Designing access gantries for safety and efficiency
Access gantries and platforms are so much part of the industrial landscape that they are often taken for granted. However, they can make a massive contribution to site safety and operational efficiency and provide access to difficult to reach areas.
Andy Shedden, Head of Sales and Commercial of A & J Fabtech looks at their design, manufacture and maintenance.
When gantries and platforms replace ladders and scaffolding, site safety invariable improves. There are fewer major falls and minor slips if people take a misstep and reduced injuries from having to handle awkward loads with inadequate footing. Significantly, there are usually also productivity gains because personnel can move around more freely and efficiently.
Typically, access systems are made of galvanised mild steel or painted carbon steel, but stainless steel is preferred in hygienic or corrosive environments and glass reinforced plastic materials are becoming increasingly popular. Most installations are custom designed to meet particular site and machinery lay outs; they are made up of standard walkways, stairs, ladders and roof access units, plus custom made parts where necessary. All sections will be fitted with handrails, non-slip surfaces and other features. Often nowadays they are fitted with anchor points for use with fall arrestors and abseiling ropes.
The design process for access systems often uses CAD technology and may incorporate drawings from the architects who designed the building and/or the engineers who designed the plant and machinery.
Almost certainly, the first stage is a comprehensive site survey and detailed discussions to establish if the structure is compliant with current regulations, plus, details such as the frequency of access required to particular areas, where large or awkward loads may need to be carried, the need for lighting, frost and ice protection etc. However, safety will always be the highest consideration.
An important concern that is easily overlooked is that there may come an occasion when it is necessary to evacuate an unconscious or injured person from an access system. Clearly in such cases, ladders, restricted spaces and long routes are going to present difficulties, so a well designed system will include well planned emergency exit routes.
The laws and regulations that govern the workplace are many, varied and constantly changing. Keeping up with them is a major task in itself but professional access system manufacturers make it their business to always be on top of current and pending legislation so are able to design safe, legal systems. They may also offer advice to clients on subjects such as the Working at Height regulations, indoor and outdoor safety and the placement of emergency equipment.
Some manufacturers sit on the committees that develop regulations and standards, which heightens the insight and expertise they are able to offer clients. They are also proficient at using risk assessment techniques to identify potential health and safety hazards and then to design them out or develop appropriate solutions. This may include the fitting of extra safety equipment, the provision of training courses and the inclusion of lockable gates to restrict access to particular parts of the access system.
An important detail to consider is what is the assess system going to be secured to. Typically this is the masonry of the building, part of the production plant or dedicated steel supports. Naturally appropriate fixings have to be used in each case. Special considerations may be required if say the building is old and listed or the production plant runs at an elevated temperature.
In conclusion we can say that ensuring the safety of personnel whilst working at height is absolutely essential; failure to do so can have major consequences including large fines and even prison sentences. Access systems must be properly designed, installed and maintained, with due consideration given to all possibilities, not just everyday use.
Therefore, it is always best to seek expert advice and use reputable companies that fully understand all aspects of the subject and can carry out risk assessments, then manufacture rigorously designed systems and ensure proper installation.