Sergio Kariya, director of Brazil-based access equipment rental giant Mills Rental, writes about the attitude towards safe working practices in the country and how his company is promoting the cause.
Boosted by major infrastructure work, such as railway lines, hydroelectric power plants, roadways and developments set to meet the needs of mega sporting events, the Brazilian access market is in full expansion.
In the face of a growing realisation that using mechanical solutions for working at height brings greater productivity, there is a noted increase in market requirements for the adoption of safer practices in the operation of access equipment on construction sites.
Despite being considered significantly safer than other access options for working at height, aerial work platforms can still cause fatal accidents for operators and all those involved in the activity.
There are no official numbers when it comes to accidents involving this equipment in Brazil, but a report by accident analysis specialist Sistema de Referência em Análise e Prevenção de Acidentes de Trabalho – Sirena, carried out in 2010, shows that falls are the leading cause of fatal accidents in the construction sector.
In Brazil, some 254 deaths were recorded in the construction sector in 2010, with 20% of that total caused by falls from height. A drop is expected in this percentage based on the understanding that, even with aerial platforms being safer than traditional equipment, it is necessary to employ people trained to operate them.
The concept of these machines is still relatively new in Brazil. In the USA, sites measuring 70,000 m2 commonly use around 400 units of access equipment while, in Brazil, we use around 80 to construct the same area. Today, the Brazilian market has, for example, around 8,000 scissor lifts, compared to the USA, with 400,000.
Considering this reality, companies that lease aerial work platforms, along with their clients, face a huge challenge to guarantee safety in the use of access equipment to minimise the accidents. Mills, one of Latin America’s leading companies in the access equipment leasing sector, with a fleet of over 4,000 units and with the largest geographical coverage in the Brazilian market, feels that merely offering equipment in a good working condition, with operators trained for use, is simply not enough to ensure safe employment.
It is necessary to raise awareness not only among operators, but among the leaders on construction sites, too. These managers do not operate the platforms directly; however, they need to develop a perception of the danger involved in using equipment at great heights and thus, must undergo the same training as operators.
Based on this premise, Mills and Vale - the world’s biggest mining company, with operations in 30 countries and headquarters in Brazil - joined efforts to significantly increase the safety of over 20,000 construction workers in the country.
A pioneer in training operators and demonstrators using the IPAF scheme – with 11 training centres spread throughout Brazil – Mills created a project to train the mining company’s employees on six construction sites in the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo.
Over a period of eight months during 2012, 171 managers from sites and 12 companies subcontracted by the mining firm participated in training. The result is reflected in personnel being more aware of risks and having safer attitudes when it comes to their daily routine on construction sites. Furthermore, this leads to the passing on of information, and therefore multiplying knowledge and safe working practices. Training continues until the end of this year, with the goal of training a total of 350 managers from six large-scale mining projects.
The initiative by Mills and Vale has already borne fruit. During the months of training, no accidents were recorded involving aerial work platforms - a very encouraging result.