Mobile access towers are offering an increasingly versatile alternative to traditional forms of scaffolding, writes Dougie McCombie, PASMA Hire and Assembly committee member and sales director at Lyte Industries (Wales)
While in the UK mobile access towers have long been a popular and safe form of access, more recently their global acceptance as a practicable and flexible safe form of working at height has been shown.
The most obvious recent sign of this growth came when in 2012 Singapore held a landmark international event, the inaugural Scaling New Heights in Fall Protection Conference, held at the invitation of the nation’s Ministry of Manpower.
International leaders in various work at height fields spoke, including Peter Bennett, managing director of mobile tower trade association PASMA. A meeting also took place between PASMA delegates and senior members of Singapore’s government, helping ensure that towers were seen as a viable alternative to traditional scaffolding.
As a direct result, the UK-based association has already recruited its first member in Singapore. This was not an isolated success for towers; in a record-breaking 2012, when PASMA courses trained more than 60,000 people, the association also signed up international members from as far away as Dubai, and is now keenly exploring opportunities elsewhere in the world.
This popularity has been made possible by diverse advancements in towers, allowing them to compete with traditional scaffolding and deliver real benefits to users, and backed by a training scheme that aims to educate users of various levels in safe tower operation, from basic to complex structures.
Mr Bennett says on the subject: “It is becoming clearer and clearer to those working at height that towers are not just for simple up-and-down jobs. Their light weight, proven safety record, mobility and swift set-up, alteration and dismantling times all combine to make them a preferred option for many different types of job. This variety and efficiency is what has made them so successful in the UK, and what is now leading to their international popularity.”
One notable recent example of the unique advantages of aluminium towers comes from a project to install solar panels to over 800 properties in the UK, which chose towers over steel scaffolding for the installation.
Using the Advanced Guardrail (AGR), one of the methods taught on PASMA training courses and recommended by the UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the installation allowed safe and secure access to the front of each property in only 50 minutes. Towers reduced the time, cost and danger of the process in a way that traditional scaffolding was unable to replicate.
Towers’ increasing variety can nowadays be seen in a host of different situations. Large deck towers can offer a working platform area of over 25 square metres while remaining mobile; façade towers with walk-through frames allow access to the entire front elevation of buildings; tied-in platforms can reach significantly higher than the typical eight metres; and aluminium’s light weight and cleanness can avoid damage to sensitive areas, as in one cathedral project where care had to be taken not to overload the floor supported by a crypt below while also avoiding contaminating the building’s fabric.
Alongside these now common uses, steps are being taken to further ensure the comprehensive safety of towers. With this month’s launch of PAS 250, a standard for single-person low-level work platforms with a maximum working height of under 2.5 metres, PASMA helped fast-track the creation of a standard where none had previously existed. Similarly, PASMA has been involved in upcoming changes to the criteria for allowing towers on pavements, ensuring safety standards are as complete as possible.
With these changes, and the inherent variety of modern aluminium towers, this versatile piece of equipment is likely to continue growing in acceptance and popularity throughout the work at height world.