MEWPs and the Elevated Risks: Creating a Rescue Plan
When you have Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs) in use in your workplace, the threshold for accidents is inevitably higher. If any of your employees are utilizing these kinds of equipment, what are your plans in case of an accident?
How OSHA Defines Hazards
To review—OSHA defines MEWPs as extendable boom platforms, aerial ladders, articulating or jointed boom platforms, non-rotating scissor lifts, and vertical boom lifts. They explain that the primary job hazards when using MEWPs are falls, objects falling on workers, tip-overs, ejections due to sudden jolts, collapses from the failure of components, overloading, mechanical failure, collisions with objects on the ground, and contacts with the ceiling or overhead objects. This is just a short list of some of the hazards operators can encounter while using MEWPs in the workplace, with falls being of central concern when using an elevated platform.
According to OSHA regulation 1926.502(d)(20), “The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.'' To stay OSHA complaint and protect your operators, it is important that you have a rescue plan in place in the event of an occurrence of any of these unfortunate accidents.
An OSHA compliant rescue plan should consist of the following components: adequate fall protection for operators (prevention) and a written emergency plan that outlines the protocol for a prompt rescue in the event of a fall.
Prevention—the Primary Focus
Prevention is truly the best way to reduce risk. Have a rescue plan, but work to never actually need to use it. Installing the correct protective equipment “such as guardrail systems, safety net systems and personal fall protection systems”, coupled with “the adoption of safe work practices, and the provision of appropriate training” is the first thing companies should focus on when working on their rescue plan.
There are a variety of different methods for installing fall protection on MEWPs. You could utilize straps, clips, guardrails, screens/nets or lifelines attached to a harness worn by the operator. Keep in mind that these methods are all regulated by OSHA’s 1926.502 - Fall protection systems criteria and practices; so before you install anything, reference those guidelines to double check that you are in compliance.
Fall Protocol and Written Emergency Plans
Once you have ensured safety through protection equipment and safe practices, consider the following: if an operator were to fall, what is the protocol? How quick would your response time be? In the event of an accident, every second can be critical, so it is important that you consider these scenarios and plan for them before they occur.
Consider the resources within your work area; are there people nearby to call for help? Are there controls that allow you to stop the machinery from the ground? If you find it would be difficult for any operator to call for help in an emergency situation, address those needs immediately. Anticipating accidents and putting solutions into your written emergency plan is not only smart, but according to OSHA 1910.66(e)(9), it’s a requirement . . . “a written emergency action plan shall be developed and implemented for each kind of working platform operation. This plan shall explain the emergency procedures which are to be followed in the event of a power failure, equipment failure or other emergencies which may be encountered. The plan shall also explain that employees inform themselves about the building emergency escape routes, procedures and alarm systems before operating a platform. Upon initial assignment and whenever the plan is changed the employer shall review with each employee those parts of the plan which the employee must know to protect himself or herself in the event of an emergency”.
Considering All Aspects of MEWP Usage and Safety
These OSHA guidelines are a lot to unpack all at once. Not only do you need to focus on prevention measures and ensuring your equipment meets OSHA requirements, but you also need to have a written emergency plan that addresses what to do in the case of an accident while using MEWPs in the workplace. However, it doesn’t have to be an overly complicated affair. By reading through the applicable OSHA guidelines, consulting with a training service well-versed in these guidelines, and implementing the applicable operator training and your written emergency plan, you will be well on your way to preventing accidents and remaining OSHA compliant.