Health and safety often comes in for a lot of criticism in the transport industry (among others) and red tape can be swiftly followed by the red mist. But jobs that require working at height come with higher risks, as slips, trips and falls are one of the biggest types of risks in the workplace. As a result, many operators and workshop managers approach the topic with caution and often go above and beyond to ensure that the workshop environment is as safe and secure as possible for technicians and anyone else on site.
For David Yorke, new technology and projects manager at Tower Transit Operations in east London, the need to undertake maintenance on fuel cell buses required a new approach and investment in some hardware to get the job done.
“One of the things we found out early when starting to operate the hydrogen buses was that we had to have access to the roof of the vehicle on a regular basis because that is where the tank is,” he says. “For us – as a company and also as a country – working on bus roofs is not something we would normally do, typically because we don’t have air-conditioning systems or any other components located there.”
That meant revamping the workshop to suit. “We had to look at different access options and also install fall-arrest equipment in one of the workshop bays,” he explains. “We found that the scaffold tower was the easiest and most efficient solution for access – as well as one that fulfilled any risk assessment criteria.
“We had a choice – we could’ve put in some very elaborate equipment that ran up the side of the bus to create a platform, but that would’ve been expensive and restrictive, because it would limit where we could put the bus in the workshop,” he explains. “We also had the option of tall steps, but at the height we needed, there were question marks over the stability. So, for us, this tower was the best and most flexible option that we had.”
Yorke explains that Tower Transit’s workshop now has one bay that enables roof access, with the fall arrest equipment but, thanks to the tower, there is more workshop flexibility. “Because we are not restricted in where we put the tower, we can use it not only to access the roof of the bus, but also to inspect the side of the bus in the other bay.”
Measuring around 2m2, and fixed at a height of around 3m, the tower is mounted on wheels that are locked in place when in use, but enable the construction to be moved up and down the side of the bus if required. “Due to the size of the platform, there is normally only one person on the tower at one time,” Yorke says. “But when we are working at height, we always have two people in the workshop at all times and sometimes you have one person on the bus roof and one on the platform at the top of the tower.
“We’ve had a number of different people who have undergone training to use the tower – there was extensive external training to understand the safe use of the equipment,” explains Yorke. “The equipment is only as safe as how you use it.”
In terms of looking after the tower, it’s pretty much maintenance-free, according to Yorke. “We do a safety examination and a pre-use check every time we use the tower and are constantly checking it visually to ensure all of the components are performing correctly. But it hasn’t needed any maintenance work, because its only use is in the workshop, where it doesn’t get moved around too much.”
Aside from fuel cell maintenance, there are several other situations that require roof access on buses and coaches – accident repair, painting, cleaning, advertising and branding alterations being just some. Companies such as Working at Height and HLS (Height, Lift and Shift) offer a range of bespoke options that are tailored to the customer’s request, from a straightforward tower to a combination of different units that can allow access the whole way around the vehicle.
HLS says that while some powered access platforms can be modified to work around those who operate on these vehicles, often the preference is to have a fixed platform from which operatives can work. Such structures supplied by HLS have been designed to work with a range of transportation systems including planes and trains, as well as refuse trucks and buses.
Another supplier is LOBO, whose LOBO System modular platforms consist of trestle legs, adjustable extensions, bracing tubes, as well as wheels, outriggers and other elements.
Trailers might not be as tall as the roof of a bus, but they still pose a health and safety issue regarding the distance from the floor. For a wider selection of tasks – such as loading and unloading from ground level – safety remains paramount, so a more rigid and substantial access platform is often required. For many of these jobs, Safesmart’s Safeloader platform, pictured above, ticks a lot of boxes.
An aluminium construction helps to ensure that the structure is sturdy, but still lightweight and, therefore, easy to move. “A lot of customers use them for loading and unloading flatbeds, because it gives workers easy access to the load bay,” explains Stefan Gould, business development manager at Safesmart. Available in lengths of 4m or 6m – and typically operating at a height of around 1.4m – the platforms can be joined together to cover almost the entire length of a 40ft trailer. This configuration means there is no need to move the platform to different areas when loading or unloading, which is preferable to using a single ladder for access.
“There is a safety aspect, where the user can get up to the truck via the staircase – keeping three points of contact at all times, as per the health and safety requirements – and then use the deck to work on and access the truck, as both items are at the same height,” explains Gould. “We have had discussions about clients when they talk about the truck beds not being level because they typically slope to the back. But even though the heights can range from 1.2m to 1.6m, we wanted to keep it as easy as possible to use. Some users actually like the slight height difference because it means they are consciously stepping up on to the truck bed.”
The Safeloader platform has railings down the side and at the end, all of which are removable should the user need to access different sides of the truck or join two platforms together. “The joining kit includes an extra piece of platform that creates a bridge between the two platforms,” says Gould. “There is also a handrail between the two platforms and, underneath, clamps are used to fix them together.