IPAF issues safety warning over use of MEWPs to erect festive lights

THE International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) has highlighted the dangers of untrained people using Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs) to erect and remove festive decorations.

The organisation said the task can quickly turn into a ‘festive hangover’ if those carrying out the work don’t know how to select the correct type of machine, overlook the need to use professionally trained operators and supervisors, or try to cut corners by failing to conduct a site assessment or disregarding safe working practices.

IPAF said it has already been made aware of ‘multiple’ examples of MEWPs being used in an unsafe manner to erect festive lights and decorations this year. The organisation is reminding users of powered access to carry out temporary work at height to ensure their operatives are trained, supervised and act in accordance with industry-recognised safe practices as they apply specifically to working alongside roads and in public places.

Brian Parker, IPAF’s head of safety & technical, said, “IPAF is in the final stages of development of a comprehensive new guidance document on working with MEWPs in public places, including alongside highways. At this time of year there are several key messages that we cannot emphasise enough in terms of working at height safely in public areas and next to roads, often in darkness or inclement weather.

“We appreciate people sometimes feel pressed for time, and that those putting up or taking down festive decorations want to minimise disruption, but cutting corners on safety is not an appropriate way to go about this, and there are additional specific risks that are heightened when working away from a controlled work environment.

“In a public area or alongside traffic, such as a busy high street or shopping arcade for example, operators of MEWPs are exposed to additional risks that must be considered when planning a safe system of work, not least proximity to vehicular traffic, working above pedestrian areas, and awareness of power cables and other possible overhead obstructions. Add to these, factors such as working during the hours of darkness, poor weather or unsafe ground conditions, loading and unloading the MEWP – there are a great many variables to be considered when planning this type of task.

“IPAF can advise on everything you need to complete this type of work safely and efficiently, including industry-recognised training for MEWP operators and supervisors, information and training on how to carry out a site assessment and correct selection of MEWPs, safety awareness and guidance on assessing ground and weather conditions, managing traffic, segregating the work area from pedestrians, preventing items and materials falling from the platform, and identifying and avoiding risk from overhead power cables and sources of radio frequency (RF) radiation.”

Peter Douglas, CEO & MD of IPAF, added, “At this time of year it is nice to see the festive decorations around our shops and town centres, especially so given the difficult long months of the pandemic. We are generally looking forward to time with family and friends, and to celebrating together as not everyone was able to do last year.

“But making our high streets and shopping centres look festive should never come at the expense of safety – whether it is an individual operator cutting corners to complete a rush job, or a client or contractor not taking proper care and attention in planning and supervising the task. A job done safely is a job done well; every work task should end with all involved able to go home in one piece, to enjoy their festivities in peace.”