Access Equipment - Making the Right Decisions

Access Equipment - Making the Right Decisions

17th November 2015

The risks involved when working at height are pretty well known meaning that a risk assessment for work at height issues can be pretty straightforward in principle.  It’s also safe to say that the options available for managing those risks are also well known.  However, making the correct decision on the type of access equipment to use in any given situation can be challenging.  Without any specific legal direction those who perform the risk assessment and choose the type of access equipment to use are left weighing up the competing demands involved against the benefits of a marginal increase in safety.  The issues that must be taken into account when making a choice include:

  • Time
  • Cost
  • Resources
  • Space requirements (especially the proximity of neighbouring buildings)

The basic strategies that can be used in order to control or eliminate the risks when work at height is being planned are twofold – Building Design and Hierarchical Approach.

Building Design

The Code of Practice in the UK that covers building design is BS 8560.  This code is designed to encourage architects and designers to consider work at height requirements during the design stages so that it can be eliminated or reduced wherever possible.  This means using materials and claddings that will need less maintenance if the future maintenance work is likely to involve working at height.  For example, instead of using a water based paint on the exterior of the building, a solvent based paint could be chosen as it’s more durable and will need less maintenance or renewal, meaning fewer instances in the future of work at height being necessary on that particular building.   There is also a companion code, BS 8454, which covers the training necessary for working at height.

Hierarchical Approach

This involves the (hopefully) well known advice that should be heeded when working at height is necessary.  It includes advice such as:

  • Avoid work at height wherever possible
  • Prevent falls wherever possible
  • If prevention is not possible, then do everything possible in order to minimise the distance of a fall

This approach can be made easier by the design of the building, however, it also includes the choices that should be made when working on an existing building (in cases where you have to work with the design or retro-fit).  The best way to approach these cases is to use the Health and Safety Executive’s Work at Height Equipment Information Tool (WAIT).  WAIT takes into account a number of important factors, including:

  • The duration of the work
  • The height at which the task will be carried out
  • How often the access equipment will need to be relocated during the task
  • The type of work involved (heavy or light)
  • Whether there is restricted access
  • Whether the access equipment should be free standing or fixed

WAIT enables the user to make an informed choice with all the necessary information available.

It’s often the case that the person planning the work at height will need to use a combination of methods and look closely at the overall risk involved with the job.  There’s no point in reducing a specific risk of working at height if that’s just increasing the risk in some other area by making poor choices when it comes to control strategy.