01.11.2018

Spotters for scissor lifts?

A state coroner in South Australia has recommended that scissor lifts should not be operated unless there is a person on the ground acting as a safety spotter.

The recommendation was made this morning by coroner Mark Johns as he revealed his finding following the inquest for Jorge Castillo-Riffo, 54, who was crushed between a scissor lift guardrail and the concrete floor above at the site of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital in 2014. A passing co-worker found him by chance, but he and another man struggled to find the emergency lowering valve as they frantically tried to relieve the pressure on him. He later died from serious brain injuries that he sustained as a result of the incident.

Johns made the suggestion following his recommendation that the Council of Australian Government's investigate the standardisation of scissor lift controls - in particular the emergency lower controls which he found were very difficult to access on the machine in question. He then stated that until such a standardisation is in place, scissor lifts should not be operated unless there is a spotter on the ground to activate the emergency lowering mechanism.

During the inquest, Castillo-Riffo's partner Pam Gurner-Hall said: "He talked to me about the lack of knowledge in regard to how this scissor lift was going to be used and he spoke to me of some issues that he had witnessed on the site."

Vertikal Comment

While the coroner makes a good point on the ease of reaching some emergency down valves/controls, the idea that they can all be made exactly the same does not stand up to scrutiny. It would though be possible to mandate that they are mounted externally in a clearly accessible location and well marked with a standardise symbol.

The sad thing here is the suggestion that the risks of overhead crushing in a scissor lift come anywhere close to justifying a recommendation for a spotter to be appointed on every scissor lift. Such a move could so easily turn tradesmen back towards scaffold towers or ladders which, without question, carry far higher risks. If all of the evidence presented in this case is accurate the contractor has some serious questions to answer, in terms of training and briefing of staff working on the project. Amazingly there was a second scissor lift crushing incident on the same site in 2016.

It seems that a fair bit of the evidence regarding the type of scissor was uninformed and even hard to comprehend and does not firmly indicate that the cause was product related. There is however a message here regarding emergency lowering controls, which have not always been the best or the easiest to use. In 2008 IPAF adopted a new and standardised decal for the emergency lowering control locations See new emergency Controls Symbol while the EWPA issued its more comprehensive Safe Use Pack in 2012 See EWPA launches Safe Use Pack. The problem is that many contractors still fail to encourage and insist on a safe working culture on their sites and allow staff to take silly risks by cutting corners in a bid to get the work done faster or cheaper. That needs to change of course.

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