Elevating Safety to New Heights

April 12, 2007
While working with personnel workbaskets and powered industrial trucks can be risky, there are ways to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.

Two workers were injured, one fatally, in a tragic fall at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds during the installation of a banner in the food court, approximately 16 feet off the ground. The two men were working together in the personnel "basket" affixed to a forklift when they stepped to the same side, causing the platform to tip. Both men fell to the pavement. One suffered severe head injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Working with powered industrial trucks (PIT) equipped with personnel workbaskets can be high-risk if not done properly. Even with the right equipment properly installed, workbaskets are risky, since the people in the basket have no control over its vertical or horizontal movement. Because of this lack of control, personnel workbaskets should be used infrequently for emergency operations where the use of ladders, scaffolding, elevated work platforms or other conventional means of access is not practical.

Fortunately, there are design and operating guidelines to help you reduce the risk of workbasket injury or accident.

Work Platforms

Whether you are purchasing a pre-made platform or designing it yourself, make sure your platform conforms to government regulations. The following guidelines will help you put in place the right equipment:

  1. Check the load limit. A platform should be able to support four times its maximum working load and, depending on the platform's complexity and intended use, an engineering review may be needed.
  2. Secure the platform to the fork carriage or backrest so that it will support its weight and not move on the forks. Chains, turnbuckles, hoisting-grade chain and wire rope securement systems all can provide reliable platform support.
  3. Fit the platform with a top guardrail approximately 1065 mm (42 inches) high, a mid-rail and a kick plate around the sides of 127 mm (5 inches) minimum. You also can use metal screening in lieu of a mid©rail.
  4. The platform's access door should be a minimum of 460 mm (18 inches) wide and 1065 mm (42 inches) high and have a securing mechanism to keep the door closed when the platform is in use.
  5. Design the platform so the forklift guides are the only open positions that the forks may enter. The bottom of the platform should be closed to avoid fork misplacement.
    Install machine guards on all moving machinery - including gears, chains and shearing hazards.
  6. Install a skid-resistant surface on the platform deck and label the platform to indicate the number of workers who may occupy the platform, the maximum working load of the platform and other appropriate criteria considered necessary for safe operation, such as "never use near energized electrical lines," etc.

After putting so much time and effort into constructing a safe work platform, make sure your workers use it properly.

Safe Forklift Operation and Use

To help reduce the risk of injury your workers face while using a personnel workbasket, provide forklift operators with hands-on training and have them review the manufacturer's operating manual for each forklift you own. Make sure they realize that they are responsible for fitting the forks properly into the platforms and securing the forklift carriage to prevent movement before and during platform operation.

Even when working at what seem like relatively low heights, the consequences of not properly affixing the platform to the forklift are frequently tragic. In one tragic case, a maintenance manager used a steel-framed cage-type safety platform that was not secured to the forklift to replace a fluorescent light bulb. When he removed the bulb from its fixture, he stepped to one side of the safety platform, shifting his weight from the center of the platform to the outer edge. This caused the safety platform to topple off the forks of the forklift.

The manager, along with the safety platform, fell about 7 feet to a concrete floor. Upon landing, the manager struck his head and then was struck by the steel safety platform. The forklift operator called 9-1-1 and the emergency medical service (EMS) arrived about 7 minutes later. The EMS transported the manager to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

You should make it clear that operators are prohibited from leaving the controls while workers are on the platform and that they should respond only to signals from the designated signal person on the platform. Since lateral travel and fork tilt are not advised with a personnel workbasket, the only hand signals necessary are up and down.

Instruct operators to mount the platform immediately prior to starting a job and dismount the platform immediately after completing the job. To help facilitate this guideline, you should store work platforms separately from forklift trucks and other machinery platforms in an area specifically designated for the equipment and clear of other material. Make sure the designated area has enough room for your operator to conduct equipment inspection and post safety signage reminding all workers about the importance of maintaining standards.

Of course, the operator is only half of the team. The employees working in the basket also require training. Reinforce the rule that people in the basket must only work from the platform floor and are prohibited from climbing on the guardrails or any other object to elevate themselves above the platform floor.

Train platform workers on proper safety harness usage and require that they employ personal fall arrest systems when working in circumstances where they could fall out of the workbasket. They should anchor personal fall arrest systems to an overhead building structure beam or other engineered anchorage point when possible rather than the basket, as some accidents occur when the platform and truck tip over.

Training employees to follow personnel workbasket and forklift operation guidelines as part of an overall written facility safety plan can help you provide a better work environment.

Theodore Braun is a loss prevention product director at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety.

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