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Mixing mayhem: The dangers of mixing tower components

Jul 17, 2023

Falls from height continues to be the leading cause of accidents in the construction industry and ensuring that equipment meets safety requirements and that it is used correctly is one way to lower these figures and keep users safe. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics for 2022, falls from heights caused the greatest deaths among work-related fatalities, which totalled 123 in the UK last year.

In the construction industry today, there is a vast range of access solutions available, from a variety of manufacturers, which are suitable for a wide variety of working at height tasks. With this in mind, there is a fear that it may become more prevalent for users to mix product components from different manufacturers when building towers.

Carolina Marino, UK Product Manager for BoSS, a WernerCo brand, explains the serious safety risks involved with this and why users should think before they mix.


Setting the safety standard

The new European Product Standard for towers has been around since 2004, however, the updated EN1004-1:2020 came into force in November 2020 and it tells users what materials, dimensions, design loads, safety and performance requirements mobile access towers should conform to.

One of the main changes that were made to the updated standard is that tower builds under 2.5m were not previously included in the scope of EN 1004, however, the new standard now covers ALL towers below 2.5m and the maximum heights remain at 8m externally and 12m internally.


Careful construction

Compliance to safety standards is crucial in order to safely construct a tower that is suitable for work at height. The tower must be assembled according to the manufacturer’s instruction manual. If other components are used or they are assembled differently then the tower certification would be invalid. Some users may be unaware that mixing components from different manufacturers when constructing towers, regardless of their platform height, would result in a structure that is not compliant.

For example, EN1004-1:2020 states that only the original manufacturer components specified in the instruction manual shall be used. If this is not the case then users may be working with towers that are not complying with the safety standard, therefore increasing the risk of accidents, which could potentially have an impact on a project’s bottom line.

When components from different manufacturers are combined, a new structure has been created that has not been tested to the safety standard and therefore it does not comply. Although it may appear that all access towers look the same and components may be similar to each other, the actual characteristics and performance of the components can be very different. It’s important to remember that in EN 1004-1:2020 it is not the components that are approved it is the overall tower structure.

Mixing tower components is a practice that is strongly advised against, as the safety of the structure cannot be guaranteed. Most brands will offer product liability insurance on their components and by mixing different elements this may cause it to become invalidated.


How do users know that their tower is in the scope of the updated EN 1004-1:2020 Standard?

The first thing to do is to look on the product. The tower label should tell you what standard it conforms to, secondly, check the user instructions, there should be a section which highlights compliances.

Generically, a tower should meet the following criteria:

  • Single bay structure with four legs
  • On castors not baseplates
  • Must be supplied with stabilisers
  • One working platform at a time
  • Easy to relocate/dismantle
  • Should not be used with personal fall arrest
  • Dimensions are fixed by design
  • Built-in means of access
  • Can be made of various materials, not just aluminium
  • Built at heights from 0m to 8m/12m
  • Maximum wind-load requirements

It is also vital for anyone that will work with towers to be competent, one method of demonstrating this is through PASMA training and the majority of construction sites now require users to have undertaken the training before enabling them to work with access towers. The course covers a wide range of towers and isn’t manufacturer specific.

When it comes to working at height, selecting the correct access equipment and ensuring that training is up to date is vital and if these considerations are looked at prior to choosing equipment for the job, then hopefully many accidents can be preventable.

Falls from a height are still the leading cause of injuries within the construction industry and ensuring that equipment conforms to safety standards and that it is being used correctly is one way to hopefully reduce these figures and keep users safe.


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