Careful on site when driving a boom

I've worked on a lot of building sites and you find all sorts of strange things happen on them. These are some of the unexpected hazards I've come across that you should keep an eye out if you're driving any sort of machine around on site.

Covered holes

There's often some sort of hole around on a site - access to a sump or pipes, maybe a basement, or sometimes you're on what will be the upper levels of a building and there's a stairway or lift opening.

Be aware of holes before you drive anywhere in a machine. Usually there will be proper safety equipment around them - cones or other signs that remind you where the whole edges are. Sometimes just a bit of safety tape on the floor, that's not really enough but hey, it's something.

What you don't want is some idiot covering a hole with a bit of plyboard or MDF. That might be enough to stop light stuff falling down through it, like rolling tools or your thermos flask, but boards get dirty and can easily look like just another part of a proper floor. Drive over it with a forklift or boom and bam, you're straight to the scene of the accident. Even a thick board that'll take the weight of a couple of fat site managers isn't going to make any difference when a few tons of machine roll over it.

So, make sure you look over where you're going to be driving before you start. Do it properly, walk the route, don't just look at it from a distance. Hell, make like you're Lewis Hamilton walking the track before a race. If a millionaire racing driver can walk a few miles to make sure he knows what's going on with each curb, you can walk a few yards to make sure Dave, the new guy who's about to become best friends with your safety inspector, hasn't covered something up that's going to ruin your day.

Make sure any drops are clearly sign posted

I've had this both at ground level and within a multi-storey building. Sites have edges, often sharp edges where foundations have been laid. If you're doing work high up, you naturally look for hazards up there, like power cables, rather than down below you, especially if the site is clear and there's no one near you.

You need to make sure you know where the edge of where you're driving is, and preferably have signs or cones up, a bit within the edge so you've got time to react if you do hit one. While booms and cherry pickers don't tend to move very fast when you're actually working with them, it can take a surprising amount of time to react if you're not expecting a problem.

Admission time. I was working while damned tired and managed to get a wheel of the boom I was driving over the side of the floor I was working on. Four stories up. Luckily, I was at an angle so only one wheel went over, and I got it stopped before too much weight was over the edge. Safe to say I required a new set of trousers that day, and new ears after the foreman found out what I'd done.

On that site, it hadn't been my responsibility to make sure the edges of the floor were sign posted. But, it was my fault I was working tired and was half-arsing it. I'd walked the site, but I hadn't, I'd had a vague look around while I was nursing my hangover. Everyone else was working on foot and could see the edges and the siding hadn't turned up on time and we were all rushing. Was it a site problem? Yes. But was it my fault I almost died? Double yes. When you're working on site, you've got to take responsibility for your own safety as much as relying on others to do it for you. I was stupid and I was lucky. From then on I wanted to just be lucky.

Watch out for "Just do it"

The worst foremen I've worked with have a "Just do it" attitude. Projects get behind, people start to rush to make deadlines. That's dangerous enough if you're doing groundwork or fitting lights or something. It can be deadly if you're driving a ruddy enormous machine that lifts you 60' up in the air.

Resist the person pushing you to just get on with it and get it done. Make sure where you're driving is safe, can take the load of whatever you're driving. If you need outriggers, make sure there's a proper amount of space for them, and if you need to protect the surface you're using them on, get the right boards to do that.

This is all hard when the person screaming at you to hurry up is your boss. But if your platform falls over with you in it, you could be dead. If it falls with someone else in it, you'd have to live with that for the rest of your life. For some things, it's worth putting up with the smaller man screaming and shouting to make sure you do the job right. You're doing it right for everyone, both yourself and everyone around you.

If you're not sure about doing a site survey, ask some experts or get trained up by some experts like Facelift, or if all this hasn't put you off and you want to learn how to properly use a boom, follow that link and they've got a load of training courses where even old dogs like me get reminded what they've forgotten.

Stay safe out there.

Alan has spent many years working high up in the air, all across the UK. If you can corner him for a pint or two, he'll be happy to tell you all his war stories, indeed some people might say it's impossible to stop him.