WORK CARRIERS: WHAT'S THE ISSUE?
If you look around the back woods of most ski areas, you will eventually find something called the bone yard. It often contains the remnants and parts of old lifts, broken-down vehicles, spools of used wire rope, and various storage containers. This is also the resting ground for work carriers during the ski season.
Work carriers are a critical tool in most lift maintenance programs. Commonly referred to as “work chairs,” maintenance personnel hang them from the haul rope to access line machinery, repair and replace sheaves, get things lubricated, and verify safety functions on the lift line, such as deropement devices, without the need to climb towers. The carriers are removed and stored once annual maintenance is completed. They are heavy, bulky, difficult to move, and a challenge to store in the offseason, which is why they often find a resting spot in the bone yard.
OSHA views the work carrier/chair as a “work basket,” which, in turn, requires the design to meet many regulations. Two examples: Workers who use the chairs must be trained and competent in their use; and a placard must be displayed on the carrier, listing its rated capacity. Items such as tie-off locations for fall restraints, kick plates along the floor of the carrier, and hand rails are all required in OSHA standard 1926.1431 Hoisting Personnel.
The design aspects of work carriers can be a challenge for the B77 subcommittee (and for resorts). The considerations can get pretty complex, taking into account the raised platforms and handrails that allow personnel to access the sheaves or line equipment, or the work carrier’s capacity with respect to tools, spare parts, lubrication, and the weight of two technicians. All of these challenges are possible to navigate.
Older work carriers present other challenges, and these are currently being reviewed by a subcommittee of the ANSI B77 Standards Committee. The subcommittee is working on language for design, capacity, and inspection requirements, and trying to tackle questions like, “How does one build a work carrier to fit on an older lift?” or “What inspection requirements are needed, and who should develop those procedures?”
OSHA doesn’t normally cut anyone slack because their work carriers were built in-house years ago. This does not mean that all old carriers are unusable, but some do not meet today’s OSHA requirements or regulations. Knowing who built your carrier, when it was built, and if it has a rated capacity is important. If this information cannot be found, areas should contact the manufacturer or a trusted engineer for advice and help. In many cases, areas that built their own work chairs should get them assessed by an engineer and/or begin researching replacements.
In terms of OSHA, the must-dos include:
• documented training;
• written work carrier procedures, including lock out/tag out protocols;
• fall protection attachment points;
• placards with the stated load capacity of the carrier.
Just like lifts, preventative maintenance for work carriers is important. You should add carriers to your yearly inspection plans, if you don’t already inspect them annually. It is imperative that these tools get the same level of inspection as the rest of your equipment. Working safe and getting everyone home each and every day is what it’s all about.