Minimise virus risk

26 October 2020

Safe work at height is underpinned by risk assessment, proper planning and management of operations. A few extra steps can mitigate risk, including those posed by Covid-19. There are also tools in the training armoury to help operators, supervisors and managers learn remotely – and even in virtual reality.

Guidance has been issued by the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) to assist those using mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs), mast-climbing working platforms (MCWPs), construction lifts and hoists to work safely and minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus. 

The document has been developed and reviewed by IPAF’s safety experts and members with specialist knowledge of health & safety best practice. It is centred on a hierarchy of risk, with guidance on how to mitigate possible exposure to the virus to help protect employees, colleagues, customers and users of powered access equipment. At all times the latest government advice should be adhered to. 

The hierarchy is ranked from eliminating risk entirely, through reducing risk, isolating users from risk and controlling risk to protecting against risk through use of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

In addition to the new guidance document, IPAF will publish a free webinar that helps to explain the key principles and measures in more detail. The webinar was hosted by Health & Safety professional, Chris Wraith, on Thursday 21 May and is now free to review via

Peter Douglas, IPAF’s CEO & MD, says: “Ours is an industry founded on the principles of safe working and adopting best practice through sound risk assessment and mitigation. There’s an increased risk at present posed by the spread of coronavirus and we must do everything we can to eliminate, reduce, control or protect against it.

“Powered access equipment is key to conducting work at height safely, the services our members provide are of vital importance on construction sites, maintenance and infrastructure projects around the world. If powered access firms can’t do this work, projects will be hampered and safety while working at height could be compromised.

“We have issued what we feel is a comprehensive set of guidelines for operating safely in light of this elevated risk, with sensible advice about how to identify risk, maintain social distancing and workplace hygiene, and use of additional PPE.

“On site, enhanced risk assessment, cleansing of machines, use of additional PPE such as face masks and visors, and using extra machines to allow a ‘one operator per platform’ rule to maintain social distancing are all recommended. If contractors need to hire additional machines, it’s important to only ask trained and familiarised operators to use the equipment and for work to be adequately supervised. 

“Remember, it is very important not to use the virus as an excuse to cut corners on established principles of work at height safety. It is vital that employees are protected from risks associated with working at height at the same time as being mindful of the additional risk posed by coronavirus. 

“Never ask someone who isn’t properly trained to use a MEWP, lift or hoist, and always ensure you have the right machine for the job. These basic principles have not changed. Likewise, powered access equipment should be provided in a safe working condition and subject to correct inspection, maintenance and thorough examination. 

“Work should be supervised to ensure best practice is being observed, and it is recommended supervisors or managers should also be trained, for instance using IPAF’s MEWPs for Managers training, which can be conducted wholly via eLearning.”

To view the new IPAF guidance document click; to find contact details of your nearest IPAF office or representative see

Remote delivery

In response to new safety requirements due to coronavirus, and following guidance given to all IPAF Training Centres, IPAF member firm Nationwide Platforms has completed an online instructor-led MEWPs for Managers course for Skanska. 

The course, normally taught in a classroom, was held online using video conferencing. The instructor-led training allows those who supervise or plan work at height to remotely receive the training from the comfort and safety of their home or office. 

The instructor-led option is in addition to the individual eLearning MEWPs for Managers course that IPAF training centres also offer and has the same safety advantages of eLearning, but allows an instructor to replicate elements of the face-to-face course that would normally be carried out in the classroom for multiple candidates seated together. 

The instructor is able to interact with the delegates and answer any questions or queries they might have, as well as provide feedback specific to their learning. This new method of training delivery also facilitates group discussions, and can even accommodate smaller breakout sessions if required. 

Paul Roddis, IPAF’s Training Manager, sat in on one of the first trials of this method of delivery and says: “In providing training solutions, IPAF continues to strive to meet all learners’ needs without prejudice and we know there are people that find eLearning very challenging as there is nobody there to ask questions of and to explain things in different ways that may be more easily understood.”

Peter Douglas, CEO and Managing Director of IPAF, comments: “We welcome any initiative that promotes MEWP safety while also safeguarding training candidates. Many of our members delivering training are eager to return to offering courses on the scale they were doing before the pandemic, but equally they are keen to ensure this is done as safely as possible and in line with the best guidance available.”

For more information about IPAF training, including the range of courses and modules available via eLearning, please visit, where you can also use the searchable map function to find your nearest IPAF Training Centre. 

Better accident reporting

IPAF has relaunched its worldwide accident reporting portal as part of a major drive to gather the best quality data from around the world, in order to analyse the data and uncover what it can teach us about improving safety in powered access.

The new reporting portal at makes it easier to report an accident or near-miss information, which can be useful in preventing more serious accidents. It works on multiple devices and allows multiple users from the same company, and to register and link to subsidiary companies. 

Brian Parker, IPAF’s Head of Safety & Technical, says: “It’s so important for all users of powered access machines to engage with the reporting portal, in order to help IPAF gather the best quality data and produce usable, industry-facing reports.

“As an example of how we use the information, we have recently analysed anonymous data relating to accidents that cause injuries and deaths involving delivery drivers. The figures show these almost always involve the loading/unloading process. Accordingly, IPAF plans to overhaul its Load/Unload Training course for 2021.

Peter Douglas, IPAF CEO, adds: “Since taking up post as CEO, it has been a key objective of mine to lend renewed impetus to the IPAF global incident reporting project. I’m pleased that increasing numbers of members around the world see the benefits of feeding into this. I’m confident the new portal’s layout and added functionality will only increase take-up.”