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All projects rely on the expertise of experienced professionals in order to succeed. Many of the tasks conducted on a typical worksite simply couldn't be performed by an unskilled worker. This is equally true within fields such as oil and gas, where an engineer can make the difference between making and losing millions of dollars.
The jobs performed by such professionals are not simple; they require in-depth knowledge, patience and concentration. Tasks such as these are difficult enough when they're being conducted in an easy-to-access, comfortable environment, but what happens when you need to attend to some wiring 25m in the air? A stepladder simply isn't going to cut the mustard.
It's for this reason that access platforms have become vital tools for those working in construction, oil and gas, and general maintenance. These sturdy facilitators allow workers to concentrate on the job at hand, rather than the logistics involved in reaching it.
In the following special feature, James Morgan speaks to industry experts about market trends, and hears from the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) about best practice when it comes to operating access platforms.
PLATFORMS FOR GROWTH
As you might expect, there are numerous access platforms available to suit different applications. For example, if you need to be elevated in a straight line vertically, a scissor lift will probably do the job. Alternatively, if you need to reach a high but obstructed location, your best bet is an articulated boom lift.
For general maintenance – around airports, for instance – there is no need to choose a heavy-duty model. However, when it comes to construction, you need to select a machine capable of handling the local conditions.
The need for manufacturers to provide access platforms that are equipped to deal with tough working environments is especially pronounced in the Middle East, as David Hall, product and business development manager at Skyjack, told Construction Week.
"One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is to deliver machines that can deal with the Middle East's adverse environmental conditions; particularly the high temperatures," he explained. "In many ways, this is where Skyjack's 'simply reliable' philosophy comes into its own. By employing simple but proven technology, we produce reliable access platforms that can be easily serviced."
Skyjack has been manufacturing aerial work platforms (AWPs) for more than a quarter of a century. In the early days, the firm focused predominantly on scissor lifts. Today, Skyjack boasts a full line of AWPs, including electronic and rough-terrain scissor lifts, articulating boom lifts, telescopic boom lifts, and telehandlers. As Hall explained, there is high demand for these products in this region, and with numerous new projects expected, this demand is likely to grow.
"The Middle East has always been an important market," he said. "The improvement of safety standards for workers operating at height is becoming increasingly important across the region. The need to boost productivity so that projects can be completed within ever-tightening timeframes is also an important driver for growth.
"In construction terms, the Middle East is famous for its futuristic buildings," Hall continued. "During construction, and also for maintenance, such buildings require work at height, for which traditional methods only offer limited suitability. When it comes to rentals, companies serving in petrochemical and associated sectors continue to prosper, which is also good news for the access platform industry."
While the Middle East is certainly an important market for the AWP sector, Hall is confident that business will continue to improve on the international stage during the next 12 months.
"We see 2014 as another positive year," he said. "The North American market continues to show growth and Europe finally seems to be improving. For Skyjack, 2013 also saw expansion in Brazil and Asia, and we would look for further growth in those markets during 2014."
This sense of optimism is echoed by Hansraj Bhatia, sales manager for Abu Dhabi-headquartered United Mechanical Equipment (UME). As the authorised dealer for Dingli access platforms in the UAE, UME is also enjoying the benefits of a resurgent AWP market.
"Demand for these units is increasing in the Middle East, owing to a raft of new projects," explained Bhatia. "Towards the end of last year, we exhibited at The Big 5 trade show in Dubai, and we were visited by customers from across the GCC and beyond."
UME offers a wide range of Dingli products, including scissor lifts, telescopic boom lifts and articulated boom lifts.
"Telescopic boom lifts and articulated boom lifts are popular within the fields of construction, and oil and gas," said Bhatia. "While both types of machine are equipped to deal with heavy-duty work, articulated units are particularly useful for accessing those hard-to-reach places.
"We are very optimistic about business in 2014," he concluded. "Dingli access platforms have proven extremely popular. Their components are of the highest quality. In short, we are very happy to be associated with this brand and we expect sales in 2014 to improve by more than 35%, compared to 2013."
The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) is a not-for-profit organisation, the members of which include manufacturers, rental companies, contractors and end-users.
In 2012, IPAF launched an ambitious project to record the occurrence of all fatal AWP-related incidents worldwide. Analysis of the first 21 months of data revealed that falling from height, overturn, and electrocution are the three major causes of fatality when operating mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs).
In turn, IPAF identified the following as the most effective ways to avoid injury: thorough planning, correct machine selection, good operator training, continuous observation, securing the working area, and adequate supervision.
"To ensure that operators are aware of the risks involved in using MEWPs, effective training is essential," IPAF technical officer Chris Wraith told Construction Week. "It also gives operators the knowledge they need to perform work-at-height tasks safely. However, training an operator will not make him or her competent; that comes with time, experience and good supervision. It is vital that those who plan, supervise and manage the use of MEWPs are also trained to a high standard."
With the help of leading industry professionals, IPAF has developed its own TÜV-certified training programme for platform operators. More than 90,000 people per year receive training through a worldwide network of more than 550 training centres. Successful trainees receive a Powered Access Licence (PAL) Card, a safety guide, a log book, and a certificate.
"It is difficult to say how often an operator should have 'refresher' training as it depends on a number of variables," explained Wraith. "The industry norm is currently every five years. However, it is crucial that an operator is fully familiarised with any MEWP that he or she is asked to use prior to starting their work-at-height task."
While effective training is essential for the safe use of access platforms, it is not sufficient on its own. A fully competent operator cannot be created over night.
"An inexperienced operator is not necessarily one who hasn't been trained," explained Wraith. "An operator who has recently passed a recognised training course may well be inexperienced as he or she might not yet have had chance to work with a range of MEWPs.
"Failure to ensure that operators are familiarised with MEWPs can lead to incorrect selection of controls, erratic and inconsistent use of those controls, and a lack of observation, all of which can result in accidents," he continued. "Another common failure of inexperienced operators is the correct use of the restraint lanyard, and the failure to 'tie off' or secure that lanyard to the machines designated anchor point."
Of course, the most experienced operator in the world cannot guarantee safety if an access platform isn't in good working order. Owners must keep their machines running smoothly.
"Machine maintenance is another of the key components needed to ensure the safe use of MEWPs," concluded Wraith. "The MEWP owner must implement a planned preventative inspection and maintenance programme to identify defects before they are able to impact the safe use of a machine. Waiting until the unit breaks down or fails before fixing a defect is not an acceptable maintenance strategy. Nor should thorough examination be solely relied upon to identify defects.
Examination is a check to make sure that the inspection and maintenance programmes in place are sufficiently rigorous. It is also essential for a platform to receive a full pre-use check, as described in its operator manual, in order to verify that it is safe to use."
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