'Evolve or die' for high-access equipment industry

Tech adoption for powered access firms is key as Mewp-related fatalities increase in 2017

Technology such as VR can help to boost the safety and efficiency of construction Mewps in the high-access equipment industry that is at the cusp of stagnation [representational image].
Technology such as VR can help to boost the safety and efficiency of construction Mewps in the high-access equipment industry that is at the cusp of stagnation [representational image].

Global construction professionals are taking important steps, such as tech adoption and the use of big data, to make working at heights safer for their workforce, but powered access rental and mobile elevated work platform (Mewp) firms must “evolve or die”, with time running out for laggards in the high-stakes sector.

Speaking at the Europlatform event hosted in Belfast, Ireland by International Powered Access Federation (Ipaf), Don Kenny, chief executive officer of Loxam Powered Access Division said “change is the only constant”. Ipaf is a global body aimed at promoting the safer use of powered equipment, with its Middle East and India headquarters based out of Dubai, UAE. 

Commenting during the event, Kenny added: “But are we making progress? It’s ‘evolve and survive’ or ‘stagnate and die’. Success is fun and infectious, but losing isn’t so much fun.”

The Loxam boss said that powered access rental firms will have to “treat customers differently”, but innovation must not come at excessive resource costs for a company’s reliable business model.

“Those of us running powered access rental businesses cannot afford to be ‘blue sky thinkers’,” he continued.

“We have to run our businesses as they are today – but that doesn’t mean we must resist change.”

Ipaf’s fatal injury rate analysis for 2017 was also unveiled at the Belfast conference, with data showing that the number of global Mewp-related fatalities rose from 66 in 2016 to 83 in 2017. According to the report, electrocutions caused the most number of deaths in 2017, whereas the most common fatality cause in 2016 was falls from the platform. The US, Spain, France, and Italy were among the countries where fatality numbers rose in 2017.

Almost 43% of the global Mewp fleet is in the US, where the percentage of total reported fatalities increased to more than 80%. Germany and the UK “remain the benchmark for low fatal incident rates”, according to the report, which added that accidents noted in 2017 “were preventable” and must be used as pointers to improve industry-wide safety standards.

Kenny’s comments were followed by the views of Skyjack president, Brad Boehler, who pointed out the “flat-lining productivity” in the global construction sector, adding that Mewp manufacturers may help to reshape future workplaces whilst also increasing onsite safety.

Technology can help with the process, Boehler explained, adding that augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), wearable technology, drones, interconnectivity (including through telematics), and robotics would benefit the sector. Skyjack and Ipaf have also made 3D building information models available for Mewps.

According to a statement on Ipaf’s website, Boehler explained that “a deluge of data could drive enhanced and real-time tracking of stats, such as real utilisation rates, alert equipment owners of overturns, or even near misses that may otherwise go unreported”.

Mewps are among the most common pieces of equipment on construction sites where work on heights is involved. According to the website of the UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive agency, Mewps must be maintained through “a programme of daily visual checks and regular inspections, and servicing schedules should be established in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and the risks associated with each Mewp”.

Its website adds: “The Mewp must be thoroughly examined at least every six months by a competent person or in accordance with an examination scheme drawn up by such a competent person.”

VR is rapidly being adopted by Mewp manufacturers and operators to boost the overall efficiency of their products. This May, it was reported that UAE-based powered access equipment rental company Rapid Access has devised a VR system to help the rental industry train its operators in the use of heavy equipment, such as cranes and aerial boom lifts.

The VR training simulator, the likes of which were previously only available in the aviation industry, is developed by UK-based experiential learning systems company, Serious Labs.

Read more about the Serious Labs VR simulator here.

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