Of MEWPs and Men

MEWP Rescue Planning

IT’S DOUBTFUL that the poet Robert Burns had a powered access platform in mind when he wrote “To a Mouse”. However, it is to the great Scottish Bard himself that we owe the phrase: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. He wrote the poem after rescuing a mouse nest he had accidentally ploughed up. The observation is timeless and applies to all:  No matter how a project is planned, accidents can happen.

It’s also doubtful when MEWP rescue planning that the plight of a mouse will spring to mind. But perhaps what should, is a rescue plan in case the unexpected should happen. Not for a mouse of course, but for MEWP operators and workforce.

As mentioned before, carrying out a detailed and thorough risk assessment of the job location will identify most of the potential hazards before the job starts, but sometimes human error or acts of nature, such as fast changing or extreme weather conditions, can mean that things still go wrong. It is important to have a rescue plan in place to support and assist the workforce in case of an accident or mechanical failure.

MEWP Rescue Planning

Most forestry access equipment has back-up systems built into the machine which enable the operator to return the raised platform back to ground level. Though these systems rarely fail it can still happen so it is vital to have a plan for how people can be brought down safely.

Any MEWP rescue planning should comply with current health and safety legislation such as the 2005 Work at Height Regulations. It is important to do a risk assessment for the rescue and keep a record of this assessment and all details of the rescue as this may be important to refer to at a later date.

In the event of a rescue being required:

Activate all normal emergency lowering procedures if possible
Contact the manager of the site or project to report any failure of back-up emergency systems
Get the powered access platform checked by a qualified engineer to see if an on-site repair can be carried out

Basket-to-basket rescue

If it is not possible to repair the lowering mechanisms then a basket-to- basket rescue may be necessary. This can be complicated and poses additional health and safety risks so it is important to follow the following steps:

The rescue machine should be placed in the safest position to minimise any additional danger to anyone involved in the rescue

Place the two machines adjacent to each other with the smallest possible gap between them

Attach a double lanyard to both the person being rescued and the anchor points on both machines before the rescue takes place

Never overload the rescue machine as this could lead to over-tipping or delay the rescue operation

In exceptional circumstances, where a basket-to-basket rescue is not feasible, emergency evacuation systems such as a crane rescue could be used.


Having a rescue plan is an essential part of planning a job and, though access equipment is safe and efficient, there are rare occasions when jobs don’t go to plan. Carry out a full risk assessment, keep a record of any rescue situation as it happens, and try the simplest solution first before attempting a more complicated rescue procedure and the situation can be resolved quickly and carefully.