The construction industry faces a challenge when it comes to scissor lifts, a common piece of construction equipment that elevates workers to high areas. Across the industry in 2018, 20 fatalities in the U.S. and 68 fatalities globally occurred during improper scissor lift use and included electrocution, entrapment, overturns, struck by objects, hit by vehicles and falls. One issue that leads to such fatalities is the inability to access narrow spaces above ceilings when working on a scissor lift platform. This particular issue leads to construction workers making unsafe choices like standing on mid-rails and makeshift stools or climbing pipes and beams. While some manufacturers offer extension decks that attach to their scissor lifts, they only add two feet of working height, which oftentimes is insufficient.
Innovation and VDC Engineer Evan Reilly, a 2016 Duke alumnus, heard about an interesting opportunity at a Duke University alumni event where course directors presented on inventions engineering students had created as part of the First-Year Design program at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. The engineering school was interested in partnering with companies so students could solve real-world problems. Evan shared the opportunity with Spencer Hasenkopf, an environmental, health and safety coordinator, and me. We quickly realized this was a perfect opportunity for a different perspective outside the industry—perhaps these students could develop a creative solution that would advance construction safety.
Evan, Spencer and I pitched our challenge to the first-year engineering students: we required a portable, easy to install attachment that provides an additional four to seven feet of vertical working height within a 2-foot by 2-foot access area. The design had to meet both Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards and provide independent fall protection anchors without any additional tie-off points to surrounding obstructions.
The students went through an extensive, semester-long process to devise a smart solution. They constructed multiple prototypes, learning from each as they perfected the design. Our team stayed in contact with the students throughout the process, often attending work sessions during and after their classes. We arranged for a private tour at a local Sunbelt equipment rentals showroom where Jeff Stachowiak, director of safety training and member of the ANSI A92/Scaffold and Access Industry Association, spoke to the students about OSHA and ANSI regulations and demonstrated the latest scissor lift products. Our team also invited them to Skanska’s New Engineering Building project at Duke to give them a better perspective on what we do and the challenges we face. Most importantly, we shared with them how critical working safely is and how Skanska strives to build a work environment free of incident and injury.
In December, the students presented their final prototype to our team and their professors and classmates. They describe their solution as a “mini-lift on a scissor lift.” Designed to rest on top of a scissor lift, it features an elevated platform with guardrails and toe boards, which is lifted by a hydraulic jack mounted on a base that slides and locks in place. This mini-lift can provide workers an additional—and safe—four feet of vertical working height. My team and I are truly proud of the effort the students put forth, even going so far as to read through all 150 pages of ANSI standards as well as the OSHA 1926.451 standards, which cover scaffolding and scissor lifts, before working on their prototype to ensure it was built to meet safety regulations.
The students are interested in continuing their work to improve certain aspects, such as including electronics and remote controls. They then hope to build a final version that can be patented. I truly believe we have a product that can change the industry.
This project was a unique and beneficial experience for our team: we guided first-year engineering students as they creatively solved a major challenge in our industry. We were happy to support a long-term partner and, it’s my hope, inspire future engineers to consider a career in construction. I look forward to supporting Duke University students as they solve more construction-related challenges in the near future.