Working at height can be a dangerous job if procedures aren’t followed.
For people who work at height, it is important to know the different types of equipment that can be used. Of course, each piece of equipment comes with risks which should be fully understood to ensure your safety.
According to HSE 35 workers died from a work at height related injury in 2017
In this article we will take a look at the various types of equipment that can be used when working at height and the hazards each pose.
What are the types of working at height equipment?
When working at height there are a range of different types of platform that can be used. Each one is designed for a different type of situation so having the correct equipment is key.
The most common types of equipment when working at height include:
- Fixed scaffolding
- Tower scaffolds
- Mobile Elevated Working Platforms (MEWPs)
- Ladders and stepladders
- Trestles and staging
You have probably seen fixed scaffolding when you have passed industrial, commercial or residential buildings that are being work on. Scaffolding is a temporary structure that consists of metal tubes and wooden boards that are connected. The scaffolding is then tied to a building or structure to make it secure. A fixed scaffolding is used so that workers can reach the higher parts of a building. This is safer than using ladders, as scaffolding (if erected correctly) will have guard rails in place to prevent falls.
Fixed scaffolding is an example of fall prevention equipment and there are many different types of fixed scaffolding. The type (or design) of scaffolding required will depend on the structure that is being worked on and the height of the work. Scaffolding can be used internally within a building and also externally. The most commonly used scaffolding is independent tied. This type of scaffolding is not attached to the building itself, but is attached to another part of the structure.
Fixed scaffolding is mainly used in building works, maintenance, cleaning, refurbishment and demolition where the tasks are of a longer duration.
Fixed scaffolding should prevent falls, but there are hazards associated with the erection, use and dismantling of fixed scaffolding. Scaffolding collapse – this can be a result of:
- Poor design of scaffolding.
- Incorrect erection or dismantling of the scaffolding, this includes not securing the scaffolding properly. This can be due to a lack of training.
- Incorrect, missing parts, or damage, which weakens the scaffolding.
- Poor maintenance and no inspection.
- High winds can make the scaffolding unstable.
- Overloading, i.e. Too many workers and materials working on the scaffolding.
Falls from height – this can be a result of:
- Scaffolding collapse.
- Falls during the erection/dismantling the scaffolding.
- Accessing and egressing the scaffolding, which is via a ladder.
- Working on the scaffolding without adequate guard rails or other fall protection.
- Slips and trips from poor housekeeping and adverse weather conditions (e.g. Ice, snow and rain).
Falling objects – this can be a result of:
- Materials and tools being accidentally kicked and then they fall through the scaffolding.
- Weather conditions, such as high winds, blowing materials and tools off the scaffolding.
- Parts of the scaffolding falling or entire collapse. Members of the public have been killed by parts of a scaffolding falling onto them.
- Parts of the structure being worked on collapsing, e.g. The building.
- Workers falling from the scaffolding.
Tower scaffolds are different to fixed scaffolding. Tower scaffolds are pre-fabricated free standing mobile towers and are commonly used where there isn’t a structure to secure to, although they can be tied to a structure where required. They are also used as fall prevention equipment, as the guard rails prevent falls whilst working at height.
Tower scaffolds are widely used, but are more commonly used in construction, engineering and maintenance. They can be used internally and externally and are delivered in parts so that they can be self-assembled on site.
Tower scaffolds can come in different shapes and heights, but there are restrictions on how high the tower can be and they can only be erected up to a maximum height of 12 metres, unless they are specifically designed. This is still very high and a fall from a tower will more than likely result in death or at the very least, serious injury.
Scaffold collapse or overturning – this can be a result of:
- Incorrect erection or dismantling of the scaffold. This can be due to a lack of training.
- Incorrect, missing parts, or damage, which weakens the scaffold.
- High winds can make the scaffolds unstable. Tower scaffolds are quite lightweight and can be easily overturned in high winds.
- Not locking off the castors on the mobile scaffold.
- Overloading, i.e. Too many workers and materials working on the scaffold.
- Ground conditions and terrain. As towers are mobile, it is important that the ground conditions are suitable. If they are not, the scaffold could overturn.
- Poor maintenance and lack of inspection.
Falls from height – this can be as a result of:
- Scaffold collapse and overturning, as above.
- Erecting/dismantling the scaffold.
- Accessing and egressing the scaffold, which is via a ladder.
- Working on the scaffold without adequate guard rails.
- Slips and trips from poor housekeeping and adverse weather conditions (e.g. Ice, snow and rain).
Falling objects – this can be as a result of:
- Materials and tools being accidentally kicked and then they fall through the scaffold.
- Weather conditions, such as high winds blowing objects off the scaffold.
- Parts of the scaffold falling, overturning or entirely collapsing.
- Parts of the structure being worked on collapsing.
- Workers falling from the scaffold.
Mobile Elevated Working Platforms (MEWPs)
MEWPs are powered work at height access equipment, which run on electricity or fuel and there are two main different types:
- Boom MEWPs – also known as cherry pickers. These have extendable booms which can extend out to access difficult areas, where a vertical machine would not be suitable. Workers work in the basket of the machine and are elevated or lowered to/from the work area. Boom MEWPs can be self-propelled, truck mounted or trailer mounted. For the purposes of this unit, you will focus on self-propelled.
- Vertical MEWPs – also known as scissor lifts. These can only be used in a vertical position, but can access a range of heights. Workers work on a guarded platform and are elevated or lowered to/from the work area.
MEWPs are used for high level working at height, e.g. Changing warehouse light bulbs and doing tree work outside.
MEWPs have different ranges and load restrictions. The type required will depend on the work at height task and the height of the work. MEWPs can be used internally and externally and have different tyres, depending on the terrain.
- Falls from height – workers can fall out of the MEWP basket or from the platform during the work. Workers can also be thrown from the machine, as it moves to the work location; this is known as a catapult effect.
- Overturning – the machine can overturn, which can crush an operative and/or those below. This is particularly a risk with boom MEWPs, if they are extended further than the manufacturer’s recommendations or are overloaded. This can also be a risk on unstable ground, if the outriggers are not used or are not fully extended. The machine should also not be used in high winds.
Ladders and stepladders
Ladders and stepladders can be made of different materials and these can be wood, aluminium and fibreglass. There are also different classes, depending on the work that is required. These classes are:
- Class I – these are ladders used for industrial purposes. The maximum load is 175Kg and they are colour coded blue.
- Class EN131 – these are ladders used for commercial purposes. The maximum load is 125Kg and they are colour coded red.
- Class III – these are ladders used for domestic purposes. The maximum load is 150Kg and they are not colour coded.
- Ground conditions – using ladders or stepladders on uneven and unstable ground can result in instability and can cause sudden movement.
- Damaged or defective equipment – if the equipment is damaged or defective, this can result in someone falling if it breaks or malfunctions during use. Wooden ladders should not be painted, as it can hide defects and damage.
- Unsafe use of the ladder, e.g. Overreaching – overreaching on a ladder or stepladder can cause them to topple.
- Standing too close to the top – standing too close to the top of a ladder or stepladder can result in it being top heavy.
- Ladders not being fixed – if leaning ladders are not tied, or fixed, or footed properly they can slip to the side or outwards from the vertical surface.
Trestles and staging
If ladders or stepladders can’t be used, then trestles and staging can be used, if the work requires more than one person or if access is required to a wider area. Trestles are working platforms that are used for work at height and are usually used by decorators and builders.
Trestles consist of a horizontal board that spans across sloping legs of the trestle. Trestles can be an ‘A’ frame type and steel type. The boards that are often used are scaffold boards or staging boards. These are laid over the trestles to provide a working platform.
Trestles are only meant for short duration light work and if there is the potential of workers being injured from falls, the trestle must have adequate edge protection. Trestle platforms can be fully guarded. Trestles can also be purchased without edge protection for jobs, such as decorating but these are not advised in a workplace, unless there is no other method of doing the work. Then, there must be other controls such as a safe system of work or PPE.
To reiterate, fall prevention equipment should be prioritised over ladders, stepladders, trestles and staging. These types of equipment are only for light work that is of a short duration.
- No edge protection – as you have learned, trestles and boards can be purchased without guard rails. If there is a risk of injury from falls from trestles, falls must be prevented by installing rails.
- Trestles of different sizes – if different sized trestles are used, or if they are not extended to the same size, this can make the platform unstable.
- Insufficient number of trestles – trestles need to be adequately spaced and must be in sufficient number in order for the boards to support loads.
- Incorrect boards used – if the wrong boards are used with the trestles, or the incorrect length boards are used, the platform could become unstable and could collapse. Only scaffold boards or staging boards should be used with trestles.