Working at height when maintaining equipment is an issue that many industries face, and ensuring it is conducted safely is the responsibility of multiple key stakeholders within organisations. From Engineering and Health and Safety Managers through to the individual end user, each has an important part to play in mitigating the risks associated with working at height.
We at Planet Platforms have worked within the rail industry for over 40 years we have found that the diversity within the decision-making unit is pivotal in ensuring that operations are run safely and securely every time.
The hierarchy of control
The Work at Height Regulations (2005) set out a hierarchy of control when working at height.
Avoid working at height – Can the task be brought to ground level?
Prevent falls from occurring – For example, by the installation of guardrails.
Mitigate the consequences of a fall – Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as a fall restraint system.
These simple three statements enable us to quickly establish the best way to manage work at height and the associated risks.
What if work at height is unavoidable?
In most instances within a maintenance setting dealing with large plant or machinery, it will not be possible to avoid working at height and the rail industry is a classic example. First, there’s the sheer size of traction and rolling stock. Second, the very nature of a rail maintenance depot means in most cases there will not be a platform to get in and out of individual cars. Thirdly, the location of serviceable items, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units (HVAC) are situated within the roof area, and getting there will involve working at height.
Safely accessing a rail vehicle
In the years that Planet Platforms has been providing bespoke safe work at height equipment to the rail industry, we have found common issues across multiple locations when it comes to working on rail vehicles. They can be broadly categorised into three distinct areas of access, these being front end, carriage, and roof access.
Front end access
Here maintenance personnel will have been tasked with servicing items such as the coupler, headlights, wipers, and windscreens. Being able to work along the entire width of the cab is typically a must the need for additional solutions to span the maintenance pit or track is often required. The image below illustrates this perfectly.
Carriage access and door barriers
As we have previously seen, the very nature of a rail maintenance depot means that in most cases there will not be a platform to get in and out of individual cars. Access into and out of a cab or saloon requires personnel to reach a height of at least 1.1 metres to do so if the vehicle is placed upon a raised rail, this height is increased further. We find that these types of platforms with steps are predominantly a good means of access rather than a place from which to work; a single inclined stair is all that is required. Where the pedestrian footfall increases, the addition of a second staircase removes the need for personnel to pass each other when accessing a vehicle.
When cab and saloon doors are left open during periods of maintenance it is not always financially feasible or justifiable to have a set of access steps at each of these points. A simple, cost-effective, and safe solution is to install door barriers that prevent personnel from stepping off and falling from them. Available as single and double door options, these are manufactured with width adjustments, to accommodate different classes of vehicles.
The safe accessing of the train roof is one activity that presents itself time and again, it is here that HVAC and Pantograph units need to be regularly maintained. The centre of the train roof will be approximately 4 metres from the depot floor and the consequences of a fall from this height must be mitigated properly.
Here Planet Platforms' “Boxing Ring” platforms give personnel 360 degrees of protection whilst working on the train roof. Typically consisting of a tower-type structure set on a ballasted steel base, the boxing ring element of the platform simply folds out enabling personnel to access the train roof. Fold-down flaps between the platform edge and train roof fill any gaps where materials or tools could potentially fall through.
Whilst we have seen what areas typically need safely access on a train there is one more challenge that is seen in most rail depots, namely maintenance inspection pits.
Work at height is defined as any place where a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. By this definition a fall from ground level to a distance below would be classed as work at height and rail maintenance inspection pits fit this description. Often tens of metres long, these pits need to be crossed by personnel and plant equipment.
The pitboards manufactured by us at Planet Platforms, help with this and can be installed and moved incredibly quickly.
One of the main advantages of the pitboards is that they remove the need for personnel to walk the entire length of the pit to simply get to the other side of the train. Being able to remain in place when rail vehicles pass over them is also a major plus.
For pedestrian access only Planet Platforms' pitboards can be manufactured with a 500kgs rating, where plant equipment access such as fork trucks is also required, this can be increased up to 15 tonnes.
What about Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPS)?
MEWPS are a ubiquitous piece of access equipment and can serve some purpose within a rail maintenance environment, however, their limiting factor is the ability to alight from the platform itself onto another structure. This is deemed incredibly unsafe and constrains them from being used more widely for train maintenance purposes.
Thankfully the rail industry has always been led by the safety of its employees, which helps to maintain work at height safety within the rail industry.