The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued a strong safety alert to employers in May about the selection and use of devices to reduce entrapment and crushing to operators working at the controls of boom type mobile elevating work platforms.
As more people die from falls at work than from any other cause, the HSE had published industry guidance on avoiding entrapment/crushing accidents in such circumstances in 2010. For temporary work at height, the use of mobile elevating work platforms and powered access equipment is often the safest solution and has been a major factor in the reduction in falls accidents. However, the HSE raised concerns regarding the number of fatal and serious accidents where operators have become trapped between the guardrails or other equipment on the platform and adjacent obstructions. Many of these have happened in construction activities. While the industry has been developing a range of devices to help reduce the risk of serious entrapment/crushing injuries, a recent survey conducted by the HSE indicates that not enough has been done to avoid the occurrence of this type of accident at work.
The increasing use of mobile platforms has prompted the latest safety alert from the HSE which has reviewed a number of fatal accidents in which operators were crushed and discovered that, in a significant proportion of the accidents recorded, the operator was crushed between an overhead obstruction and a cover/shroud fitted over the controls of the machine. The covers/shrouds are classified as primary guarding devices designed to reduce the risk of inadvertent contact with controls and the risk of entrapment/crushing accidents caused by the sustained involuntary operation of the machine controls resulting from the operator being pushed onto the controls by an obstruction. However, the HSE is concerned that these neither prevent crush injuries/entrapment nor protect against entrapment of operators between the machine and nearby obstructions and may, in fact, be a contributing factor in some cases.
The HSE highlights the need for full risk assessment and a review of the precautions that can be taken. Where a secondary guarding device is required, it should be selected for the specific application and its limitations should be clearly understood by those who will be using the machine. Covers/shrouds for machine controls should not be simply relied upon to reduce the risk of entrapment/crushing more generally without looking carefully at the specific risks.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, said: "We see a number of accidents at work caused by falls from heights. While the introduction of mobile elevating work platforms has notably reduced the number of falls accidents, the use of such machinery has led to an increase in entrapment and crushing accidents resulting from the use of these machines. We therefore welcome this latest HSE safety alert and hope that employers and duty holders take notice and carefully consider the risks to those working at height and how to protect them – not just from falls but also from crush injuries and entrapment."