For anyone unfamiliar with the safety regulations regarding working at height, the HSE’s guidance notes restricting the use of forklift cages may seem fairly relaxed and upbeat. PM28 begins by pointing out it is not compulsory and “you are free to take other action.” It goes on to say “if you follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law.” Another way to phrase that might be, ‘take other action and you’re on your own.’
Cages, or to give them their official name, non-integrated platforms, were often used with forklifts to allow workers to stand on the forklift and perform simple tasks. However, a spate of accidents and injury compensation claims made it clear that they posed a considerable safety hazard.
Some claims firms go as far as to say their use in the UK has now been banned, but that’s not strictly true. They can still be used, but as PM28 points out, their use should be ‘exceptional’. That is, not for planned maintenance or tasks where more suitable equipment is available. The idea was to allow their use in an emergency, say where a broken light would make inaction even more dangerous, or in the place of ladders, or improvised stairs, which scare the living bejesus out of the HSE even more than cages. In practice, cages are considered dangerous and there are very few uses the HSE would consider acceptable. Fines of over €1m have been awarded where serious injury has been caused.
In any case, the advent of safer, purpose-built Mobile Elevating Working Platforms (MEWPs) makes the cage a relic of the past and any accident involving a cage is likely to involve a breach of PM28 and open the firm up to a fine in the tens of thousands of pounds.
Primarily, forklift trucks are intended for lifting materials, not people, whilst MEWPs are obviously designed specifically for aerial access. Access equipment is also considered far safer as their fully integrated controls allow workers some mastery over their movement.
“Suitable & sufficient measures…”
The Work at Height Regulations puts a strong emphasis on measures to prevent personal injury, stating: ‘Every employer shall ensure that work at height is properly planned’ and ‘Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury’.