Powered access platforms are one of the safest ways to work at height but access platform accidents can still occur and a large number of them are avoidable.
Human error is one of the main cause of access platform accidents and, even though UK law demands that all operatives have attended a detailed training course, mistakes can still be made.
Some errors might relate to knowledge of the specific make and model of access platform being used for a job which is why familiarisation is so important. Before the start of every job, anyone working with the machine should take the time to run through how it works and make sure they are confident before they start lifting people. This will include all aspects of the machine such as movement controls and dimensions, safety mechanisms and the operation of the lifting equipment.
Understanding common human errors could also be the key to improving the future design of powered access equipment as changes to the design and use of controls on some models of powered access platforms could save lives and reduce accidents. Manufacturers are always looking at ways to improve design and performance and, ultimately, safety.
There are lots of reasons why an access platform operative might use the controls incorrectly including distractions on site, lack of familiarisation with a model or machine or inexperience of identifying hazards.
A report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlighted three main types of human error when operating access equipment controls:
Slips – Errors where a mistake is made such as selecting the wrong control on the panel.
Lapses – Errors involving forgetfulness, for example forgetting to take account of rotation on a boom lift when operating drive controls.
Mistakes – When people do the wrong thing thinking it is right. For example, selecting the wrong control, manoeuvring too close to an obstruction or confusing the controls of a machine they are working on with a different machine they are familiar with.
Even the most experienced of operatives could make a mistake, though experience and patience can help to reduce the amount of human error.
There is no substitute for training and familiarisation and it is up to everyone working with the machine, regardless of seniority, to prioritise health and safety for the team. It might be that a refresher course is required for team members or that someone needs some extra support and and supervision with aspects of operation but working together is essential.
In some case the design of controls and displays on some models could be altered to reduce errors caused by slips or lapses. If there are issues with the clarity of controls then they should be included in the risk assessment and could even be highlighted to the manufacturer.
Everyone is responsible for health and safety and powered access platforms can only improve safe working with the support and knowledge of the people who use them on a regular basis. Familiarisation, working together and mutual support are the key to effective and intelligent working at height.