Working at Heights: How Tech Can Help

Moving large, heavy loads is crucial to today’s construction industries. A lot of times that includes hoisting materials to the top of the building being constructed. Working that high up has its challenges and safety concerns. Technology has been developed for these operations, including training and extensive workplace precautions. There are significant safety issues to be considered, both for the operators of the diverse lifting devices, and for workers in proximity to them.

With a focus on safety, the American National Standards Institute will be implementing changes to all MEWP (mobile elevation work platforms), boom lifts, scissor lifts, and manually propelled aerials, entitled ANSI A92 and CSA B354 before the year is up. Some of the key changes include:

  • Platform Load Sense – All MEWPs will be required to continuously check the weight in the platform and disable function if the load is above the platform load limit.
  • Tilt Sense –Drive and certain boom functions must be disabled when out of their slope limit and functions restricted only to those that safely return the machine to terrain that is within limits.
  • Indoor-Only Machines – Provisions will exist that may only be used indoors, not subject to wind loads.
  • Terminology – Most terminology used in training and compliance will change.

Following the EN280, a European standard in effect since 2001, under these new standards aerial equipment in North America will now be equipped with a platform load sensor. Also known as an overload system or load sense system, platform load sense means that the machine will only allow operators to move and place loads that are within the rated capacity of the platform. All MEWPs equipped with load sense will be required to monitor the weight in the platform and disable functions if the load is above the platform load limit.

The weight on the platform of a lift can affect the performance of the lift and cause a safety hazard for the contractor operating the lift. Platform capacity includes the weight of people in the basket, tools such as welding equipment, hammers, buckets, and materials such as pipes, panels, signage, and windows. The new platform load sensor will alert the operator that the platform has been loaded above the machine’s load limit capacity.

In addition to new standards and required features on the equipment for those who work up high, there is technology being used and developed to help the contractors on the ground and in the cab of the machines to stay safe and have an efficient jobsite.

Tech Rises Up
Since a lot of variables can affect the workflow on the jobsite when working at heights, technology can help solve some of the issues that arise.

Chris Machut, CTO, Netarus, LLC, says one of the biggest challenges contractors have is they often need more time. Technology can impact the construction industry in a couple of ways by making operations more productive, and also creating more data points to understand what is going on within the jobsite. As a result, this can consume more of the general contractor's time. Sometimes technology generates so much data that it is hard to understand all the information that is provided at one given time. However, the good news is that there is technology available to interpret and help analyze the “big data.” This data can be 3D point clouds or digital surface maps to asset tracking and object detection for safety analysis.

Once the data on the jobsite is collected and analyzed, there can be alterations made to ensure a safe environment for the workers up in the sky and even on the ground. There can also be an increase in productivity.

Space Constraints
Machut says, “Technology benefits the crane operator by improving safety and productivity of the (overall) operations. It can assist management and those who are responsible for the blueprints of the jobsite with matching what is built in the real-world to the virtual world.”

However, there are physical space limitations on the jobsite that do pose a challenge that sometimes technology has yet to overcome and assist, just yet. Charles Kopplin, Americas marketing leader, Enerpac and Simplex, which are divisions of Actuant, says, lifting and movement of large members or structures often require the use of two cranes. One crane may be needed to physically lift the structure, but another is used to aid in articulating the object into position for installation. The space requirements for two cranes can be difficult or sometimes impossible to manage, and the accuracy and safety of this method can vary greatly.

There is a chance to improve on issues such as those mentioned earlier to provide a safer jobsite. Kopplin explains that humans have a tendency to only use tools they are familiar with. Technology is improving greatly and affords an opportunity to improve the operation by integrating a hydraulic system into the process, but the thought of a computer-controlled hydraulic system can be intimidating for those who have never used them.

Even with a great number of improvements and advances in technology to help those working at the top of the structure, there are still some things that are not completely machine controlled or at the very least it might be quite some time before they are fully automated. Machut states, “I don’t see the operator being replaced because of the flexibility of the conditions up there.”

What’s Coming?
There can be some advancements that still need to be addressed to help lessen the risks when workers are faced with having to endure significant heights. For instance, Machut says in a blind-lift situation, at that far of a distance, the operator sometimes can’t tell what is going on. He also notes, having information about when a load is passing over people or objects in order to lessen a drop risk would be very helpful.

There are other benefits to using new technology on the jobsite. Kopplin explains, “Using a hydraulic system eliminates the need for a second crane and for coordination between multiple operators. Remotely controlled, the system smoothly positions the object being lifted. It does not matter how familiar an operator might be with hydraulics. The controls and readout on the remote control clearly shows the position of the object being lifted.” Technology such as this can improve safety by eliminating the need for a second crane all the way up on the top of the structure.

Until the human element is removed from constructing structures high in the sky, safety will be the number one priority driving all new technology that is introduced or implemented in the industry. The current options available to reduce safety risks will provide peace of mind for many on the jobsite. The goal of this type of technology is to ensure the workers and the jobsite is as safe as possible for all involved.

Posted: 4/19/2017 1:41:26 PM