AWPs: The fall protection question
AWPs: The fall protection question

Managing your risk with AWPs

Most every piece of equipment in a rental store’s inventory has an inherent risk of operator error that can lead to accident and injury, from backhoes and skid-steers to concrete saws and augers as well as tables and chairs.

An aerial work platform (AWP), like other equipment, when properly used by skilled operators, is relatively safe. However, should an incident happen, the chances of a catastrophic accident are greater than with other equipment, which is why so much attention is paid to AWP safety.

While there are several hazards when using an AWP that might be caused by an operator’s mistake — such as electrocution or entrapment — falls from height can happen at any time.

For example, when in motion on a bumpy surface, an AWP operator working at height can be catapulted from the basket. If an AWP is used in an uneven area without the proper outriggers deployed, it can tip over and toss the operator out. There are a myriad of ways that falls can occur, which is why operators should always wear personal fall protection equipment.

ANSI standards and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations require the use of personal fall protection equipment with all boom-type AWPs, but it is not required for use with scissor lifts except when components of the guardrail are not in place.

Some manufacturers of scissor-type AWPs recommend personal fall protection equipment for the safe use of their products and there also may be company policies, or job-site or local requirements for the use of personal fall protection for scissor lifts.

“Although the risks are in many cases obvious — hazards such as the potential for falls, striking power lines and overhead objects, crushing incidents, tipping and lightning strikes are relatively easy to identify and understand — AWPs continue to be one of the rental industry’s most consistent sources of severe injuries and property damage,” says James Waite, Esq., author of the American Rental Association’s (ARA) Business Management: Contracts and Legal Guidelines and a managing partner of Winters & Waite based in Denver.

According to ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo., AWPs accounted for about 2 percent of the company’s total number of claims, but 9 percent of the total dollar amounts between 2002 and 2011.

“Given the potential for large claims, rental operators have correctly begun to intensify their effort to limit or eliminate the potential hazards and the inevitable lawsuits associated with AWP rentals in recent years,” Waite says.

The question for rental stores, however, concerns who is responsible for providing personal fall protection equipment. There are several options when it comes to the fall protection question, each of which has pros and cons as well as different ways to manage risk and potential liability for accidents.

Maura Paternoster, risk manager, ARA Insurance, says in one accident, a man was killed when he fell out of a boom lift that he had rented to paint his house. “The rental company did not offer him personal fall protection equipment, even though the appropriate equipment was available and had been offered to prior renters. In this case, the rental company was found liable and its insurer settled the claim,” she says.

In another instance, Paternoster says an ARA Insurance customer recounted a story told to him by a renter when he returned a towable boom lift. “The renter accidentally ran into something with the basket, which snapped the pin in one of its leveler arms. The resulting torque snapped the other leveler arm pin, the basket tipped and the operator was dumped out. If he hadn’t been wearing the harness and lanyard supplied by the rental company, he would’ve fallen 40 ft. and landed on his head,” she says.

“Certain laws — in this case, OSHA — require the use of safety equipment that can be expensive. OSHA merely requires that all operators use such safety equipment. It does not specify where they obtain personal fall protection equipment or from whom, nor does it require monitoring by the owner of the AWP,” Waite says.

“Thus, rental operators generally have the option to either include such safety equipment as part of the basic rental, which may place the rental operator at a price disadvantage in comparison to competitors who do not do so, or elect to offer it separately for an additional fee, either for rent or for sale, depending largely on the type of safety equipment required. However, each alternative creates a measure of risk for both the rental operator and the customer,” Waite says.

Rental companies with larger inventories of AWPs have spent years refining policies and determining what each feels is the best way to handle the situation.

“Personal fall protection equipment is ‘personal.’ We do not rent it, we sell it only,” says Jeff Stachowiak, director of safety training, Sunbelt Rentals, Fort Mill, S.C. “Given the inspection and care required by the manufacturers, it makes sense that a harness, lanyard and other fall protection gear needs to be assigned to the person who will wear it.”

The concern, Stachowiak says, is that the last thing an AWP operator wants to be wondering about in case of a fall is where the fall protection equipment has been, who took care of it or if someone used it to pull a truck out of the mud.

“I equate personal fall protection equipment to a parachute. Our AWP kit is a full body harness with a 5-ft. adjustable to 3-ft. lanyard with an ANSI Z359-2007 5,000-lb. snap hook with a carry bag for $100,” he says.

“We instruct users in our AWP classes to always keep the lanyard as short as possible, especially when traveling or driving the lift, which is when catapulting is most likely. The user has to remember, though, that it will not do its job if the snap hook is not connected to the lift’s anchor point,” he says.

The reason to wear a harness and lanyard attached to a lift’s anchor point, Stachowiak says, is simple — it keeps the person inside the platform in case of a catapult event and has saved or reduced injuries in some tip-over cases.

Mike Blaisdell, vice president, Bunce Rental, Tacoma, Wash., says his company also has a policy in place that requires the customer to purchase fall protection equipment.

“If they have their own fall protection system, we allow them to decline purchasing our kit and acknowledge that they understand that they are required by OSHA to wear fall protection equipment and that they own or have available for use fall protection equipment when operating our equipment,” Blaisdell says.

“Like many things, our policy evolved over the last few years. Initially, we always supplied fall protection equipment with the rental as long as it was returned at the end of the rental, but due to cost and the fact that once a kit was used, it was removed from service — even if you didn’t know for certain if it was used — we decided to sell the kits unless the customer indicates they have their own and complete our personal fall protection equipment declination acknowledgement form. We have found many of our customers have their own personal fall protection equipment,” he says.

Teresa Kee, director, environmental, health and safety for NES Rentals, Chicago, says her company, which specializes in renting AWPs, also offers personal fall protection equipment for sale to its customers.

“We always give them options, so they can determine the one that best suits their needs. In some cases, we have personal fall protection equipment packaged with more than one lanyard type to further assist our customers,” Kee says.

“When needed, we also provide our customers with the Statement of Best Practices of Personal Fall Protection Systems for Aerial Work Platform Equipment. This is a great tool to help educate users and operators about their personal fall protection options when operating aerial work platforms. It’s important to educate your customers and give them options, so they can make their own informed decisions,” she says.

John Quinn, vice president of marketing and development for Safety Works, Cranberry Township, Pa., says his company’s Safety Works® fall protection equipment can be “an important add-on sale” when renting aerial lifts.

Quinn also says proper storage of fall protection is essential, as it is life-saving equipment. “The Safety Works aerial lift kits come with their own heavy-duty storage and carrying pouch. A common merchandising approach of many retailers with rental operations is to zip-tie the aerial kit pouch package to the aerial lift,” Quinn says.

“Equipment rental stores also should consider offering special carabiners for use with fall protection. Carabiners designed specifically for fall protection need to be able to handle the forces involved with falls, without accidentally opening. Auto-locking gates, able
to withstand 3,600 lbs. of force, are a feature of many styles of these carabiners. Some manufacturers offer a captive pin that allows permanent attachment of the carabiner to a connector,” Quinn says.

He says a common product used with carabiners is a personal fall limiter (PFL). “For situations that require a wearer to leave the lift to, for example, get something off of a warehouse rack, the PFL allows the user to maintain his/her fall protection while off of the lift,” he says.

Manufacturers of AWPs also are aware of the risks and continue to tweak designs to improve the safety of their respective machines.

“All of our machines are designed with safety in mind. The simplicity of our machines is what helps to ensure operator safety,” says Steve Watts, vice president, sales and marketing, Snorkel, Elwood, Kan.

When it comes to fall protection, manufacturers typically defer to the recommendations of organizations such as ANSI.

“Genie relies on the requirements of ANSI and OSHA as the basis for fall protection recommendations,” says Rick Curtin, director of product safety for Terex Corp., Redmond, Wash. “Although the employer/user has primary responsibility to ensure that these requirements are met, Genie also provides training and guidance to users and operators who need additional information relating to the application of fall protection to aerial work platforms.”

Understanding best practices

ARA spearheads effort for AWP safety publications

About four years ago, the American Rental Association (ARA) began working with various other industry organizations, rental companies and aerial equipment manufacturers to come up with a way to increase awareness for aerial work platform (AWP) safety.

Since then, the group — including ARA, Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), Associated Equipment Distributors (AED), International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) and Scaffold and Access Industry Association (SAIA) — have collaborated with other industry experts to produce two statements of best practices related to AWPs.

The Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment was released during The Rental Show in 2010 and the Statement of Best Practices of Personal Fall Protection Systems for Aerial Work Platform Equipment was released during The Rental Show 2011.

The group, coordinated by ARA, currently is working on a third publication, this one focused on risk assessment and how to select the right equipment for the work to be performed, which is scheduled to be released during The Rental Show 2013 in Las Vegas in February.

“These documents have been looked upon as a plus for everyone,” says Carla Brozick, CAE, ARA’s senior director for education and training. “They help people know what’s expected and they are easier to read and understand in this format versus the technical nature of ANSI standards. We also provide charts and other visual aids to illustrate the concepts being set forth.”

Brozick says the industry effort is heavily supported by ARA Insurance as well as the ARA board of directors and management team.

Each publication has been well-received and is available to ARA members for download at under “Risk Management” as well as the websites for all the organizations involved.

“I feel the best practices documents are a tremendous resource for keeping us informed of compliance requirements as well as recommendations and best practices geared to the industry,” says Mike Blaisdell, vice president, Bunce Rental, Tacoma, Wash.

“The documents were invaluable in the development of our fall protection policy and we use them for employee training as well as customer familiarization,” he says.

Jeff Stachowiak, director of safety training, Sunbelt Rentals, Fort Mill, S.C., was involved in the development of the documents and says they can be a big help in educating employees and customers.

“The best practices documents have helped tremendously in explaining two areas of aerial work platform use that there still are misunderstandings in — training and fall protection. We all have used the documents as a hand-out and a guide in presentations to many AWP users and organizations,” Stachowiak says.

“When a question comes up, now I just email the document to the person asking the question and I can rest assured that everything is covered in the document as opposed to a lengthy email trying to explain these complicated areas,” he says.

Teresa Kee, director, environmental, health and safety for NES Rentals, Chicago, also has been involved in the group producing both documents and sees real value for users, operators and rental companies.

“We have them posted on our website for easy access. We use these documents in our training program for new sales representatives, particularly when educating them about general training versus familiarization, and have them available at the branches for use in operator training when needed,” Kee says.

“The best practice documents provide detailed information in an easy-to-read format, including illustrations. We have used them to address customer questions concerning different issues, such as a recommended time period for refresher training. As we worked on these documents, we made improvements. One the most valuable additions to the second best practices document, Statement of Best Practices of Personal Fall Protection Systems for Aerial Work Platform Equipment, was a complete, detailed section providing the regulations and standards applicable to personal fall protection while operating aerial work platforms. These are great reference tools,” Kee says.

Manufacturers also have been pleased with the results. “This campaign has undoubtedly helped to raise awareness of best practices, clarify responsibilities and address the safe use of equipment. We feel this is a great example of cooperation and working together for the good of everyone in our industry,” says Steve Watts, vice president, sales and marketing, Snorkel, Elwood, Kan.

“Fundamentally, the best practices documents are about increasing safe use of aerial lifts and giving everyone involved the right level of knowledge on risk management. It draws a line in the sand and says you shouldn’t operate an aerial lift or have one on your job site unless you have the right skill set within your organization,” he says.

“For example, familiarization is not the same as training. I could familiarize myself with the cab of a Mack truck, but I am certainly not qualified to drive that truck in a safe or effective manner. It’s no different for aerials,” Watts says.