Working at height: All you need to know about man-cages

Cherry-Products-CM24D

Cherry-Products-CM24D

Using pallets or grain buckets to work at height is still widely done in farming, even though it’s highly dangerous. However low-cost, off-the-shelf units are widely available.

It doesn’t take a lot of asking around before you hear about someone on a farm building falling from a long way up.

That’s why the Work at Height Regulations warns farmers against using anything but a ‘purpose-built non-integrated working platform’ (man-cage to most of us) when carrying out work on buildings.

Despite this, it’s pretty common to see someone up in the air in either a potato box or bucket, which don’t meet any of the HSE’s safety criteria, so are considered dangerous.

See also: Work platforms face ban

What’s allowed and not allowed? For chapter and verse go to HSE Document PM28, (PDF) which lays out the standards that need to be met for bought-in machines and DIY items alike. There is a free downloadable guide on its website that covers 15 pages and gives you details on what you can and can’t do.

You can make your own working platform, but it needs to be done properly. Here are some pointers.

Do I have to attach it in a particular way?

If the platform is forklift-mounted then the forks should extend fully into the fork pockets. If this is not possible, they must extend at least 75% of the way.

oxdale

Oxdale

A positive locking system must be used too, in a way whereby the basket can’t accidentally fall off, for example, behind the heels of the fork arms. If the platform is carriage mounted with a securing system, this counts as positive locking.

You should only use the platform on machine that have a tilt/trip lock and make sure the person being lifted cannot come into contact with any dangerous parts of the machine.

How big does it have to be?

The HSE says that the platform should be as small as possible, but still suitable for the number of people inside. It must not exceed the width of the machine it’s mounted on by more than 250mm each side.

Does the floor have to be specially designed?

The floor must be of ‘adequate’ strength, says the HSE, slip resistant and designed to prevent the build-up of liquid. Any opening in the floor, such as mesh, should be less than 1.5cm.

The floor must also be capable of coping 1,471kg/sq m evenly distributed, or 125kg over an area of 40cm x 40cm

Can I adapt a grain bucket?

You could, but it would be difficult because all the platform edges, including the front, would have to be guarded by:

  • A top rail, with the upper surface between 1m and 1.1m from the platform floor
  • A toe-board, with a minimum height of 15cm
  • At least one intermediate rail, equally spaced between the top of the toe board and the underside of the top rail.
Suton

Suton

However the HSE does accept other means of guarding between the top rail and floor, such as robust wire mesh, paneling and/or safety glazing.

Can I lean out of the platform to trim trees?

You can, but a professional harness should be worn and there must be an anchor point on the platform to attach it. This needs to be capable of taking three times the weight of those attached.

How do I talk to those on the ground?

Most accidents are caused by poor communication and you need to trust whoever’s at the helm. The key thing, says the HSE, is that the operator must remain at the controls of the forklift or tractor while the platform is raised.

Before starting work, an agreed system should be used and everyone should know about it. 

What’s on the market?

There are a several ready-made platforms on the UK market. They should fully cover the PM28 criteria.

Albutt

Gloucestershire firm Albutt has five models are on offer. These come in a range of sizes and are supplied with a mandatory SWL test certificate. Prices range from £785-£2,017.

Cherry Products

Oxfordshire-based Cherry Products has three models on offer. They are based around the same design but range in sizes. The platform has a tool shelf and is completely galvanised. Prices are £1,010 for both one- and two-man models. There’s also a 1,200mm model, with a choice of slot or bracket fittings.

Oxdale

Derbyshire manufacturer Oxdale started life making log splitters, but has extended its range from forestry to agriculture and wearing parts. It makes a single type of platform, suitable for one person, that costs £630.

Suton Machinery

Gurney Reeve sells a Suton platform with prices going from £995 for 1.5m wide model to £1,395 for the 2.3m.

Stronga

Hertfordshire manufacturer Stronga also offers access platforms.