Choosing and Using Load Handling Equipment
Choosing and using the right load handling and lifting equipment can be daunting with the bewildering range of options available. But spending a little time thinking about the application, potential suppliers and how the equipment will be used and maintained can help narrow the choice. This is important because time off work caused by bad handling practices still represents one of the biggest productivity losses across all industry. For the individual, accidents and injuries caused by inappropriate handling can lead to long term pain, misery and lost earnings. For the employer, who has a duty of care to staff, the impact can be severe in terms of financial and legal consequences.
The old fashioned view of load handling was that equipment was only needed for “large” loads on big vehicles. But the current health and safety regulations stipulate that manual handling of all but the smallest and lightest items should be avoided at all costs. In practice this means that regular lifting of any item heavier than 25kg for men (just 15kg for women) should not be lifted or handled without some form of mechanical assistance. This brings mechanical load handling right into the realm of the light commercial vehicles used by fleets as well as countless small businesses and self employed traders.
For most vehicle operators deciding the right load handling and lifting equipment to fit will come down to a choice between a crane or a platform lift. In general terms, cranes are versatile for lifting items on and off a vehicle and are especially useful when accurate load positioning is required. When fitted with a winch they also allow loads to be handled below ground level, essential for civil engineering and utility applications. The smallest and most compact cranes on the market have maximum working loads of around 250kg and are ideal for vans, pickups and four-by-fours as well as larger commercial vehicles. The best models are lightweight and fold down when not in use to ensure they do not impact on the load carrying capacity of the vehicle or get in the way of everyday working. They can be installed with little or no modification to the chassis or bodywork and, if looked after properly, can often be transferred to replacement vehicles to provide excellent value for money and overall lifetime costs.
Platform lifts, which can be fitted at the rear or side of the vehicle, are also ideal for handling items on and off the vehicle and are especially useful for wheeled loads such as trolleys, roll cages or sack barrows. Recent advances in engineering design and manufacturing mean that the latest models on the market can incorporate low profile fabrications and lightweight materials such as aluminium to reduce the overall weight to maximise the fuel economy and load carrying capacity of the vehicle. Like cranes, platform lifts can be installed in almost any type of light to medium commercial vehicle, including vans where special models that fit inside the rear or side doors are also available. Maximum working loads will vary depending on the type of device and the application but in general terms 250kg is often suitable for most light commercial vehicles.
Choosing the right load handling equipment is only half the story. Training is also important so that staff understand the principles of safe load handling and how to use the equipment. The investment will be wasted if staff do not. Features such as overload protection devices, wander leads and wireless remote controls all help promote safety and correct use of these should be included in the training.
Cranes and platform lifts must also be thoroughly examined at least every 12 months by a trained and competent person to ensure compliance with the latest regulations including PUWER and LOLER. Although this testing is essential, it can be onerous for busy companies focusing on their main business. This is why it makes sense to take out a service contract with the original manufacturer or a third party specialist who has the experience, expertise and resources to ensure the equipment is maintained, serviced and checked in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and statutory requirements. It is also sensible to check that suppliers offer adequate service and spares back up to help keep any unexpected downtime to a minimum. These considerations help the equipment to provide life-long and trouble free performance and it may even be possible to transfer it to a replacement or different vehicle later on to extend the useful return on the initial investment.
Penny Hydraulics designs, manufactures and services lifting and load handling equipment for use in a wide range of applications. Products include the Swing Lift range of medium duty cranes for use on pick-ups, drop-sides and flat-beds and the Step Lift, Load Lift and Tail Lift lifting platform ranges for use on pick-ups, drop-sides and vans. The company also manufactures the Mezz Lift for handling loads between ground floor and mezzanines and specialist equipment for handling wheels, tyres and barrels in vehicles and at customers’ premises. Penny Hydraulics is a privately owned family business based in Clowne, Derbyshire.