Industry News

CTC Safety Series – EWP Safety

Fatalities caused by crush injuries and falls from elevation while operating an elevated work platform continue to be a leading cause of death for construction workers.  For this reason, EWP Safety was the topic chosen for the second CTC Safety Series Seminar held in the Hot Leasing facility on Wednesday, 25th February 2015.

The Seminar was endorsed by the Elevating Work Platform Association of Australia Inc., the peak body responsible for ensuring high standards of equipment, safety and reliability around elevated work platform operations.  We thank them for their support.

Workplace Health & Safety Queensland and the Griffith University Institute for Educational Research also contributed to the discussion.  Industry experts who presented were –

  • Brad Geinitz, Principal Advisor (Construction), Queensland Construction Strategy Unit, Workplace Health & Safety Queensland;
  • Phil Middleton, Training Director, Elevating Work Platform Association of Australia Inc.
  • Dr Tim Mavin, Associate Professor, Griffith Institute for Educational Research

Following are the notes from Mr Middleton’s and Dr Mavin’s presentations.

Managing crush, wearing of harnesses in scissor lifts and compliance around VOC’s

By Phil Middleton, Training Director, Elevating Work Platform Association of Australia Inc.  

Managing Crush

Crush injury is a silent killer, catching the unaware operator with little or no warning. Operators often find themselves working at height in unfamiliar and changing environments and the likelihood of a crushing event can be a real and present danger to the complacent or untrained operator.

Commonly identified situations where crushing hazards are present are:

  • driving the EWP at height around or under structures
  • manoeuvring into or around a confined area
  • rough operation of controls
  • distraction while operating.

We could argue these hazards exist on every work site and operators are aware.  But the fact remains – operators have continued to fall victim to crush injuries. Awareness is only part of the solution and awareness is in fact the first step. There is no single solution to controlling crush hazards on all work sites.

While EWPs are very efficient at providing an elevated working platform, it’s the operating environment that creates the hazard and only sound knowledge and procedures for the operator will manage this issue.

Crushing is preventable when a collective, concerted effort is made by management, workers, manufacturers and regulators. An all-encompassing management strategy should not be centred on only one or two controls.

It is common to hear some sites are requiring secondary guarding being fitted to EWPs in an attempt to manage crush. What is uncommon, is hearing sites require a crush management strategy. Making secondary guarding a mandatory site requirement may help but it is definitely not the solution.

Let’s consider what could make up an effective crush management strategy!

CTC Hot Lease 03
Crushing injuries can occur when operators are caught unaware of potential hazards

Training is the grass roots of the strategy. For example

  • Does the operator have the appropriate licence or training?
  • Is crushing addressed within the training content?
  • If the operator is to demonstrate competence through a VoC assessment, does the assessment address crushing?
  • Is the site safety controller appropriately trained in the equipment being used?
  • Has the most suitable EWP been selected for the task?

Identifying the circumstances of how or when the likelihood of crush may occur and the planning of a rescue procedure is of the utmost importance.  Selecting the correct EWP for the task is vital and in a lot of cases the selection process is far too simplistic.

Commonly, selection is based upon electric vs diesel, 4wd vs 2wd, height and reach when in fact there are far more factors to consider such as platform size, capacity, boom deflection, over run when travelling, smooth controllability, physical dimensions, weight and drive functions.

Consideration must be given in the rescue plan to include the rescuer’s knowledge of how to reactivate controls.

Even the type of secondary guarding must be considered. The common types of guarding are physical barriers and pressure sensitive pads.

Physical barriers offer in most cases the best protection but have a large presence which may limit the operator’s ability to carry out work and in some cases create a crush situation.

Pressure sensitive pads remove the bulkiness but this type of device means the operator must be crushed between the sensors and the structure before it will activate.

Site safety officers, should have relevant training and possess the appropriate skills and knowledge to safely manage crush.

Finally the management of crushing sits firmly with the operator, to minimise the likelihood of a crushing injury, the operator must:

  • Remain vigilant when operating and not allow themselves to be distracted
  • The operator must stay wholly within the basket while the platform is being repositioned or the EWP is moving
  • Never place their body between a hand rail or physical barriers or structure
  • Never climb hand rails
  • Never lean or hunch over the control panel while operating
  • Where necessary, make use of a spotter to assist with guiding the operator.

To minimise the likelihood of crush the operators, must to be aware of how they will manage the risk of crush in their workplace.

Wearing Harnesses in Scissor Lifts

The issue of whether a fall-arrest system is advisable or indeed required, in scissor lifts has been a commonly asked question put to the EWPA office.  For example:

  • Should I be wearing a harness in a scissor lift?
  • The scissor lift I’m operating has harness anchorage points, does that mean I must wear a harness?
  • The site I’m working at requires the wearing of harnesses in scissor lifts, is this a legal requirement?

To clarify the use of the terminology, in the Australian standard for EWP’s, Clause 2550.10 identifies 2 types of height equipment that can be used to help control the risk of injury from catapult in boom type EWP’s. Fall arrest and fall restraint – out of these 2 systems, fall arrest has been the preferred system.

The fall arrest system consists of a full body harness, a lanyard and shock absorber with a maximum length no greater than 2 metres. Commonly the industry refers to both systems as harnesses. For this article “fall arrest system” is referred to as a harness.

The reason this issue continues to raise its head is because many scissor lifts feature anchorage points for the attachment of a lanyard. Safety officers see these anchorage points and believe the operator is required to wear a harness. This reasoning is given weight by these same managers understanding the need for fall arrest harnesses in boom type EWPs.

In a scissor lifts, under normal circumstances they have no identified hazard of being ejected because there is no catapult effect.

Remember, if an EWP of any type tips over, there is no harness that will save you.

Should a harness be worn while operating a scissor lift?

Hence, when being requested or considering whether or not a harness is to be worn in a scissor lift, one must identify what hazard the wearing of a harness is controlling.

To add to the confusion, and depending upon the manufacturer, some operator manuals recommend the wearing of a harness. However it does not state the type of system e.g. fall arrest or restraint or the type of harness such as full body or half and in most cases these manuals are not produced in line with the Australian Standards but with the country of origin.

The requirement of mandatory wearing of a harness when operating a boom type EWP means the EWP must be able to withstand the forces placed upon it when a fall is being arrested. This being the case, the Australian standard requires that the EWP undergoes a fall arrest overturning test. The overturning test determines if the EWP will remain upright, in the event of the occupants being ejected from the basket and swinging freely from the harness.

Operators of scissor type EWPs are not required to wear a fall arrest harness, because there is no identified risk of catapult like that identified with boom types.  There is no requirement as part of Australian design registration for the manufacturers to submit their scissor lifts to any tip-over testing.

Based upon the above reasoning, the EWPA DOES NOT support or recommend the wearing of a fall arrest system when operating a scissor type EWP unless there is an identified risk that can be appropriately controlled by the use of a fall arrest or restraint system and, in the event that a fall has been controlled by the system, the EWP will remain upright.

Verification of Competence

We are all aware of the emergence of Verification of Competencies (VoC’s) over past years.  It could be argued as to its place in industry and to whether or not it is the prime contractors demonstrating due diligence under the Act or are they simply following global company policy?

As we are all aware, and unlike other countries in the world, Australia would have some of the most stringent WHS laws surrounding operation of high risk plant in the workplace.

Having said that, is the very existence of the VoC assessment discrediting our national training frame work?

Does it mean operators, who have attained a HRW licence or have successfully completed Yellow Card training or any other national recognised training, require their competence to be regularly challenged?

The EWPA has remained silent on its position of VoC assessment because of the apparent lack of clear guidelines. The need for a VoC was unclear as to its function or relevance when placed alongside valid reliable training.

A person who has successfully undergone training and has been deemed competent should always be assumed to be competent unless through unsafe actions or the lapse of an extended period of time.

Historically the Association considers if there was any doubt to an operator’s competence, then they should undergo retraining.

In his search to establish how VoC’s fit into our industry, Mr Middleton needed to gather information and points of view from stakeholders. First he needed to clarify what WHS legislation[1] says about the use of VoC’s.

From previous research he was fairly confident that the Act and Regulation did not place a duty upon companies to assess competency of an operator on their work site. Whilst reading through both the Act and the Regulation Mr Middleton was looking for clear links to VoC’s.

His findings were as expected; the Act and Regulation do not mention a requirement or place a duty upon a company to assess competency of a person that has received appropriate training or holds a high risk licence.

What it clearly states under Section 19 of the Act is “the PCBU will provide relevant information, training, instruction and supervision to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out”.

Operators are faced with a variety of EWP Control Panels.

Regulation 39 states the same but covers more on the type, suitability and relevance of information, training and instruction.

Even though the Act was silent on VoC’s, perhaps it could be found in a code of practice. Unfortunately EWP’s do not have their own code of practice; however there is a code of practice entitled: ‘Moving plant on construction sites’.

Under section 3.3: Controls for the safe operation of plant it states: ‘A system should be adopted to verify that personnel, who are required to hold a certificate of competency, hold a valid certificate and are authorised to use the plant.’

To summarise Mr Middleton’s findings, so far the Act and Regulation do not place a duty upon a company to assess competency of operators that hold high risk work licences or a certificate of competence.

However there is a duty placed upon the company to verify that their licence is valid and relevant to operate the plant they are using.

Even though Mr Middleton felt confident about is legislative findings, he thought he should validate them.  So he approached two regulators asking them to give him some reference that he could use as support to the VoC assessment process. Both were at a loss to be able to concisely reference the requirement of a VoC assessment.

However both agreed any process that could potentially identify or assist in managing risk has merit.

For those who have worked with any of the regulators will understand they are very guarded about making statements unless it’s quoting a creditable document.

Mr Middleton received the following “unofficial draft comment” from one of the regulators in response to the question “what is VoC’s purpose in the workplace”.

VoC’s could work within an organisation, providing that competency was assessed by a competent person, supported with prior qualifications; years of operator experience etc. and applied to certain roles and operations within the group.

VOC’s should not have any portability unless they are used by an RTO, with trained assessors, based on training packages/elements of competency which have been demonstrated or assessed.’

As the VoC assessment process is not driven by legislation, it must be driven by industry. Mr Middleton sought feedback from two large companies; the first response was a statement from a HSE manager from a large principle contractor who said:

‘A large number of companies require some form of verification of competency for plant operators, both where a certificate of competency is issued or not. My experience has been the Principle Contractor obtains some form of verification and does not rely solely on the certificate or training record.’

Seeking an opinion from a different prospective, Mr Middleton put the question to a large company that provides services to principle contractors. The response was this;

‘As they conduct regular training and have a retraining program in place and they keep up to date records of an operator’s qualifications and currency; and even though the company can provide evidence of competence and currency, their employees are still required to undergo VoC to enter a site. What’s more annoying is at the next site they enter, they require the same VoC again.’

They believe that VoC’s not being recognised between different work sites is a waste of time, resources and money.CTC Hot Lease 04

To cover all aspects, Mr Middleton contacted a specialist law firm to check if were there any points of law that places a responsibility upon a company to use a VoC assessment program?

The answer from a legal perspective was that a company as the person conducting a business or undertaking has a primary duty under the Act to ensure so as far as reasonably practicable, that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking.

Whilst the Act does not specifically talk about assessing an operator’s competence, in a lawyer’s eyes the words ‘so far as reasonably practicable’, ring loud in their ears. By using a VoC assessment process, they can provide evidence of reasonably practicable and this returns the responsibility back on the operator.

It was also made clear that if a company did not use a VoC process, it would not mean an automatic loss in court. A VoC was a tool to strengthen a defence.

To conclude, there is no legislative requirement to support the VoC process. It appears to be industry driven and has the support of the regulators. From a legal perspective, it is a tool used to strengthen a defence by turning the responsibility back on the operator.

[1] Refers to Work Health & Safety Act 2011 (NSW)


Applying lessons learned from other workplace environments to improve situational awareness of operators

By Dr Tim Mavin, Associate Professor, Griffith Institute for Educational Research

Lessons learned from other workplace environments can be applicable to construction especially with reference to the safe operation of elevating work platforms. Key points to remember are:

  • There is a wide variability in the controls of EWPs. When this is the case there is a high degree of automaticity learnt by the operator. When in a stress situation, early learnt automaticity physical responses tend to be deployed. This may mean that a response on a piece of equipment/plant may be the wrong one.
  • The issue of variability of control panels creates risks. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the most complex and different control panels for operators poses less risk because the automatic response is to ‘stop’. This is because new cognitive processes need to be thought through to get the system to work. This can be explained in the grid below.

    Tim Mavins grid
    Variability of control panels may mean that a response on a piece of equipment/plant may be the wrong one
  • Complexity increases from both left to right and top to bottom. The two areas where extra caution needs to be applied is where control panels might look similar but incorporate different functions and where the function remains the same but the look is different.
  • In such circumstances times spent in familiarisation is essential, as is documentation of this. Audits have shown that where time has been devoted to familiarisation of different control panels (to build new and relevant automaticity) that this is recorded as an activity in only 50% of the time.
  • While technical expertise is important i.e. knowing the function of the panel, the operation of the machine etc., it is non-technical understanding that more often than not contributes to problems arising. Equipment failure is increasingly NOT responsible for incidents.
  • Situational awareness and team-work are two critical elements in safety in the workplace. Given that operators are seldom working alone, the interface with other team members is important e.g. with the spotter.
  • Kinetic melodies play a part in safety. If the team members are working in harmony there is likely to be greater safety. Where the kinetic melodies are not working together i.e. the kinetic melody of the spotter on the ground with the traffic controller is different to the melody between the spotter and the EWP operator then there is potential for an incident. In the same way as an orchestra working in unison creates great harmony but when the members of the orchestra work alone (e.g. when tuning their instruments before playing a piece) there is a discordant sound, so too kinetic melodies in the workplace need to be kept in mind when designing workflow and in tool-box talks and pre-starts to ensure that EWP or other high-risk plant is operated safely.


Give us your feedback on the EWP Safety Seminar

If you attended the CTC Safety Series Seminar on 25th February which focused on EWP Safety, we would love to receive your feedback.  Click on the link below to let us know what you thought, and how we might improve in the future.

Supported by the Elevating Work Platform of Australia. EWPA Logo

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