Work platform standards advance for design and safe use

20 November 2008

Mohammad Ayub, director of engineering at OSHA's directorate of construction.

Mohammad Ayub, director of engineering at OSHA's directorate of construction.

OSHA, the US government health and safety body, has advised the US mast climbing industry to develop its own standard for the design and use of mast climbing work platforms.

Mohammad Ayub, director of engineering at OSHA's directorate of construction, told the Scaffold Industry Association's (SIA) mast climbing council that OSHA would not write a standard, but that "we would be quite willing to accept [a standard] if it has gone through the correct process."

Speaking at the SIA's annual convention and exposition, taking place this week in Denver, Colorado, Mr Ayub said that other industry sectors had created their own equipment standards - including one for masonry wall construction - that had been accepted by OSHA as representing industry best practice.

Mr Ayub said OSHA would support such a move by the SIA's mast climber council, and said it was concerned that there was no current agreed standard, given that the use of mast climbing work platforms was growing rapidly in the US; "and as time goes by we will see more and more mast climbers used."

At the same meeting in Denver, Mr Ayub told the audience of mast climber manufacturers, rental companies and users that OSHA had determined the most common causes of accidents involving mast climbers.

"Most accidents are due to heavy loading in excess of load tables, a lack of anchorages, [and problems when mast climbers are being dismantled", said Mr Ayub. Other problems identified by OSHA include lack of fall protection when the platform is far away from the face of the building; the lack of adequate safety training; platforms erected not as originally specified; and improper anchorages.

Mr Ayub said one particular problem faced in the US was the tendency for small and medium sized contractors not to use structural engineers; "Contractors tend to make engineering decisions on their own...without the help of a structural engineer."

Mr Ayub's comments came as the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) published the final version of its safe use guidelines for mast climbing platforms in North America (See box).

Kevin O'Shea, chairman of IPAF's mast climbing platform committee and training manager at Atlanta-based Mastclimbers Inc, told Access International that a major benefit of the guidelines was the definition of training requirements for workers erecting, using and dismantling mast climbers.

Mr O'Shea, who was directly involved in the establishment of the mast climbing work platform (MCWP) industry in the UK, says, ‘It's worth remembering that the UK has already gone through the process of fortifying a design standard, has introduced a comprehensive safe use standard, and has high numbers of Powered Access License (PAL) card holders. The industry, therefore, has a proven recipe for success, and manufacturers around the world could be the biggest beneficiary."

It is not manufacturers, however, who seem to be the problem. Mr O'Shea says, "Manufacturers who supply into the US discharge their obligations diligently. They train the purchaser of the equipment, and the training is of a high standard. If that piece of equipment is sold, leased, rented out, lent, and somewhere down the chain it is abused, and an accident occurs, the manufacturer still faces a liability challenge, and the subsequent cost of the defense of that challenge.

"In addition, the manufacturer's is usually the name that splashed all over the TV set, and the industry as a whole suffers because the safety of MCWP's, irrespective of manufacturer, type, or blame, is called into question. In my opinion, the only way manufacturers and responsible users can protect themselves from product abuse is by safe use regulation.

‘I've spoken recently with manufacturers from many different countries, and the challenges are the same in most countries. The Committee relishes the opportunity to tackle these challenges head-on and keep the mast climbing work platform industry highly productive, intrinsically safe, and highly flexible as manufacturing volume increases ever more significantly."

IPAF has certainly been instrumental in advancing modern, internationally-harmonised standards. It recently released its ‘US Safe Use Guidelines' document, designed to supplement the American National Standards Institutes' A92.9 Design Standard for Mast Climbing Work Platforms.

Mr O'Shea, of Mastclimbers LLC in Atlanta Georgia, and Chairman of the IPAF International MCWP Committee, has spent recent years adapting the British Standard, BS7981, for American use. He has long been enthusiastic about the use of the standard in other countries.

He believes that the mast climbing work platform industry might benefit from a single safe use document that would be 95% directly applicable around the globe, with little deviation, if any, from the BS7981 blueprint. He suggests that the major changes necessary would be only in language and terminology.

Mr O'Shea remembers vividly the impact of BS7981, even in the days before it was an official British Standard. "In the late seventies and early eighties MCWP use was in its true entrepreneurial phase. A number of unfortunate incidents, related to erection and dismantle of the equipment, highlighted the need for safe use guidance, thorough risk assessment by qualified professionals, and comprehensive training and assessment standards.

"At that time PAF added mast climbers as one of its products of interest and the industry never looked back. Accidents reduced drastically, the product became known for its safety and performance record and an industry became re-energised."

With the success of BS7981 still in mind, IPAF's International MCWP Committee is now discussing adoption as a way to achieve consistent international standards of use, training, assessment and procedures.

Mr O'Shea lays out the first goals of the Committee, which will meet again during APEX in Maastricht, The Netherlands:

"Common standards and consistent, high quality of manufacture and use will facilitate MCWP exports around the world and into new markets. MCWPs have consistently out-performed other types of access equipment in productivity, safety and value for money. So, as MCWPs expand into new territories, applications and customer types, IPAF will work with manufacturers and users to make sure that the high standards the industry has set for itself, through their efforts, and the work of IPAF's committees and members, continues to set high market entry standards for new incumbents.

"I, and other long-standing industry figures, believe that, the higher the percentage of commonality between individual country safe use standards, the greater the product performance in terms of safety, productivity and reliability. It's therefore in the interests of all manufacturers and users of mast climbing work platforms to push for acceptance of industry generated standards of use, especially when they have the credibility of the seal of approval from an organization such as IPAF."

Mr O'Shea clearly believes IPAF has several strengths to advance the standards. He says, "IPAF's ‘not for profit' status and its membership portfolio translate into one thing -- credibility. National or regional regulatory bodies find it ethically and politically acceptable to talk to organizations like IPAF, and the acceptance of ideas and arguments is an easier pill to swallow.

"The Committee's task is to inform and educate regulatory bodies on behalf of the industry, so that they understand and accept standards and guidelines, which IPAF has helped develop, and to recognise the PAL Card and what it stands for.

"IPAF compiles accident statistics around the world, and the results are often surprising, highlighting areas of concern, trends, and early warning signs. A recent encouraging analysis of the last five years of growth of PAL cards in the UK showed a strong correlation between the card adoption and BS7981, and the dramatic reduction in dangerous occurrences over the same five year period. This kind of research, which is really only possible through an industry organization, leads to the kind of considered, comprehensive advice which safety professionals find impossible to ignore."

=== box story ===

US gets safety guidelines for mast climbers

Safe use guidelines for users of MCWPs (mast climbing work platforms) in the US have been prepared by the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) and Kevin O'Shea of Mastclimbers LLC with input from a number of interested organisations.

The 28-page document provides guidelines and recommendations to ensure that MCWPs are installed, maintained, examined and used in a safe manner, and that training requirements are clearly established to control the quality of use, installation and planning. The document also includes checklists for daily and weekly inspections.

Mr O'Shea, chairman of IPAF's International MCWP Committee said, "The US is in the same position now that the UK was in during the 1970s. Legislation on design and safe use is falling further and further behind the uptake of the product in all market sectors. The British equivalent of these guidelines, BS7981, and the emergence of a strong design standard, transformed MCWP safety in the UK to the point where it is now considered as the safest method of powered access available.

"ANSI SIA 92.9 (the US design standard) is currently being redrafted and these Safe Use Guidelines will provide the final piece of the jigsaw and users, installers, manufacturers, rental companies and regulatory bodies will all benefit from this document."

The guidelines are based on the European document Health and Safety Guidance for Mast Climbing Work Platforms. It also includes input from ANSI A92.9, OSHA 1926 Sub part L "Scaffolds", Cal OSHA's specific MCWP guidance and IPAF's International MCWP Committee.

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