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Raising standards in mobile access equipment

30 April 2014

Michael Fern social media & communications officer for the trade body for the mobile access tower industry, PASMA, explains how the association is working to try and reduce the number of falls from height by promoting the use of proper equipment in the workplace.

A key role of any trade association in the work at height sector is to advance safety and best practice through the development of standards and guidance. PASMA, the trade body for the mobile access tower industry, is particularly active in this area and enjoys a growing reputation, both nationally and internationally, for its pioneering work intended to help reduce the number of falls from height in the workplace.    

‘Choosing a safe mobile tower’ is PASMA's latest initiative. Launched at The Health & Safety Event at the NEC in March, it champions the use of only those mobile access towers that satisfy the requirements of EN1004, the European product standard for towers that sets out the minimum safety criteria.
Through the campaign PASMA wanted to relay the message that if you don’t use towers that conform to EN1004, you risk your own life, or the life of someone else, every time you use one. Significantly, falls from height remain the biggest cause of deaths and major injuries in the workplace.  

Developed in conjunction with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the campaign is supported by the Hire Association Europe (HAE) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). It highlights the safety critical features of EN1004  towers which can be recognised by the distinctive EN1004 label.

Non-compliant towers, often referred to as ‘domestic’ or ‘H-frame’ towers, represent a serious risk to users. Typically they are made from painted or galvanised steel, and, amongst other things, use loose scaffold boards or DIY platforms which can break or move, have no built-in access to ensure safe ascent and descent, and do not come supplied with the correct size and quantity of stabilisers to prevent overturning. 

In contrast, EN1004 towers have purpose-designed platforms with safe trapdoor entry and exit, offer built-in access, come complete with the necessary stabilisers, and have the required number and type of guardrails to prevent a fall.

Free leaflets and posters are available in support of the campaign. They emphasize the serious and significant differences between the two types of tower and reinforce the message that selecting and using the correct equipment is essential to safe working. 

Low-level work platforms 
Another example of PASMA championing height safety is PAS 250, a Publicly Available Specification sponsored by the Association for low-level work platforms (LLWPs), commonly referred to as podiums and pulpits. 

Designs for this type of equipment had previously been developed in the absence of a formal standard, and whilst the majority of LLWPs provided a safe solution to low- level access, there were some aspects that could be improved by adherence to relevant and specific design criteria. With this objective in mind, PASMA has sponsored the development of PAS 250 to provide minimum safety and performance criteria for these popular products.  

Its development was facilitated by BSI Standards Limited and published under licence from the British Standards Institution (BSI). The steering group which produced the final draft consisted of representatives from the Association of British Certification Bodies (ABCB), the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Hire Association Europe (HAE), the UK Contractors Group (UKCG), the Ladder Association and, of course, PASMA itself.

Low-level work platforms designed in accordance with PAS 250 apply current best practice. The document addresses the issues of material specifications, design requirements for the working platform, side protection (guardrails), toe-boards, access, mobility, feet and adjustable legs, and the content of markings (labels) and user guides. Tests in PAS 250 verify strength, rigidity and stability. 

PASMA has also introduced guidance notes and an application form for anyone applying for a licence to assemble and use a mobile access tower on the highway. The Highways Act 1980 requires scaffolding placed on a public highway, even temporarily, to be licenced. This requirement extends to mobile access towers and the form allows anyone planning to use a tower to formally apply for such a licence.

Other recent publications from PASMA cover the essentials of buying, hiring, using and looking after mobile access towers, and how towers are being used in an increasingly wide range of different and sometimes demanding applications – often as an alternative to more traditional methods.