Facility Maintenance Decisions

High-Level Maintenance

Effective use of lifts can increase worker efficiency, but managers must consider several important issues before making equipment decisions

By Thomas A. Westerkamp   Equipment Rental & Tools

Even in the best of circumstances — when architects and planners consult with maintenance managers about the design of a new building — some areas of facilities can be difficult to reach. Such discussions don’t occur that often, though, and when you add the ever-changing nature of operations within facilities to the situation, the result is a host of awkward and difficult-to-reach areas in many institutional and commercial facilities.

Maintenance and engineering technicians still need to reach these areas, however, and that is where aerial work platforms come in. Equipment options in this area have expanded over the years — see the accompanying article — to meet the needs of end users in facilities seeking to carry out essential tasks.

Among the issues for managers in this area is identifying department needs for lift equipment, determining whether to buy or rent lifts, and keeping workers safe on and around the equipment.

Buy or Rent

Owning lift own equipment might be the best option if workers use it frequently, which can justify the initial cost, as well as ongoing costs for insurance, maintenance and storage.

Rental is the most common strategy, even in construction companies that use the equipment fairly frequently but with periods of idleness between projects.

Another factor that plays into the rental choice is the variety of types of work maintenance workers perform. If some jobs are inside and others outside, for example, workers might require different types of lifts at different times. Some might be designed for rougher terrain and steeper grades, while others feature hard tires for use on inside, smooth and level floors.

If workers will use the lift fairly frequently but managers are still doubtful about purchasing, the best strategy might be to group several lift jobs together, rent a lift, and get them all done at the same time. The rental is an expense, so it can be written off as a tax deduction for the year during which the rental occurred.

This strategy also gives managers the chance to evaluate lift equipment and features on specific job-site conditions without having to make a long-term commitment or maintain the unit.

If a few short-term experiences have confirmed that the lift equipment meet the department’s needs, and if the finance department concurs that it makes sense to purchase a unit, a manager then can make the decision to purchase and depreciate the unit over several years. Managers also need to remember, however, that with the decision to purchase comes the owner’s responsibility for equipment maintenance and insurance.

Matching Equipment and Needs

Among the key points to consider when choosing an aerial work platform for overhead work include looking into:

  • how workers perform these tasks
  • work content of elevated jobs
  • number of workers, tools and equipment needed on the platform during jobs
  • required vertical heights and horizontal reaches
  • the amount of movement from one job site to another, as well as method of transportation
  • the amount of uneven or sloped surfaces workers encounter
  • access through doorways and narrow aisles, and over immovable objects
  • AC, DC electric or gas power
  • applicable OSHA and ANSI standards
  • electrical insulation required for overhead power-distribution work
  • funds available in the budget.

To get the most appropriate equipment on the job site, managers next need to take a summary of this information to dealers referred by other users. A dealer will need to demonstrate the equipment at the work site under actual conditions.

This approach has two advantages. First, managers get to see the functions as they are performed to ensure the equipment meets worker requirements are met. Second, with all interested parties observing the tests, managers can begin the training by seeing how the equipment is properly inspected, prepared for use, and used on operations specific to the job by experienced operators.

Especially important in this phase is careful attention to the proper and complete steps to check equipment and safety devices. Workers must ensure proper leveling and stabilize each outrigger placement. These areas are often the starting point for problems, accidents and injuries.

As the demonstration proceeds, managers should review the unit’s:

  • sequence of safety checks
  • safety features
  • ease of use
  • ability to operate in tight places and on uneven terrain
  • quality of construction
  • range of work positions, including vertical, horizontal, below horizontal, and rotational.

Matters of Size

As is evident from this list at the botton of this page, quite a bit of overlap exists among models of lift equipment. If a manager’s range of requirements for height, extension, and maneuverability are narrow, just about any of the designs will work to some degree.

But at the outer limits of capacity, managers must more carefully consider their options. For example, if the lift is perfect in all respects but too large to get to the job site or can’t maneuver under existing grade conditions, it won’t do the job. So is it important to talk to other users and have the seller’s trained operator demonstrate the unit at the work site.

Any shortcomings in this setting will become more readily apparent, and managers can change the specs before making the final decision to rent or buy.

Worker Safety Essentials

Worker safety is a team effort. It encompasses not only the manufacturer, but the owner, lessor, the lessee worker’s management and supervision, and the equipment operator. If anyone drops the ball, the consequences can be fatal.

Take the recent death of a worker in New York City, for example. An aerial work platform tipped over while in use, sending the millwright with 13 years experience falling more than 50 feet to his death. Investigation uncovered several errors and maintenance shortcomings that contributed to the fatal accident. No manuals were provided with the rental unit, no training was provided for this use, and some of the unit’s safety features were not operational.

Safe operation requires the following commitments from all involved:

  • Higher management is responsible for a written aerial work platform policy for the use of such equipment.
  • Manuals for operating and maintaining the equipment must accompany each unit, must be used each time the unit is used, and must be stored on the unit for easy access.
  • Operation and maintenance training is essential for all users and supervisors. Training must occur each time workers operate rental or seldom-used equipment because it is more likely users will be working with unfamiliar features, possibly for the first time.
  • Supervisors must monitor use closely, especially during inspection and preparation for use, to ensure that all safety features are operational and are used as recommended. For example, are outrigger warning alarms and interlocks working and properly used? Is the platform within the allowed variation from level for stability? Can each wheel withstand a 4-inch vertical drop with maximum load at full extension?

Such standards provided by OSHA and ANSI govern the training for and operation and maintenance of aerial work platforms. These standards go into considerable detail on training responsibilities of dealers, owners, users, operators, lessors and lessees.

Still, these are minimum requirements. Mandating that all parties involved understand and follow proper procedures and safety steps is the best path to successful risk management.

Understanding Equipment Options

Among the types of aerial-work platforms available for managers to consider are these:

  • Articulating. With an extra elbow or knuckle, these self-propelled units can reach elevated positions not reachable by other designs. The work platform is level while the boom is moving or rotating 360 degrees, and the users can drive the lift while it is elevated.
  • Electric. Used for indoor and slab operation, these self-propelled, battery-operated units can be charged from a 110-volt outlet. Their relatively small footprint makes them ideal for congested areas, such as narrow aisles.
  • Mast.. These self-propelled lifts have a telescoping mast for vertical height with a jib boom for horizontal reach. In the lowered and retracted position, they tend to be easier to maneuver than electric units, especially on grades, and they can operate indoors and outdoors.
  • Towable. These electricity- or gasoline-powered lifts have an articulated boom and turntable mounted on a towable platform. Setup often is quicker because of self-leveling, hydraulic outriggers.
  • Telescopic. These straight boom, or stick, lifts generally have the highest vertical extension and are used where extreme horizontal reach is not a requirement. The operator can move and steer from the platform in any direction while the platform is elevated.
  • Scissor. These lifts are used for tasks requiring a large work platform — up to 6 feet wide — and a high load capacity. The typical platform height is 20 feet, giving a working height of 26 feet. Some designs raise to more than 50 feet and feature a platform that is 5 feet wide, rolls out to more than 10 feet long, and can hold 1,500 pounds.
  • Vertical Personnel. These manually movable or drivable work platforms are mounted on a mast that extends up to 20 feet and can be retracted to maneuver through a standard doorway.

— Thomas A. Westerkamp

LIFT Resources

Several important standards govern the use of aerial work platforms. They include:

  • American National Standards Institute ANSI 92.6-1999, Self-Propelled Elevating Work Platforms
  • Environmental Safety and Health Document 15.5, Aerial Lift Safety, www.llnl.gov
  • Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, 1910.67, Vehicle Mounted Elevating and Rotating Work Platforms

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  posted on 11/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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