Mast climbing work platforms (MCWPs) are the preferred method of access in a number of trades, with masonry being one of the most significant. MCWPs consist of a horizontal platform driven up and down on a vertical mast by electric or gasoline motors using rack and pinion technology or hydraulic cylinders for lifting.

One mast can raise platforms up to 60 feet long to heights of several hundred feet. Heavy loads (up to 10,000-pound capacity) are lifted on a single stable, spacious working platform. People and materials are delivered to the exact point on the façade where needed at the touch of a button. For these reasons, mason contractors have been increasingly using mast climbers to provide enormous increases in their productivity, while lowering costs.

Mast climbers are flexible, economical, productive, and intrinsically safer than most scaffolding systems. With the combination of these factors, plus their stability at height, users are quickly realizing the benefits of these systems and becoming comfortable working on them. While use continues to grow in the U.S., guidance on the safe operation of the product has not matched the pace of development.

Leading the effort

The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) is leading a drive for higher standards of use, training, and assessment of these systems. Kevin O'Shea, IPAF's International Mast Climber Committee chairman, recently presented an overview of his organization's efforts to OSHA's Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH).

In his presentation, O'Shea pointed to some of the main areas of risk and looked at trends in the industry. He noted that if some of these dangerous situations continue, it could potentially harm the excellent safety record of the product.

Training the customer – Among the subjects O'Shea addressed was the need for more comprehensive training in erecting, dismantling, and using the equipment, particularly when it is rented.

When a project begins, the rental company sends an experienced erecting crew to make sure the system is put up properly. At the end of the job, however, when the budget is strained, the customer often asks the rental company if his/her employees could be trained to dismantle the equipment to save a few bucks.

This idea can be dangerous. Statistical analysis of the causes of accidents on mast climbers point to the dismantling phase as the area with the greatest potential for risk. Users seem to believe that because they can operate the equipment on the jobsite after it has been built and tested by trained installers, it qualifies them to be experts in the take-down phase as well.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a myth to believe that the user saves money by taking down the equipment.