Industry warned of mast-climber safety risks

The construction industry has been warned to check for mechanical faults in mast climbers in use across high-rise sites throughout the UK.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued an alert about mast-climbing work platforms (MCWPs), widely referred to as mast climbers, which are used to support working at height.

Mast climbers employ a powered drive unit to travel up and down slender vertical masts, and are often employed as an alternative to large-scale scaffolding. They can be used as lifts as well as raised work platforms and are frequently used in cladding operations.

The regulatory body explained that mast climbers that use two independent motor drive units per mast are often not fitted with the right controls to manage the risk of dropping from height at excessive speed.

“Platforms could fall from height where mechanical faults in drive units go undetected. If not rectified quickly, the fault could cause serious injury, or even death,” warned the HSE.

It explained that a malfunction in the drive unit could take place when centrifugal brakes or automatic brakes fail to work correctly. Centrifugal brakes are intended to limit the speed of the descent and automatic brakes are meant to kick in whenever the platform halts.

The HSE has asked the industry to urgently establish checks to detect mechanical failures in the different safety systems.

The safety body also warned that drive units can be damaged if power is applied at the end of the mast climber’s travel. Care also needs to be taken to ensure platforms are not overloaded. Inspections and tests need to be planned and carried out routinely by competent inspectors. Operators must also be competent and trained on the correct procedures for emergency lowering of the platform to prevent overheating of the drive motor.

The HSE also drew attention to the proper placing of limit switches and audio-visual alarms, and the need for visual checks before use.

In May 2021, father and son David and Clayton Bottomley died while working from a mast climber on a building site in Liverpool. The platform collapsed from a height of more than 100 feet.

Falls from height have long been the primary cause of fatal injuries on construction sites, accounting for 41 per cent of deaths among construction workers between April and December 2021.

This week, safety improvement notices were served to Laing O’Rourke and Bouygues after a worker was injured after falling from a height of 5 metres at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant site.

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