In the custom material handling industry, the most challenging design constraint is being able to efficiently and accurately handle your product. Being able to ergonomically handle product of various weights and dimensions with a single piece of equipment can be an engineer’s nightmare. To complicate things even further, how do you handle a product that has an estimated value of $9.1 million? The Environmental Protection Agency has recently calculated this is the amount that should be spent to prevent a single death, as noted in this NY Times article. You probably didn’t realize you were so valuable! With so much at stake, you don’t want to be naïve when it comes to the vast responsibility it requires to properly “handle” your personnel.
When it comes to choosing an appropriate access method to a variable-height elevated surface, such as a theater stage or a platform lift, there are several key details that can influence your decision. The most influential details are cost, ergonomics, safety, and convenience. After the importance of each of these details is evaluated with respect to the application, an access strategy can be selected. Here are the top 5 variable height access methods that could be used on your next project, as well as the pros/cons of each.
1. Variable Height Stairs
First on our list is the variable height stair assembly. This method provides the most ergonomic and convenient solution for accessing a variable height surface. The variable height stair assembly features individual pivoting steps that remain horizontal at any height, allowing an operator convenient access to the ground or platform level at any elevated height. Additionally, a variable height stair assembly is not restricted to having one end always remain above the other. Bastian Automation Engineering’s patent pending variable height stair design is able to rotate through a 90° angle as can be seen in the image below. This added feature increases the accessibility of the platform as it can be actuated above and below a fixed level.
2. Integrated Stairs
With variable height surfaces, integrated stairs are an industry standard. Stairs allow the operator an ergonomic and convenient way to access the platform. The stair assembly will be permanently fixed to either the ground level, or the platform surface. Either way, the stair assembly will only be accessible from one, pre-determined height. This typically doesn’t create a problem for an operator, but can become inconvenient and frustrating if an operator plans on frequently exiting the platform. If this is the case, the operator will have to actuate the lift to the pre-determined height to be able to use the stairs.
3. Rope Ladder
Next on the list is the emergency escape rope ladder. The rope ladder is a cost effective solution, but presents some safety concerns of its own. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), workers need to maintain 3-points of contact while climbing and transitioning from work surfaces. An emergency escape rope ladder is designed to be a single use product; they are supposed to be replaced after use. The rope ladder provides a flexible emergency escape solution since it can be used at a variety of heights and has a small, unobtrusive footprint.
4. Fixed Ladder
The fixed height ladder is another great access method for variable height work surfaces such as personnel lifts. The fixed ladder is more expensive and obtrusive than the rope ladder but is designed to last a life time. The fixed ladder can also be designed to extend past the height of the work surface, ensuring a worker can maintain the required three points of contact while transferring from work surfaces. Depending on the height, OSHA regulations may require that workers utilize a personal fall arrest system while using the ladder. Overall, the fixed ladder can be a great method for an emergency escape route.
5. Fireman’s Pole
Last on our list is the classic, quick, and risky fireman’s pole. This method is unrivaled when it comes to price-point and speed. Obviously, this method also has some significant disadvantages. This method works best when descending from an elevation, making it more of an escape method than an access method. Additionally, your workforce might not be too pleased if they are expected to climb a pole to get to their work station.
The fireman’s pole will also warrant a visit or two from your friendly local OSHA inspector, as they obviously aren’t an approved means of egress as stated by OSHA. Also, if your employees get too carried while enjoying their work (I usually do), it might result in a recordable injury. For example, meet 2-year-old Nate as he learns about gravity:
In conclusion, whether your platform is a theater stage for performance arts or a personnel lift for servicing jet engines, it’s important to choose an appropriate exit strategy for the operators. An access method that allows an employee the ability to easily, efficiently, and safely complete their job will payoff in no time.