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Access towers: Making safety at height work

11 May 2016

The prevention of falls is something that concerns everyone on a day-to-day basis across a wide range of industry sectors. One organisation that consistently seeks to keep people safe is PASMA, the international trade association representing the mobile access tower industry. Here, the association offers advice for all those who rely on such equipment to carry out their work 

2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) which have clearly had a positive impact on height safety. However, a visit to the HSE website will confirm that work at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and injuries in the workplace.

The prevention of falls begins in the planning stage when a thorough risk assessment should be carried out. There are many issues to be considered which all contribute to eliminating the ‘risk’ factor as much as possible, but the strategy dictated by the Work at Height Regulations must form the basis of any risk assessment, namely: avoidance, prevention and mitigation.

The right choice of access equipment is essential. This will largely be decided by the outcome of the risk assessment, taking into account a number of factors. If a mobile access tower is considered to be the best choice, PASMA offers the following advice and guidance. 

•  Make sure you have the knowledge, experience and professional training necessary to build, inspect, use, move and dismantle a tower safely. PASMA offers a range of ‘industry standard’ training courses catering for all levels of experience – from the essentials of work at height through to advanced modules such as working with towers on stairs and towers with cantilevers. 

•  Buy or hire your tower from a PASMA member. This will ensure that your tower complies with the requirements of EN 1004, the European product standard for towers, and uses one of the two recognised safe methods for assembling and dismantling towers: Advance Guardrail (AGR) and Through the Trap (3T). Both methods ensure that no one stands on an unprotected platform.

•  Check that you have all the necessary components to build the tower, that they are compatible, and that they have been supplied complete with the manufacturer’s instructions. Always follow the instructions. Using a PASMA member will ensure that you get everything you need, backed by advice and expertise.

•  Once the tower is built, make sure it’s inspected by a competent person. It must be inspected before it’s first used, at suitable intervals depending on the environment and how it’s being used, and every time something happens that may affect its stability or safety. The association recommends the use of the PASMA tower inspection record which not only gives a visual indicator of the tower’s status, but when affixed to the tower and retained upon completion of the job, satisfies the inspection requirements of the Work at Height Regulations

•  Carry out a routine and documented inspection of the components of the tower. Do this when it’s unassembled for deterioration, contamination and damage, otherwise you may not be able to check certain parts properly. Damaged components should be immediately segregated, marked and reported for attention, and repairs must be carried out only by the manufacturer or their approved agent. If the parts cannot be repaired by the manufacturer they must be replaced.

•  Good maintenance will extend the life of a tower and good storage conditions are essential. If the equipment is stored outside in poor conditions for extended periods, then it will require more frequent inspection, more maintenance and probably earlier replacement. Storing it indoors in reasonable conditions makes good sense from both a safety and commercial point of view.

Advanced training   

As part of its ongoing commitment to improving safety and standards, PASMA has launched a new advanced training course: Towers with Cantilevers.

Developed after extensive consultation with PASMA members and the tower using industries, and enjoying the unqualified support of manufacturers, who, together with PASMA’s technical and training committees contributed wide-ranging expertise, Towers with Cantilevers is the latest in a series of advanced courses that reflects the fast growing use of towers in more complex and demanding applications.  

It is aimed at a diverse range of industry sectors - including cleaning and facilities management, construction, and refurbishment – where access is required over fragile surfaces and large or awkward structures.

Developed specifically for the more experienced tower user, Towers with Cantilevers explains and illustrates the principles of counterbalance calculations when using kentledge in cantilever applications. 

It also interprets and explains the relevant sections of BS 1139-6: 2014, the standard that specifies the requirements for complex structures such as towers with cantilevers that are outside the scope of BS EN 1004, the European product standard for normal towers.

PASMA points out that this latest course focuses entirely on how to assemble and dismantle these configurations – together with their limitations – based on standard equipment supported by the relevant manufacturer’s instruction manual. 

Available only from PASMA-approved training centres, the course is open to anyone with experience of assembling, dismantling, altering, moving and inspecting mobile access towers and who has successfully completed the association’s Towers for Users course.

Gary Chudleigh, PASMA’s marketing and communications officer, comments: “This training course, which combines both theory and practical, can only serve to enhance the competency of tower users across the access industry.

“It joins a growing portfolio of courses designed to keep people safe and productive - one which will shortly be joined by another advanced course, Towers with Bridging Units.”

PAS 250

In addition to towers, low level work platforms, commonly referred to as pulpits and podiums, are also used extensively in the workplace.

PAS 250 is the publicly available specification sponsored by PASMA and developed in conjunction with the British Standards Institution (BSI) that specifies minimum safety and performance criteria for these products. Soon to become a full British standard, PAS 250 is important because some earlier designs have been inherently unsafe and open to misuse and abuse. 

The standard covers, amongst other things, strength and stability requirements and material specifications, together with the design requirements for the working platform, side protection, access, mobility, labels and user guides. PASMA says PAS 250 addresses all these issues in a pragmatic, practical way and users should be aware of the risks they run by specifying non-compliant equipment. Significantly, all PASMA members now comply with its requirements. 

The PASMA website – www.pasma.co.uk – is a major resource for information, guidance and standards concerning the safe use of both towers and low level work platforms. It also provides details of a complete range of safety-related products including free posters and pocket cards – and the PASMA Code of Practice.

The association will be a major contributor to the Access Industry Forum’s (AIF) first national Work at Height Conference on 13 October 2016.

 
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