With some extreme winter weather affecting the UK at the moment it’s time to think about how our unpredictable climate can affect the safe use of lifting equipment on site.
Extreme weather conditions can seriously affect the safety and efficiency of glass, stone or cladding vacuum lifters so extra care should be taken in windy, cold and wet weather. Here is our guide on why it is important to make checking the weather outside a part of your safety inspection routine.
Strong winds can make it very difficult to maintain control of a load when using a below-the-hook vacuum lifter. If the wind catches the load it could cause it to sway or even drop, risking the safety of the load and the crew on site.
We recommend that vacuum lifters can be used safely at wind speeds of up to 29 km/h (18 mph, 16.5 knots or 8 m/s). Wind speed can be measured by an anemometer but if you don’t have one on site then use the Beaufort scale as an alternative.
The Beaufort Scale was devised by British Admiral Francis Beaufort in 1805 and is a system for judging wind speed based on observed conditions in the environment (see chart below).
According to Beaufort’s scale, vacuum lifters shouldn’t be used in anything stronger than what is classified as a light wind, in other words – if the trees sway then put the lifter away!
Remember that wind speed readings can vary around a site due to the vortex effect created around tall buildings. When using an anemometer you need to stand away from buildings to get an accurate reading, as friction created by the air rushing past buildings causes airflow to slow down around them and will give a lower wind speed reading . It’s best to stay alert and watch out for any sudden changes in conditions during a job so you can take any necessary safety precautions.
According to the Met Office, the highest wind speed ever recorded on a low level site in the UK was 142 mph in 1989 in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Definitely not lifting weather!
If you are concerned about lifting in a light wind, a load at low height could be supported by one or two people not operating the lifter. When working at greater heights it might be best to use draw lines (or guide lines) to help maneuver the lifter into the correct position, these can be attached to hand cups near the bottom of the load or to the pad frame itself.
We advise that vacuum lifters should not be used in the rain, the machine needs to be kept as dry as possible in case water reaches the electrical system, causing the machine to short circuit and fail. Leaving a vacuum lifter in heavy rain or submerging it into water can also seriously damage the machine’s components.
A load that has been left out in the rain may be dangerous to lift as moisture and dirt on its surface increases the risk of slippage. This is why both the load and vacuum pads must be clean and dry before starting the lift. Pad covers should be used when the machine is in storage to protect the vacuum pads and improve their lifespan.
Vacuum lifters have a recommended operating temperature of between 0°C and 40°C, so in cold conditions machines should be inspected thoroughly.
In below freezing conditions, if there is any moisture in the vacuum lifter it could cause damage as water increases in volume as it freezes and turns to ice. This could result in airflows being blocked which could break the vacuum seal and cause a leak, making lifting dangerous. There is also the possibility of the electric motors in the vacuum pumps freezing and causing the lifter to fail.
Operators should check for any water in the air filters of the machine and before lifting and also ensure that the load is clear of frost and ice.
If you have any doubts about whether it is safe to go ahead with the lift due to bad weather conditions it is always best to check with the Health and Safety officer on site. Alternatively email us with your query at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring our North headquarters on 0161 683 2580.
Follow the links below to take a look at GGR Group’s range of vacuum lifters to purchase or hire.
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