A while ago, we provided an overview of a few critical safety checks you should perform before using suspended scaffolds, based on the requirements provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States. Along with that, we offered a safety checklist to assess the safety of a suspended scaffold system before using it.
Suspended platform safety precautions in Europe
In a 2014 report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is stated that Europe has 2.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees, whereas the USA has 3.1 fatal accidents per 100.000 workers. These statistics where a good motivation for us to have a look at the safety measures for suspended platforms in Europe. So in this part of the blog series, we want to address the safety precautions and provide a checklist based on the EN 1808:2015 standard – Safety requirements for suspended access equipment. This standard is applicable in 34 European countries, but always be sure to check the specific EN standards for your country. Additional to the general EN standards, country-specific standards might be implemented which differ per country.
1. Suspension rig
The suspension rig is the part from which the platform is suspended. It can either be permanent, like davits, or temporary, like a counterweighted suspension beam (outrigger or roof beam).
No matter what system is used, every type of suspension rig has to be “designed and constructed to withstand the loads derived from static and dynamic tests”. For outrigger beams, this means the device should be capable of withstanding a vertical force equal to 2.5 times the Working Load Limit of the hoist.
Separate suspension points need to be provided for the suspension wire rope and the secondary wire rope. The latter acts as a safety measure in case of an emergency, like suspension wire rope breakage or hoist failure.
When using an outrigger beam, always be sure to use sufficient counterweights. The number of counterweights needed is mentioned on the marking of the outrigger. All weights used have to be made of a solid material and, assuming they are to be lifted by a single person, not weigh more than 25 kg each.
Furthermore, the counterweights need to be properly attached to the roof beam and locked in order to prevent unintentional or unauthorized removal.
If suspension equipment were to fail, there is an increased risk of the equipment falling down. This will endanger both the workers on the platform, as well as the people below. To prevent this risk, make sure tiebacks are in place. The strength of the wire ropes used should be equal to that of the suspension ropes. In case of outrigger beams, tiebacks are not needed if they are directly connected to the floor or deck using bolts.
2. Fall Protection
To protect workers using a suspended platform, the EN 1808:2015 provides a range of requirements. One of them is the use of guardrails and intermediate rails. The top of guardrail shall not be placed less than 1 meter high measured from the platform. The distance between the intermediate rails and either guardrails or toe boards shall not exceed 500 mm.
The use of Personal Protective Equipment is not per definition required by the EN 1808. Only when a specific Risk Assessment indicates that there is a need, a restraint/fall-arrest point in accordance with EN 795 should be provided. The restraint/fall-arrest point can be part of either the platform, or provided on the suspension point. If the restraint/fall-arrest point cannot be attached to the two mentioned before, it should be attached to the structure of the building.
Furthermore, a secondary brake shall be fitted to the hoist, to automatically stop and hold a platform in the event of an emergency. This mechanical component shall automatically be activated when:
- the suspension wire rope fails;
- an overspeed occurs when lowering the platform (> 0.5 m/s); or
- the inclination of the platform exceeds 14 degrees.
Before each use, the hoists of the suspended platform system need to be checked to ensure their reliability and safety. Also, after a certain amount of cycles (manufacturer-dependent), a hoist needs maintenance where all vital parts are checked and worn parts are replaced. All records of maintenance should be kept in the logbook.
To reduce the risk of failure by overloading, hoists shall always be able to lift at least 125% of their Working Load Limit (WLL). The WLL can be found on the marking of the hoist. For added safety, an overload device needs to be installed, which shall be activated at or before reaching a load of 125% of the hoist’s WLL. When activated, the overload device isolates all movement of the platform and/or hoist, except for lowering, until the overload is removed. All hoists shall have a manually operated system that allows controlled descent of the platform in case of such an event.
As we stated above, assessing the Working Load Limits of each component is vital before working on a suspended scaffold. The WLL of the suspension rigs has to be able to withstand a vertical force of 2.5 times the WLL of the hoists. The WLL should be clearly marked on each product.
Another important factor in suspended platform safety, is the rated load of the platform itself and its load capacity. The EN 1808 states that the minimum load capacity of a suspended platform shall be 200 kg/m2.
This brings us to another important factor: load distribution. Because the required load capacity is based on 200 kg being distributed across a m2 surface evenly, this should also be reflected in real-life situations. Placing too much load on one section will increase the point-concentrated load, which may result in the platform to fail. Evenly distributing the load will help prevent this.
5. Wire rope
Always make sure the desired quality wire rope is used. Do so by advising the hoist’s user installation manual. Besides selecting the appropriate wire rope for the hoist, perform these checks before using the temporary suspended platform:
- Check the logbook for the number of hours the wire ropes have been in use
- Check the wire rope for damages
- Check the wire rope for corrosion
- Check the wire rope for slippery substances (i.e. oil, grease)
6. Falling objects
To protect workers and/or pedestrians below from falling objects such as tools or debris, toe boards of at least 15 centimetres (6 inches) high have to be installed around the platform. This is not required when the platform is cladded on all sides.
In addition, the working area below should be barricaded, preventing unauthorized persons to enter.
7. External influences
For each component of the system, the EN 1808 states several requirements and test methods to prove they can withstand a certain amount of wind force. Also, the standard assumes the working ambient temperature to be between –10 °C and +55 °C.
For the exact information about in what weather conditions (maximum wind speed, range of ambient temperature, lightning) the equipment can be used, always consult the manufacturer’s manual as they may differ.
Safety assessment checklist
Based on the EN standards, we have made a shortened checklist which will help you assess the safety of a suspended platform system. This article and the checklist provide basic safety guidelines to prevent the most common causes for incidents. For more information regarding safety measures in working at height and the EN 1808, please contact us!