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Safety Focus: What equipment should you use to access stock at height?

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Undoubtedly the safety of workers is a primary concern at any workplace, but it is of paramount importance in industrial environments, where heavy loads and potentially hazardous machinery are the norm.

This week, Ferret.com.au will be focussing on a number of safety concerns related to industrial environments, turning to the advisory services of WorkSafe Victoria to provide detailed information on the best ways to offset associated health and safety risks.

First on the agenda is using equipment to access stock at height, an activity no doubt undertaken on a regular basis at most manufacturing and storage facilities.

The impetus here is on identifying the correct equipment to use when placing or retrieving items from shelves or racks at height. WorkSafe notes that using inappropriate equipment, in particular ladders and stools, to access stock at height can result in workers falling from said height, which can cause fractures, broken bones, paralysis or death.

The solution to this common problem, then, is to ensure that workers use appropriate equipment for the task at hand. A key consideration here is to ensure that by lifting items, workers do not need to overreach, and that their feet remain flat and firm on the platform or step.

While this is generally not a concern when sourcing products on Ferret.com.au, WorkSafe adds that only equipment marked 'industrial' should be used, as opposed to 'domestic' variants.

When items to be placed or retrieved are not more than 20cm above shoulder height, and can be easily lifted by one hand, a single step stool may be appropriate. An added caveat is that the items should also be no larger than the width of the step being used.

WorkSafe notes that the design of a single step stool should:
  • be no higher than 20cm
  • allow workers to step on and off at any point
  • have a platform large enough for both feet
  • be slip-resistant
  • have a rated working load limit
  • have a step depth of 18cm and height of 15cm minimum; and
  • have retractable spring castors, if possible, or be easy to move.
Mobile step stools are appropriate for similar situations, though these allow for items to be shifted at up to 40cm above shoulder height.

Mobile step stool designs should:
  • have a single platform with an intermediate recessed step
  • be no higher than 40cm
  • have a step height midway from the base to the top
  • have a step depth of 18cm and height of 15cm minimum; and
  • have retractable spring castors, if possible, or be easy to move.
Moving up in scale, step ladders can be used where items can be placed or retrieved using one hand, or can be stowed in a tool pouch or other device to allow both hands to be free for climbing and descending. As with both step stool designs above, though, items placed or retrieved using a step ladder should be no larger than the width of the step.

WorkSafe notes that the design of an appropriate step ladder should:
  • have a frame, tapered or flare-stepped ladder
  • be no higher than 2.4m; and
  • be designed in accordance with AS/NZ 1892.
Platform ladders may be suitable for use when:
  • items can be lifted to the platform from ground level or placed at an intermediate shelf
  • the platform ladder is fitted with a load lifter; and
  • items are easily handled using two hands.
Platform ladders should be designed with a stair or ladder leading to a platform large enough to work from. The platform should have a safety rail situated at 90cm or higher.

Platform ladders should also:
  • be provided with a load lifter for heights more than 1.8m
  • have slip-resistant feet and spring-loaded wheels
  • have large wheels and sturdy hand holds for moving; and
  •  have evenly spaced, horizontal treads.
These are the main types of lifting equipment designed to assist with manual placing or retrieval of items at height, though WorkSafe notes that an elevating work platform or an order picking forklift may be appropriate when:
  • frequently handling stock
  • accessing stock easily lifted by one hand above 1.5m from the platform; or
  • when handling large, bulky or awkward items above 1.8m from the ground.

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