September 2016 - By Deidre Pearson
For rental store owners who are seeking an alternative to ladders, they may want to consider adding low-level lifts to their inventory. European regulations have helped create a market for these lifts and they are gaining in popularity in North America as well.
Justin Kissinger, marketing manager for Hy-Brid Lifts by Custom Equipment, Richfield, Wis., believes continued growth of low-level access lifts will happen in the North American market as awareness of the equipment increases.
“We also anticipate growth due to increased safety efforts by contractors looking to keep workers safer while lowering workers’ compensation claims as well as to address regulation changes,” Kissinger says.
“Europe created a strong market for low-level lifts because contractors have to follow the work-at-height rule regulations, such as having workers use a harness on an access platform. In the future I see North America following Europe’s example to increase safety and training, especially considering that fall protection and ladder accidents are in the top seven of the most recently cited OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards violations in construction. Many safety directors look for alternatives to ladders and scaffolding, but aren’t aware of low-level access lifts due to their relative newness in the marketplace compared to larger lifts,” he says.
Kissinger suggests that rental centers carry equipment that can be used on site from start to finish, can go places other equipment can’t and is low weight, designed in a way that won’t damage delicate flooring.
“Customers need equipment that is simple and easy to move. For the best maneuverability, look for a lift with a compact footprint and zero-turn radius,” Kissinger says. “These lifts easily navigate around corners, through hallways, and under overhead fixtures and support beams. Plus, they are narrow enough to fit through doorframes and inside elevators — not to mention they can be easily transported, even in the back of a work van. They also work in tight areas typically reserved only for ladders or scaffolding. Because of a low-level lift’s compact size and light weight, they can be the first piece of equipment on the site and the last to leave, so they generally get rented for longer periods of time.”
Dani Berrone, AWP marketing specialist for Haulotte North America, Virginia Beach, Va., says that rental companies are looking for low-level lifts that offer safety, simplicity and cost effectiveness, while driving positive utilization.
“These units should be able to address indoor applications as well as specific outdoor job-site requirements,” Berrone says. “The aerial lift industry has evolved from a generalist approach of the past to a more specialized focus going forward. This transition has indeed impacted methods of elevating people and material, height and outreach capabilities along with power efficiencies. Hybrid power is progressing and for Haulotte, safety and innovation are always our first priority.”
Manufacturers also are making low-level lifts more compact and maneuverable. Paul Kreutzwiser, global category director, scissors/verticals, JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa., says that models such as JLG’s EcoLift feature a 27-in.-wide chassis and are not only push around, but also may be manually operated. Other models are modular lifts that Kreutzwiser says are designed for applications that require the portability of a ladder as well as the operator comfort and flexibility that is provided by a traditional vertical product.
“These units are robust enough for construction applications and can also replace that 10-ft. A-frame ladder you’ve had laying around your facility for years,” Kreutzwiser says. “Ladders are affordable and very easy to find when you need one, but you need to assess every job and determine the best access tool to get it done safely and efficiently. Some of the things to consider when looking at your job are whether you need to take tools and materials with you and whether you need both your hands to get the job done.”
Malcolm Early, vice president of marketing for Skyjack, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, says that rental companies should keep their local market in mind when choosing lifts and offer a full range of aerial work platforms. He says that Skyjack manufactures self-propelled work platforms, which are more flexible, can be moved quickly around the job site and drive fully elevated, improving efficiency by removing the need to lower
“Demand for aerial work platforms has grown around the specific need to provide a safe, efficient and cost-effective solution for working at height within the workplace. As a result, over recent years a wide range of equipment has been developed to meet particular market and application requirements, from small manual ‘push around’ units to very large combustion-powered articulating booms,” Early says.
“Research by government and other official health and safety agencies have shown half of all the fatal injuries recorded in the construction industry involve either ladders or scaffolding. By contrast, aerial work platforms provide a more flexible, cost-effective and safer alternative to traditional methods of working at height,” he says.
Are lifts really safer than ladders? Unless they’re used properly or designed with certain safety features, they may not be.
Maura Paternoster, risk manager for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo., says ladder claims over the past 20 years have declined in both number and severity, despite the fact that the number of the company’s insured members has increased significantly in the same time period.
“The most recent ladder claim reported was in 2014,” Paternoster says. “All of the most expensive claims related to ladders were for injuries and all involved ladders that were either very old — 10-plus years — or poorly maintained, missing things like latches and rubber feet. The two most expensive claims, over $190,000 each, were in 1995 and 1998. We had two additional expensive ladder claims in 2003 — $107,000 and $161,000. No other ladders claims have come close to the severity of those. For claims related to rental equipment, we have paid much higher amounts for accidents involving lifts, tents, forklifts and scaffolding.”
Paternoster also says that there are probably more regulations on lifts in North America than people realize.
“There are some requirements related to lifts that rental companies need to know about,” she says. “For example, the operator of a lift needs to have been formally trained. That’s not, ‘Here’s how it goes up and here’s how it goes forward.’ They have to go through classroom training and
hands-on training, but that is not the rental company’s responsibility. They don’t actually have a responsibility to do the training or even ensure that the people who are going to be using the lift be trained, but they are required to offer training.”
According to Paternoster, what that means is, if the rental store doesn’t do the training, it needs to let the customer know where he or she can get training, whether it is in a classroom setting or online.
“As long as they point them in the right direction that is considered ‘offering.’ This is technically a voluntary standard. It’s ANSI — American National Standards Institute. If the entire industry decided this is what we think is a safety standard for our industry and a company doesn’t follow that, there’s no question they’re going to be liable in an accident for not doing it. If you do these things, first of all you’re less likely to have an accident and, secondly, if you do have an accident we’re better able to defend you if you have done these things,” Paternoster says.
Rental companies also must familiarize the renter on the exact make and model of lift they’ll be using. Paternoster says that different brands and models of lifts function differently and it is important that users are aware of that.
In response to new European regulations, Hy-Brid Lifts’ Kissinger says that lifts have changed, resulting in options that are safer than ladders and scaffolding without a significant increase in price point or training time.
“Lifts have also evolved in safety and ergonomics, including low step-in heights and full swing gates that minimize operator fatigue, a major contributor to falls,” Kissinger says.
“Our full-swing gates open inward, so laborers don’t have to duck under a bar or chain and strain their body. Plus fewer and lower steps — as low as 20 in. — decrease the chance of tripping and falling versus climbing scaffolding or an unstable ladder,” he says.
Zachary Gilmor, Genie associate product manager, Terex AWP, Redmond, Wash., says Genie added personnel lifts to its product portfolio more than 40 years ago.
“We haven’t stopped innovating safe and efficient solutions to working at height since. Genie aerial equipment is designed specifically for the purpose of safe work at height. This is achieved through both active and passive safety features. Active safety features include systems that alert an operator to, and prevent an operator from, using the machine in an unsafe configuration,” Gilmor says.
“Passive safety features, like fall restraint, [such as] safety lanyard attachments, and fall protection, [such as] guard rails, are designed to prevent accidental injury. None of these systems are available to a user of the common ladder. By offering appropriate work-at-height solutions to replace ladders and scaffolds in nearly any application, Genie is actively promoting the No. 1 priority on any aerial job site, which is providing a safe workplace for both the operators and the equipment,” he says.
Matthew Elvin, CEO, Snorkel, Elwood, Kan., cited a 2009 study from Crown House Technologies, “The Selection of Access Equipment.” Elvin says it was concluded that aerial work platforms were much safer and efficient than the traditional ladder.
“After careful research at two different work sites, the Haywood Hospital, North England, and the Forth Valley Hospital, Scotland, it concluded that aerial work platforms, such as scissor lifts, are safer, more productive and more economical to use,” Elvin says.
“The lifts are also considered more ergonomic and avoid unnecessary strain injury as access to the working platform is less complicated. The lifts also reduce the constant climbing that can lead to fatigue, short- and long-term. The lift’s automation avoids accidents caused by human error, resulting in fewer maintenance problems. In general, the opinion of the study is that the aerial work platforms are a safer, more productive method for low-level working at height.”
ARA helps lead aerial equipment safety efforts
The Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) A92 of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is in the process of updating standards related to aerial work platforms.
The American Rental Association (ARA) has a seat as a member of the committee to represent the interests of the equipment rental industry with ARA Insurance listed as an alternate. Both ARA and ARA Insurance also are involved in A92 subcommittee work.
Carla Brozick, CAE, ARA’s senior director, education and training, says the existing standards are product-specific, with each type of AWP having its own standard, but the new work will reflect what has been done by the International Standards Organization (ISO), with standards based on topics that apply to various types of equipment.
The new standards are expected to be approved in 2017 and then be effective in 2018.
“This should simplify understanding of the standards for aerial equipment,” Brozick says.
ARA has worked with ANSI for decades and Brozick says it is particularly important for the equipment rental industry to have input related to aerial standards since such a high percentage of aerial equipment is sold into the rental channel.
“We work to ensure that the other entities involved in developing the standards — such as AWP manufacturers, end users, training companies and others — understand rental, and that the responsibilities of the rental industry under the standards are reasonable for typical rental operations,” says Maura Paternoster, risk manager, ARA Insurance.
Since more aerial lifts are sold to rental companies than anywhere else, ARA also has taken a leadership role in coordinating with other organizations the publication of three “Statements of Best Practices,” including “Best Practices: General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment,” “Best Practices: Personal Fall Protection Systems for Aerial Work Platform Equipment” and “Best Practices: Workplace Risk Assessment and Aerial Work Platform Equipment Selection.”
In addition, ARA plans to include a seminar at The Rental Show® 2017 in Orlando, Fla., with an industry panel specifically focused on AWPs and the new standards on Sunday, Feb. 26, including the rental store’s responsibilities for training and familiarization, records to keep, inspection and maintenance requirements, and rental contract considerations.
— Wayne Walley
Little Giant looks to improve ladder safety
Chances are, most of your rental customers have a traditional 6- to 8-ft. A-frame ladder — what Dave Francis, national safety director for Little Giant Ladder Systems, Springville, Utah, calls “Grandpa’s ladder” — in their garage.
“I say that because everything in the safety equipment world has improved and there are very few products that we use on a regular basis that are exactly the way they were when our Grandpa was using [them],” says Francis. “Ladders have changed in material in the last 40 years — wood to aluminum and then fiberglass — but the design of the product has stayed fairly consistent.”
According to Francis, 168,000 people a year go to the hospital — or 500 people a day — with an accident involving a ladder. Most of them either have a strain/sprain injury or a broken bone, but 30 people every day will be permanently disabled and one will be a fatality.
“That’s why we’re so concerned about it. We want to get those people home at the end of the day. If we can’t do it with training alone, then there’s a real need to have some design change in the ladder industry,” Francis says.
Because insurance companies are financially invested in whether or not people get home at the end of the day, Francis says they have asked companies to either improve training or eliminate the use of ladders altogether. Instead of going to extremes, Francis says his company prefers to focus on proper training and product improvements.
“If we know what the problems with ladders are, let’s just go ahead and change those,” Francis says. “An example would be on a standard A-frame ladder the problems are that the ground isn’t level, so people are using bricks and boards to try and level their ladder up or, silly as it sounds, about 20 percent of the people just step off of the ladder before they get to the bottom. Sometimes they use too small of a ladder and climb too high and stand on the top cap where they’re not supposed to be.”
In response to those issues, Francis says that Little Giant Ladder Systems has built leveling into the legs of their ladders so that it will be level to the ground that it’s standing on. They’ve also added a clicking device in the bottom rung that makes a sound and vibrates under the user’s foot when he or she reach that last step.
“After they’ve used the ladder a few times, they become conditioned to know that they’re not at the bottom of the ladder until they feel and hear the bottom step. To keep people from going up too high on the ladder we just took the top step of the ladder completely away. The only real purpose for that step was to hold a sticker that said, ‘This is not a step, don’t stand here.’ So we eliminated the sticker and we eliminated
the step and that discourages people from going higher on the ladder than they’re supposed to,” he says.
“We’ve had several safety officers say to us, ‘The smartest thing you’ve done, and I can’t believe somebody else hasn’t done it in the last 100 years, is just remove that top step that you’re not supposed to stand on,’” he says.
One of the biggest problems with extension ladders is a tendency to tip over when a user is overreaching. Francis says Little Giant has built its extension ladders with outriggers at the bottom that triple the size of the base, preventing the ladders from tipping over.
According to Francis, there are several companies in the United States that employ a policy called “Ladders Last,” which is a written, documented program that prohibits the use of a traditional A-frame or extension ladder on their job sites without a written permit from their safety officers. In order to be granted permission to use a ladder, they must prove that the only way to reach a particular spot on a job site is with a traditional extension or A-frame ladder. The permit is usually for a set amount of time during which the worker must bring a ladder in to do that one job and then remove the ladder from the job site.
The size and bulk of ladders also can present problems for homeowners who may want to rent ladders for a specific job.
“If your average homeowner walks in and says, ‘I have a two-story entryway and there’s a chandelier hanging from a 20-ft. ceiling that the architect didn’t give me any way to get to. How am I going to get in a free-standing situation in the middle of a vaulted ceiling or a two-story entryway to work on some lights that I’m only going to have to work on once every 10 years?’ They don’t really want to buy a $1,000 piece
of equipment to do that,” Francis says.
“You could say, ‘Here’s a 20-ft. ladder or a 17-ft. ladder that’s going to allow you to get up and get to that chandelier.’ The problem is, the homeowner doesn’t have a way to get it to his house. Chances are he doesn’t have a ladder rack on a truck or a trailer long enough to put that piece of equipment on. Little Giant customers have found success in renting one of our telescoping A-frames because it stores and transports at half the height, so it can be transported easily in the back of a pickup truck.”
— Deidre Pearson