By now, most people linked to the construction or facilities maintenance industry are familiar with, or have used, low-level access equipment. As an alternative to ladder or scaffolding, low-level access equipment generally offers a maximum reach of 20 feet. Different manufacturers offer a variety of designs, and typically these access lifts are engineered for one person to safely and efficiently perform work at height.
This equipment is gaining momentum and favor across a variety of industries, mainly driven by health and safety, the need for increased productivity and market needs.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE HIGHEST PRIORITY: HEALTH AND SAFETY
According to OSHA, ladders continue to be the leading cause of slips, trips and fall on jobsites—often sending workers to the hospital or at least causing them to miss a few days of work. The scarier statistic is that the rate of injury has escalated significantly since 2000, and even ladder training joined the top 10 OSHA violations list in 2017, putting a deeper focus on the need for safer alternatives.
In 2017 alone, 2,241 citations were issued for unsafe ladder use, and 20 percent of workplace falls involved a ladder. The percentage is even greater in the construction trades. If those statistics aren’t enough, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission reports that more than 90,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year as a result of ladder-related injuries.
That’s not to say ladders won’t continue to be used. They have a place in specific applications; for example, projects that are short in duration, otherwise inaccessible, and those that do not require multiple trips up and down with tools in hand.
It’s also important to consider the aging workforce in this discussion. Today, up to five generations can be on a jobsite at any one time. Keeping younger and older employees safe requires low-level access solutions that account for fatigue, balance and the physical demands of bringing materials up and down to the work area.
ANOTHER CATALYST OF THE LOW-LEVEL ACCESS BOOM: PRODUCTIVITY
Reduction of fatigue is a safety benefit, but the extended energy that low-level equipment provides for a worker also means increased productivity. And, because the equipment typically features guardrails and enclosed platforms, tie-off points for harnesses, tool trays and easier portability, workers can complete tasks more quickly and safely without the same concerns associated with ladders and scaffolding.
Low-level equipment also features automated braked wheels when the equipment is elevated, another safety feature that eliminates the sliding and constant adjustments that come with ladders and scaffolding.
The ability for 360-degree mobility while elevated and having both hands free further extends workers’ efficiency and confidence when working at height. Another key differentiator is that this equipment typically only requires one person to move and operate, unlike ladders and scaffolding that require two or more, which negatively affects productivity.
Another note on portability: The equipment solutions most companies are seeking must be easily transportable between jobsites and individual floors in multi-story construction. Modern low-level equipment hits on both these points, and it takes up less space than expected. Some equipment can be broken down to fit into the bed of standard pick-up truck.
A few key additional benefits to certain low-level products include quiet and power-free operation, and no oil, batteries or hydraulics, which makes them eco-friendly and non-disruptive for sensitive environments.
Plenty of options for low-level access equipment solutions are available from aerial access equipment manufacturers and through the rental channel. Any contractor or facilities manager who is looking for safer and more productive ways to work at height should consider implementing these cost-effective solutions to their fleet.