Rescue Me!

AWP Rescue Article by Bob Whitfield

Rescue Me!

Mobile Equipment Work Platforms (MEWP’s) known for many years as aerial work platforms have become the mainstay for construction, service, warehousing and numerous other tasks performed at height.  Each year a new or updated product is released that takes us higher, offers more stability, easier access, etc. These are marvelous devices that can safely take workers to new heights but with that ability also comes the need to provide appropriate rescue options for them as well.  Take a look at the photo below.  Do you believe that your company or organization is ready for an event like this?

(Photo of Universal Studio’s Volcano Bay construction incident, Orlando, Florida)

As you can see, even nearby MEWP’s could not reach those who were suspended.  If an operator or worker fell during this event they would have fallen over 100 feet thru open construction sections and beams to the concrete floor below.  It took well over an hour for their rescue to be completed.

So many MEWP users have the expectation that if anything happens, they can just lower the unit using either the upper or lower controls.  There are many situations that could prohibit this action and could create an opportunity for serious injury of the operator.  If the protection of your workers is a core value for your company or organization then their rescue should be at the top of your list. Rescue planning starts with a comprehensive review of the task to be performed and the identification of all hazards associated with it.  Areas to cover should be:

  • Selection of the appropriate MEWP – The appropriate MEWP should be chosen based on the constraints of the worksite, ground/roadway conditions, known hazards, site access and proximity to other workers or the public. Units in your current fleet may not be the best solution based on the hazard or task.
  • Assess all of the risks – Identify all of the know risks (Locations, task, personnel, materials used, etc.)
  • Identify control measures – Once the hazards and risks are identified now you can create appropriate procedures, training or other measures to eliminate or mitigate hazards where possible.
  • Task planning – Once risks have been identified, control measures are in place and appropriate operational plan can be developed and communicated. This plan should also contain a detail rescue plan.  Calling “911” or the locations emergency response number
  • External MEWP anchorage – Some AWPs are equipped with an external fall protection system. These systems are either a horizontal lifeline or rigid rail engineered to safely allow personnel to exit the basket with 270-degree (270°) mobility around the basket. An example is the JLG “halo” or Genie “rigid rail”. These systems are designed to provide an anchorage for fall arrest and can be used as such. Fall restraint is also an option depending upon the situation. External fall protection systems must be designed by the manufacturer and installed according to the manufacturer requirements.
  • Transfer at Height Tasking – (in or out of the basket) should not be permitted unless an approved job procedure is in place, a second trained CM is in the basket, and the effected personnel have been properly trained. If transfer is permitted, 100% tie-off is required during the maneuver.  If a person is exiting an AWP using any anchor point/lanyard/harness combination and the task exposes them to a fall arrest hazard (within 6’ of roof edge, roof slope greater than 18 degrees, landscaping berm slopes exceeding 30° (40° in California), etc.) additional protection may be required.
  • Options for rescue – These can include the use of ground controls on the unit to lower it to the ground (if movement will not injure the worker); use of a second nearby MEWP to transfer a worker at height, or the incorporation of assisted rescue or self-recue devices.
  • Rescue of a worker attached external to the basket – My employer has mandated that a second qualified worker be present in the basket anytime that a worker transfers from a basket at height. In most cases self-rescue can be accomplished by the suspended worker regaining secure footing. If self-rescue is not possible, Worker remaining in the basket should assist the fallen worker, while maintaining anchorage internally within the basket. They should attempt to reach out to the fallen worker to assess the worker’s medical condition and assist with rescue if possible. They may utilize the lanyard and/or harness to re-position the worker to aid in rescue. Assisted rescue should only be performed if the co-worker can implement the rescue safely without using additional fall arrest equipment.
  • In-Basket “Technical Rescue”: These operations require specialized training for workers with all rescue equipment and completion of task-specific rescue practice scenarios. All MEWP operators must have completed basic Fall Protection training and appropriate MEWP training (General and Equipment Specific) to participate in these sessions.
  • Communicate and train your rescue plan – A plan which is not communicated or actively trained against is just a document to show others later in court.

Note:  Consideration must be given to why a fall occurred in the first place, such as a medical condition, limited visibility, toxic environment, etc. or any other factor that could affect the rescuer or implementation of the rescue.


In November, I will be presenting at the Genie End User Advisory Council in Kirkland, Washington.  Genie, one of the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile equipment work platforms has taken the high road and established an open learning forum for the major users of their products.  Their goal is to ensure their end users are aware of improvements made with job site safety and productivity with their industry.  Trust me that valid rescue plans for workers at height will be part of my presentation.  It is an honor to be asked to support this group of world leaders in safety.  Stay safe!

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