IPAF warns of dangers around festive decorations

Putting up and removing seasonal decorations can quickly turn into a festive hangover if those tasked with the work do not know how to select the correct type of MEWP, overlook the need for professionally trained operators, or try to save time and money by omitting site assessments or disregarding safe working practices, the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) has warned.

IPAF said it has already been made aware of multiple examples of aerial platforms being used in an unsafe manner to erect festive lights and decorations in 2021. Brian Parker, IPAF’s head of safety and technical, said, “IPAF is in the final stages of development of a comprehensive new guidance document on working with MEWPs in public places, including alongside highways. At this time of year there are several key messages that we cannot emphasise enough in terms of working at height safely in public areas and next to roads, often in darkness or inclement weather.

Seasonal concerns 

Christmas lights - MEWPs

Parker added, “We appreciate people sometimes feel pressed for time, and that those putting up or taking down festive decorations want to minimise disruption, but cutting corners on safety is not an appropriate way to go about this, and there are additional specific risks that are heightened when working away from a controlled work envrinoment.

“In a public area or alongside traffic, such as a busy high street or shopping arcade for example, operators of MEWPs are exposed to additional risks that must be considered when planning a safe system of work, not least proximity to vehicular traffic, working above pedestrian areas, and awareness of power cables and other possible overhead obstructions. Add to these, factors such as working during the hours of darkness, poor weather or unsafe ground conditions, loading and unloading the MEWP – there are a great many variables to be considered when planning this type of task.

“IPAF can advise on everything you need to complete this type of work safely and efficiently, including industry-recognised training for MEWP operators and supervisors, information and training on how to carry out a site assessment and correct selection of MEWPs, safety awareness and guidance on assessing ground and weather conditions, managing traffic, segregating the work area from pedestrians, preventing items and materials falling from the platform, and identifying and avoiding risk from overhead power cables and sources of radio frequency (RF) radiation.”

Safety campaigns 

IPAF points to 2019’s Street Smart safety campaign as a good example of the key considerations and risk mitigations when working at height using MEWPs in a public place or alongside roads. That campaign highlighted the key steps to follow, including:

  • Plan ahead – assess risk. Use a traffic management scheme.
  • Be visible – wear hi-vis PPE. Ensure vehicles are conspicuous and work areas well-lit.
  • Manage traffic – use temporary traffic lights or close roads. Use signs and cones to warn oncoming vehicles.
  • Exclusion zones – segregate the work area from passing vehicles and non-task-related personnel. Position the MEWP so it doesn’t overhang traffic or pedestrians.
  • Load/unload MEWPs safely – in a well-lit area, away from traffic or obstructions.  

Peter Douglas, CEO & MD of IPAF, commented, “At this time of year it is nice to see the festive decorations around our shops and town centres, especially so given the difficult long months of the pandemic. We are generally looking forward to time with family and friends, and to celebrating together as not everyone was able to do last year.

“But making our high streets and shopping centres look festive should never come at the expense of safety – whether it is an individual operator cutting corners to complete a rush job, or a client or contractor not taking proper care and attention in planning and supervising the task. A job done safely is a job done well; every work task should end with all involved able to go home in one piece, to enjoy their festivities in peace.”

● Visit www.ipaf.org/safe for further details about IPAF safety campaigns. 

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