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Delivering MEWPs: a load off your mind

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​​Chris Wraith examines the risks involved in the delivery and collection of mobile elevating work platforms.


Most mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) rental companies see delivery and collection as a sidetask to their main business. Yet, the loading and unloading of MEWPs is a potentially risky activity. With one million estimated movements of MEWPs by road every year in the UK, their delivery, collection, loading and unloading poses a significant risk.

A 2012 project by the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) in the UK highlighted that almost one third of the accidents recorded by UK rental companies involve delivery drivers. So what is the data telling us about the main causes of incidents involving rental company staff, and in particular delivery drivers, and what safety measures can be taken to protect the most vulnerable?

The majority of guidance on the safe use of MEWPs focuses on the user and how the machine should be managed. However, delivery drivers play a vital role in the success of any rental company. They are the customer facing part of the business; the one member of staff who visit every site at least twice during a hire, (to deliver and to collect the MEWP). Any accident involving a driver has the potential to be serious and may also affect customer relations should it occur on site.

Yet, the delivery and collection of MEWPs is frequently not given the attention it deserves. It is seen by many as a secondary operation, less important than the actual hire and use of the machine. In many companies, transport is not a profitable part of the rental business – but a part no rental company can exist without. Many companies only recover around 60% of the true transport costs from the customer – not surprising when you hear stories of sales people driving down the value by giving away ‘free transport’ to win a hire.

Very few rental companies have a dedicated transport manager. All too often the scheduling of the deliveries and collections, the performance of the delivery driver and the maintenance and servicing of the delivery vehicles or the liaising with one or more external haulage companies is left to the ‘hire desk’ to manage, usually as a sideline to their main role and at the end of a busy day.

This general lack of focus on the whole of the transport operation is one possible reason why many in the industry incorrectly believe that delivering and collecting of MEWPs is a safe and low-risk activity.

However, recent data collected from IPAF’s UK rental company members has prompted a re-evaluation of the risk to delivery drivers. In January 2012, the IPAF UK Country Council requested UK rental company members to report MEWP related accidents involving their own staff, to the IPAF accident reporting database. The success of this initiative over the first 12 months yielded some previously unsubstantiated facts about the commonality and type of accidents rental company employees are having. So significant were the findings that the IPAF UK Country Council took a bold step and voted to mandate the monthly reporting programme for all UK rental company members from January 2013.

Further analysis of the first 20 months worth of data of 51,726 companies highlighted that although drivers only represent 14.3% of UK MEWP rental company employees, they are involved in significantly more incidents than other rental company employees. Of the 438 reported incidents, 138 involved delivery drivers (31.5%), with nearly 60% of all incidents happening away from the company depot.

This data highlights the fact that no matter how good safety is in the rental company depot, the majority of incidents occur out of the area controlled by the employer. A key indicator, if one was needed, that a behavioural safety programme and a positive safety culture are imperative, especially for mobile employees.

Of the 138 reported incidents involving delivery drivers, 63 resulted in personal injury, of which 26 (41%) resulted in lost time injuries, with eight incidents (13%) resulting in more than seven days’ absence.

Closer examination of the 63 reported incidents where the driver was injured revealed that injury was not too severe, more through good luck than good management, as many incidents had the potential to inflict major injury. The main causes of the more serious injuries were:

  • Falls from height – mainly from the vehicle body
  • Operating control of scissor while walking beside the machine, resulting in severe bruising and/or broken bones
  • Manual handling – handling ramps, securing chains, and manoeuvring push around vertical machines
  • Slips, trips and falls from the same level – site ground conditions.

A further 53 incidents involving drivers, which resulted in damage to machines, property or buildings, and eight near misses were reported, all with a potential to cause injury, loss or damage were reported.

The non-injury data also raised concerns as it not only highlighted a significant amount of avoidable and potentially expensive machine or property damage, but also showed that many of the incidents were very fortunate not to have resulted in serious injury to the driver or others.

Some causes are:

  • Lost loads – dropping between ramps when unloading, falling off the side of the lorry when loading/unloading and unsecured load lost in transit
  • Instances of hitting/damaging MEWP, lorry or structure (not not including road traffic accidents)
  • Runaway machines – due to failure to use the winch correctly or at all.

Using data for training
The information revealed by the accident reporting project is being used by IPAF to complete a thorough review and update of its load/unload course. The course is currently a one-day course specifically aimed at drivers delivering MEWPs, but the key messages are relevant to anyone managing or supervising this operation and those loading or unloading general types of plant.

Since the introduction of the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) requirements (EU Directive 2003/59/EC) for UK and European drivers, IPAF training centres, who have gained approval from the Joint Approvals Unit for Periodic Training (JAUPT) are now able to deliver the load/unload course and other courses including the operator course as part of the CPC training programme requirements.

With more than 1,200 people holding a current IPAF load/unload qualification and training numbers increasing approximately 30% each year for the last three years, it would suggest that many rental companies have taken advantage of this and now make the load/unload course a mandatory requirement for their own drivers, agency drivers and external hauliers who supply transport, thus further professionalising the role of the delivery driver.

As the management duties and responsibilities for loading and unloading on site are often overlooked by some site management, this subject is also included in the IPAF course for managers.

Both the Hirers’ Forum and the Manufacturers’ Technical Committee are discussing with manufacturers and rental companies how machine and transport vehicle design improvements can be developed.

By sharing experiences and learning from each other, the group is addressing some of the causal factors in incidents. This has resulted in many rental companies now improving their specification requirements when purchasing new equipment.

A working group specifically looking at the load/unload activity has also been set up. Made up of industry representatives from contractors, rental companies, transport companies, enforcement authorities and manufacturers, the group is tasked with examining the whole delivery and collection process and producing general guidance for all identified dutyholders.

The access industry is made up of hundreds of experienced and professional drivers and managers who take their job seriously and are proud to ensure MEWPs are delivered and collected safely 365 days of the year. With approximately one million MEWP movements every year and an average of 82 driver-related incidents happening, there is a 1 in 12,278 chance that a load/unloading incident will happen on your site. Even though this probability is relatively low, there are potential consequences of serious lost time injury, costly damage to equipment or property and damage to the company reputation and business.

The industry must work together to further reduce the existing risk factors. The accident reporting project, even at this early stage, is providing previously ignored factual data that is now helping to raise safety standards and ensure employees not only work safely but go home safe every day.

The IPAF accident reporting database can be found at: www.ipaf.org/accident

Chris Wraith is technical & safety executive at the International Powered Access Federation

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