Facility Maintenance Decisions

Maintenance Gets a Lift

Properly specified, operated and maintained, aerial work platforms can boost worker productivity by enabling access to hard-to-reach areas

By Thomas A. Westerkamp   Equipment Rental & Tools

Gym rafters, multi-story building exteriors and lobby atria are among the many hard-to-access areas of institutional and commercial facilities. Performing maintenance in these spaces has never been easy, but today, maintenance managers have a growing range of options when it comes to specifying aerial work platforms.

But the purchase is just the first important decision for this type of equipment. Managers also must ensure a maintenance program is in place to keep the equipment operating safely.

By better understanding lift options and their new features and functions, managers can specify the most appropriate equipment and ensure operators and mechanics perform proper maintenance.

Equipment Classes

Aerial work platforms are specifically designed to raise personnel to an elevated position by means of a platform supported by scissors, masts or booms. The platforms are divided into three main classes depending on boom types: articulating, extensible and scissors.

Articulating booms have two or more pivoted or hinged sections. Extensible booms have one pivot and extend by a telescoping mechanism. Scissors have no booms. Instead, they raise the platform with a series of scissor-like connected links.

Articulating and extensible aerial work platforms are smaller but rotate similar to a jib crane to add to reach without moving the carriage. Scissor lifts offer the advantage of a large surface area on which workers can move around.

One manufacturer offers electric drive platform capacities up to 1,000 pounds and heavy duty, rough terrain models with capacities of up to 2,500 pounds. But with only a slide-out platform to extend reach, scissor lifts are basically limited to vertical reach.

Beyond making an equipment decision, however, managers need to review three key issues to protect the investment and ensure the equipment performs safely and effectively.

Lift Maintenance

The pre-operation inspection is the most important part of a maintenance program. Done before each use, this inspection starts with obtaining a copy of the operation, maintenance and repair manual for the specific aerial work platform and reviewing the inspection requirements.

Equipment operators should be keep the manual in an easily accessible, clean, and dry place on the equipment to eliminate the temptation to forego an inspection because the manual is difficult to find. The manual will contain a checklist of steps to take before operation. The operator should inspect:

• tires to ensure both proper condition and inflation

• signal lights and horns

• control labels, which must be in place and visible

• safety features and equipment, such as outriggers employed to stabilize the platform, to ensure they are in place and operating properly

• controls that raise, lower and position the platform

• special accessories, such as material hoists that operate from the platform.

Another vital part of any maintenance program is for an operator to complete all annually scheduled preventive maintenance according to the schedule provided by the manufacturer. The operator should check: grease and oil lubrication; fasteners; all systems for fluid leaks; and the level of hydraulic fluid.

A certified technician should perform a complete inspection, repair and test at least annually. After each inspection and repair, the technician should perform a post-maintenance test and complete a written, dated and signed test report.

This report should go with the operating and maintenance manual so subsequent users can see the status of testing and confirm it is current before use.

Technicians should include work orders for all actions so that when they close out the orders, the information will automatically posts to the equipment record in the computerized maintenance management system.

This equipment record is invaluable for decisions on whether to make or buy replacement parts and to repair or replace equipment. The record also provides verification to OSHA and other regulatory agencies that the department has maintained the equipment to ensure safe operation.

Equipment-Specific Training

Significant differences exist among the mechanisms and controls that operate and control various aerial work platforms.

The biggest mistake managers can make is assuming that personnel trained and experienced in the safe operation of one model can safely operate any model. Each unit requires different training.

For example, one unit might require only that the surface on which it rests be within 10 degrees of level. Another might require a level surface. Operators can move some units safely with personnel on the fully extended platform, while others they cannot. And each unit has its own maximum load limit.

Failure to fully train operators on these differences, or not ensuring that they follow the instructions for each different type of work platform is a leading reason for fatal accidents.

A departments training program should require testing and certification of operators and mechanics, and that they properly document their participation.

Management should check the records to ensure that operators and mechanics training has been completed before assigning personnel to a job requiring a specific work platform.

Managers renting equipment should not assume that all operators and mechanics have received training or that all safety features are installed and working. This is not true in many instances, resulting in accidents.

For example, operators sometimes disable outrigger safety locks so the work platform will operate without one outrigger extended. That is all it takes to cause a tipping accident.

Operators should verify the proper operation of safety features during pre-operation checks and correct any problems, or ask the vendor for a replacement.

Cost Considerations

The cost of lifts varies greatly, depending on the capabilities of the basic unit and the selected accessories. Managers might be tempted to cut corners to save money, but such a strategy is definitely not advisable. Instead, the type of work, conditions under which the work is done, and frequency should be the main deciding factors. Managers should select design features with safety as the leading consideration.

An aerial work platform saves a huge amount of time and cost compared to erecting and moving scaffolding for the same work. Given that benefit, managers are already ahead of the game when the lift arrives to the work site. Operators can raise it to the job almost instantly, then move it to the next and subsequent locations just as quickly. This built-in efficiency enables managers to invest more during specification to create those advantages.

Features and Functions

Manufacturers have rolled out a host of features and functions designed to improve aerial work equipment efficiency and reliability. These include new configurations, better maneuverability, greater weight-lifting capacity, reduced maintenance requirements, better rough-terrain handling, and a range of platform accessories.

The most popular equipment and features managers should consider for work platform include a fluorescent tube caddy, a material lift attachment, welders, electrically insulated platforms, and fall-arrest systems.

A fluorescent tube caddy fits neatly onto the platform and holds the tubes and empty cartons in a position to minimize space required and increase use of the platform. They also protect otherwise loose tubes from damage during handling.

Material lift attachments enable workers to save time by moving material up and down without having to maneuver the entire platform.

Built-in welders increase productivity by eliminating the need for separate hoisting of welding equipment to the work height for jobs such as piping and structural assembly at height.

Electrically insulated platforms facilitate working on power-distribution systems without time-consuming opening and closing of breakers.

A fall-protection harness enables technicians to work safely at height outside the work platform in compliance with OSHA requirements. For example, technicians can stand on structural steel while maintaining the same degree of fall protection they have when working within the work platform. One model allows a technician to work outside the platform in a 6-foot radius without moving the tether.

Only experienced maintenance personnel who have been properly trained in use of each specific attachment on a specific aerial work platform should use these attachments.

Knowledgeable preparation and planning are essential because some of these accessories and features might change the balance or weight distribution, shorten the reach or rotational range, or limit the allowable slope on which the platform wheels can rest safely without tipping.

To Rent or Buy? That’s The Question

Managers have a range of issues to weigh in deciding whether to rent or buy an aerial work platform.

Renting can save the department money without sacrificing safety if technicians need lift equipment only intermittently rather than continuously.

For example, if they only need an insulated truck twice a year to clean insulators in high-voltage sub-stations, renting one for the short term is a good option. The rental costs include quick delivery and maintenance, and they can even include trained operators.

Another option to hold the line on the initial investment cost is to buy used equipment. But managers need to take two critical steps before deciding on such a purchase.

First, make sure the unit includes the operation and maintenance manual, a parts list and an equipment history.

Second, ask for a certified manufacturer’s representative’s complete inspection and written report as to condition of sale, noting recommended repairs and, especially, any modifications that might have been made but that are not approved by the manufacturer.

— By Thomas A. Westerkamp

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  posted on 6/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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