Technologies that Advance Safe Work at Height

March 20, 2021
Technologies that deliver safety benefits can help make common aerial jobsite challenges more manageable, like working on rough terrain, being productive in tight work areas, working continuously and minimizing risks. (Part of a series on aerial safety.)

By Jennifer Stiansen

In the last decade, the rental industry has accelerated its adoption of new technologies. One such technology is telematics systems, which are designed to improve the efficiency of machine operations, as well as to plan preventive maintenance to reduce downtime. But, more and more, rental companies are looking to original equipment manufacturers to offer technologies beyond telematics that advance both worksite productivity and, of course, safety.

Technologies that deliver safety benefits can also help to make some common aerial jobsite challenges more manageable, like working on challenging terrain, being productive in tight work areas, working continuously (without interruptions) and minimizing the risk of accidents, all while complying with the most current industry standards.

As technological advancements continue to redefine expectations and experiences in nearly every aspect of the construction industry, owners and operators invite the opportunity to interact with and operate machines that have some of these latest features.

Compliance with industry standards

Established standards provide a safety benchmark for the industry. Recent updates to the ANSI 92 standards, now effective in the United States, have resulted in increased demand for the newest safety technologies in aerial equipment.

For example, the revised standards require new MEWPs to be equipped with load sensing and tilt-sensing technology to make sure operators remain within the capacity limits of the machine.

More about load sensing

For load sensing, MEWPs must now be equipped with sensors that actively monitor the machine’s platform load and sound an alarm, as well as interrupt normal operations, if the platform is overloaded. This means that jobs can no longer be completed if overloaded. If at any time the machine’s total platform load weight exceeds the machine’s rated platform load capacity, the machine’s lift and drive functionality cut out.

It also means that operators need to pay close attention to what’s contributing to the MEWP’s load. For example, it’s important to know that the machine’s load capacity is not just calculated by the number and weight of people on the platform. It also includes tools and materials, as well as the personal gear of operators and occupants, such as hard hats, tool belts, jackets, boots and so on.

 The machine’s load sensors will also capture any weight added by what the machine may come into contact with at the work area, like a ceiling joist, a rafter, an overhead beam or window ledge. It will cut out at once should the weight exceed its maximum platform capacity.  

That said, some manufacturers, like JLG, have built sensor technology that is advanced enough to allow operators to respond to an overload situation, quickly and easily. By simply removing or unloading items from a JLG machine’s platform, for example, the MEWP will recognize when its back within its rated load capacity, enabling operations to resume without the need to recalibrate the machine.  

More about tilt sensing

The machine tilt-sensing requirements in the current standards are very similar. Machines that could previously only be operated on level surfaces can now be used on slight slopes; however, a tilt sensor is required. The tilt sensor sounds an alarm and disables boom and drive functions if the incline surpasses the machine’s rated slope tolerance. 

As with load-sensing technology, each MEWP OEM has its own unique tilt-sensing solution. For example, the JLG ANSI 92.20-compliant tilt-sensor technology allows operators to utilize restricted functionality to return the machine to a work area within its allowable operating range. Once the machine recognizes that its back within its rated zone, operators can reposition the machine or grade the worksite, to complete work within the rate load and slope tolerance of the machine.

Solving jobsite challenges

One of the best ways to continue advancing the access industry through technology is for OEM’s to develop practical technology solutions that solve real-world job site challenges, like working on uneven terrain.  

Recent advancements in machine suspension technology have been developed to address this scenario. For example, self-leveling (for boom lifts) and variable-tilt (for scissor lifts) technologies are designed to adjust the machine’s chassis to the ground conditions, rather than trying to adjust the ground conditions for the machine.

With self-leveling technology, the machine is engineered to automatically level itself at all times, even when driving the unit elevated.

Two major benefits of this type of technology are that:

1)   Operators (and occupants) will feel more stable during travel with less bouncing of the unit when it is traversing over rough or uneven terrain, improving operation and reducing fatigue.

2)    It minimizes the need to crib and/or grade the work area, as well as eliminates the trial and effort of repositioning to find a level work area, which translates to improved productivity so operators can be more productive.

With variable-tilt technology on scissor lifts, sensors monitor both the weight in the platform and the machine’s tilt to determine the allowable work envelope. The machine then notifies operators, prior to raising the machine, about how high they can elevate, removing the guesswork that often results in having to descend and try again.

Avoiding hazardous situations

Recent safety technologies for MEWPs have also focused on developments that contribute to operators' productivity in space-restricted areas.

New technology is now available to help make MEWP operators more aware on the job site by giving them a better sense of their immediate surroundings. For example, MEWPs equipped JLG SkySense, an electronic detection system, have strategically placed sensors that provide visual and audio alerts to inform the machine’s operator that they are approaching a structure. These sensors initiate the slowing down of the machine as it nears the structure, sounding an audible beep that increases in pace the closer it gets before stopping the unit completely. In situations where the MEWP must get closer to the structure once it is stopped, the operator can override the sensor technology to inch slowly towards the structure to place the machine nearer to the desired work area.

More digital job sites tools

Mobile apps are becoming more prevalent on job sites and many that are now available are designed to improve the operator’s experience with the machine before work begins. For example, augmented reality (AR) apps can enable users to scan the MEWP’s safety decals to get the current information on ANSI standards requirements, as well as to see an overlay of a specific machine’s control panel with explanations of its functions prior to machine operation.

These same mobile apps can also offer remote control of a scissor lift without tethering to the machine. This allows users to maneuver around obstacles while maintaining a safe distance from the machine, position it into areas with low clearance and load or unload it from a truck without the need for an operator in the platform or walking next to the machine.

Looking ahead

Technological advancements are expected to continually transform the access industry to maximize productivity and enhance safety. As demand for new technology increases, MEWP OEMs must be ready to respond with innovative ways for equipment owners and operators to interact with and operate these machines.                                               

Jennifer Stiansen is director of marketing, JLG Industries