaged by a poorly operated high lift, the operator was very lucky as there was over a thousand amps of electricity in the wires. I have also repaired fire alarm wires that had gotten hooked on a high lift and subsequently ripped out. Outside of your building may also have elevated wire strung to your build or between building, this can be a very dangerous situation, for some reason operator just do not see these wires when outside.

It is a very good idea for a shop lead or manager to inspect an area with an operator before the high work begins to identify hazards and guidelines. During a preoperative walk through thought should be given to traffic and the effect the high lift equipment will have when in operation. Areas of operation must be marked off with pylons to alert traffic of the presents of high lift equipment, but this precaution isn't enough in my opinion. It only takes a few minutes to inform departments that there will be high lift equipment in an area and to use caution.

Make It Clear

In the preoperative walk, steps can be taken to make access easier and more productive. Possibly some materials could be moved to allow easier access to a high level while also helping to position high lift equipment out of traffic areas. Making as many preliminary moves can speed the work and reduce the time this equipment needs to be in harms way. A specific incident comes to mind where warehouse lighting needed repair and the operator would go up remove the light, drop down and go repair the light, the go back up to replace the fixture. We change the SOP so that the operator would take up a repaired fixture and replace it then head back to the shp with the broken fixture, quick, clean, and out of the way.

Not For Everyone

Also, some thought should be given to personnel as not everyone should be on high lift equipment. It is the call of the lead or manager who should be allowed to operate this equipment and careful thought in evaluating skills, critical thinking, and maturity of individuals There probably is some aspect of discrimination to this approach, but it is necessary and simple job descriptions can forgo any issue. This is less of a problem in union situation, but I have also seen plenty of union workers that had no business operating this equipment.

Training is the key and signing off on a complete operations test can eliminate so many problems. Add a site specific information and test then you have a strong base of knowledge and many potential issue may be avoided. One part of high lift training that I noticed was missing in most cause was how to operate a lift from the ground. The example is that the operator in the basket has lost active control of the unit or is injured and someone needs to get him down safely using the ground controls. This also needs to be specified and trained to specific personnel.

The Operator Has The Control

Lastly is actions of the operator while working above the ground. Firstly, the danger to personnel below from falling tools and parts, the area directly under and some perimeter should be strictly off limits with clear marking. Operators reaching out of man cages is a never ending issue and probably the most dangerous mistake per capita. Fall arrest harnesses should always be used in high lift equipment regardless of type of lift. Operators hate using harnesses and do not think they are required in boxed in scissor lifts, just insist.

Unlevel ground and unstable ground is often underestimated and very risky. The ground was fine before you started to lift but, as the center of gravity changes as the boom reaches out the ground under the fulcrum wheels starts to compress or sink, not good. I have also seen where an area has been built up with wood to stabilize a lift, except that the movement of the lift had shifted all the wood and broken some of it, close call.

It seems as soon as you're not watching someone decides to take a really stupid risk with one of these machines, I do not have a good explanation for this phenomenon. I just keep an eye on the operation and ensure I have the right personnel in the basket.

For most of what I have said here OHSA has set regulations that require fall arrest equipment and list use training. My point here is that the importance and strict adherence to the company policies are to be made clear to your personnel. Some candid talk with your people about situation, like getting caught up in electrical wires, is an added booster to the safety policy training. Taking your people for a walk around your plant and pointing out highly critical areas where extreme caution needs to be taken will give them a predisposition for a safer mindset in that area.

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