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By David Kozlowski
March 2002 -
Equipment Rental & Tools Article Use Policy
Some tools enhance productivity but probably aren’t necessary. But other tools enhance productivity and are absolutely essential. Among this latter group are personnel and equipment lifts. For most facilities, working safely and efficiently 20 feet in the air just can’t be accomplished any other way.
Working effectively with lifts requires that maintenance and engineering managers specify a lift that meets department needs. Determining the type and size of lifts takes serious thought about important characteristics, as well as about the way in which the lifts will be used.
One of the most important characteristics of a lift is mobility. If workers can’t get the lift to the job site, its extension height or safety features and even its cost mean nothing. Maintenance professionals who work with lifts suggest a number of considerations.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston owns many different types of lifts. But one of the first things that Steve Miskowski, MIT’s manager of operations, administration and planning, wants to know is whether it fits through a standard-sized door. It’s not that every lift has to, but a well-prepared maintenance department has to know it has enough lifts that will go anywhere at anytime, he says.
“Probably, the most important thing is to size them properly,” Miskowski says.
Chet DeFurio, manager of renovation services in the office of the physical plant at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Penn., says he makes sure his small equipment lifts fit into elevators and can quickly be loaded onto pickups using a gate lift. DeFurio says it is not only the size of the unit but its weight that is important to consider.
Also, the weight limit of equipment and personnel lifts can be critical. Departments with just a few lifts use them for everything, and maximum weight limits are important, he says.
Mobility extends to the platforms, as well, says Jim Harmon, electrical supervisor at the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center. Platforms with roll-out extensions save time and trouble of having to nudge the lift forward after the user has secured it.
Mobility also means maneuverability, Harmon says. Lifts are heavy pieces of equipment, and moving them quickly and safely over carpeting sometimes requires a great deal of effort and time. He makes sure that some lifts are self-propelled units. He also has had units customized to include a slip-clutch, differential-like mechanism so wheels can move independently of each other. This feature has solved the problem of maneuvering the lift on carpet.
“When we moved a standard lift, the wheels dragged and pulled carpet tiles up when we turned it,” Harmon says. “This customized one avoids that problem and the problem of having to replace tiles.”
Because lifts suspend personnel and equipment in the air, stability is an essential issue to consider during specification.
DeFurio often uses manual cable lifts to maneuver equipment such as fan-coil units and air handlers into place. Stability when lifting heavy equipment is critical.
“Typically, there will be a group working around the unit, and we want to make sure the lift and equipment is as stable as can be,” he says.
“We look for lifts that, when they are extended, they have a good support system for the unit,” Miskowski says. “If they have outriggers, we make sure that they can extend far enough and that they are easy to extend. Also, with outriggers, we look to see if they are attached or have to be manually attached. If they’re attached, I think the staff is more likely to extend them, even if it’s just a quick job.”
Stability is one area that manufacturers have concentrated on in recent years. But even with these features, managers and users must keep other issues in mind. For example, it is important to consider the appropriate safety features.
“Safety is important,” Harmon says. “In California, we have to have a deadman foot or deadman hand control. The foot control is nice, but the hand causes some problems with trying to hold the deadman down while also pushing the control to move.”
Managers should look for controls that equipment users are comfortable using to avoid having the controls overridden or disabled, creating an unsafe piece of equipment.
Managers also should make sure lifts are stable while in motion, not just at rest. Often, moving an unextended lift from one position to another can cause it to sway from side to side. But when the lift is extended, this rocking can be a particularly uncomfortable and even dangerous situation for a worker on the platform.
To avoid the rocking back and forth, especially on carpeted surfaces, Harmon looks for lifts that feature what he calls mini-outriggers that extend down to the floor but do not stop the unit. They reduce the rocking motion and keep the lift moving steadily.
No lift is mobile or safe if it is not properly maintained. Regular preventive maintenance (PM) on the batteries, electrical connections, cables, hydraulic systems, filters and fluid capacity levels is critical.
But with as many jobs on managers’ plates these days, it can be difficult to remember to do PM when the equipment is in almost constant use.
Miskowski has solved this problem for MIT by assigning lifts to the electrical department. No matter who uses the lifts, the electricians are responsible for them. And electricians are not only responsible for lifts’ maintenance; they are also responsible for their safe keeping.
“We don’t want the lifts wandering off or more likely just anyone using them, such as contractors,” he says. “So the electricians are responsible for checking them out and making sure they are secure when unattended.”
What makes a good lift depends on considerations that are specific to each facility. In many cases, the decision depends on its mobility, safety and stability, but it also depends on such attributes as platform size and maximum extension.
For example, DeFurio says some of his workers would rather not wear safety harnesses if they don’t have to. One of the department’s lifts has sufficient platform size, safety railings and outriggers that it is exempt from state regulations for fall protection. Such characteristics should be checked out before purchase, he says.
Harmon says he likes hydraulic units because they tend to be easier to use and more flexible. But they can have a downside.
“There is always the possibility of an oil leak,” he says. “So when we use them, we always put a plastic sheet down.” To avoid leaks, he looks for good seals on the lifts and then has technicians check them often.
Many departments use articulated-boom lifts that can rise as much as 150 feet and extend out up to 40 feet from the base. But for most departments, the real workhorses are smaller boom or scissor lifts that generally have working heights of up to 36 feet.
“We have electric, hydraulic, manual and even one propane one,” Miskowski says. “And we don’t need to get to any super high places with them. The 25 to 30 feet extension pretty much gets to where we need to be, in most cases. In higher areas, we have been careful to put in catwalks.”
Buying is not the only option. Equipment rental can enable managers to try out different lifts. Money matters in either case, of course, but because lifts are so vital, that issue is almost secondary to getting the right unit.
“Price is always a concern, especially now when budgets are so tight,” Miskowski says. “But if we need them and they meet all our other requirements,well, that comes before price.”
Personnel lifts and aerial work platforms vary considerably by make and model, but all of them can benefit from daily inspections of an array of essential components:
Inspect the platform assembly and control panel, specifically: