I recently was sent an image of a social media post with the underlying comment: “WTF.” The post was a simple question: Someone is trying to do their job in an easier and supposedly more efficient fashion. But it got me thinking: We don’t know what we don’t know. I know that it’s been a while since I wrote a safety column but I figured what better time to do another than now? As such, I’m going to dedicate this safety column to that social media post.

A Tisket, A Tasket…a Kid in a Basket?

The social media post was pretty simple. A gentleman had asked if anyone had fashioned a ”little man basket” for use with a pump rig to go up and service windmill heads. The poster further stated that when he was young, his dad fashioned a Bosun’s chair out of a 2x6 and had him go up to do the work on that. Although this industry is very creative in solving problems, we could do a lot better regarding safety. But as I stated earlier, we don’t know what we don’t know, so allow me to enlighten some of our industry on the regulations for using a man basket or personnel hoisting systems.

Personnel Hoisting System Regulations

OSHA has specific requirements for both man baskets and Bosun chairs to ensure worker safety when working at heights.

The first paragraph in the OSHA crane standard for personnel hoisting (1926.1431(a)) clearly states:

The use of equipment to hoist employees is prohibited except where the employer demonstrates that the erection, use, and dismantling of conventional means of reaching the work area, such as a personnel hoist, ladder, stairway, aerial lift, elevating work platform, or scaffold, would be more hazardous, or is not possible because of the project’s structural design or worksite conditions. This paragraph does not apply to work covered by subpart R (Steel Erection) of this part and also does not apply to routine personnel access to an underground worksite via shaft as covered by § 1926.800 (Underground Construction) of this part.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Pump hoists and drill rigs are not cranes. However, if we’re going to utilize a piece of equipment to act like a crane, we should look at what the standard that covers that piece of equipment states.

The next question to consider is whether your pump hoist manufacturer excludes personnel hoisting, as many manufacturers do. You must consult the equipment manual of your pump hoist or drill rig to determine whether personnel hoisting is allowed. If it’s not explicitly stated, call your manufacturer for guidance on how personnel hoisting is to be conducted. Here are the requirements for both man baskets and Bosun’s chairs.

Man Baskets

  • Design and Load Requirements: Man baskets must be designed by a qualified engineer and capable of supporting their weight and five times the maximum intended load. This load capacity must be clearly marked on the basket.

  • Capacity: Use of suspended personnel platforms. The total load (with the platform loaded, including the hook, load line, and rigging) must not exceed 50 percent of the rated capacity for the radius and configuration of the equipment, except during proof testing. When the occupied personnel platform is in a stationary working position, the load and boom hoist brakes, swing brakes, and operator-actuated secondary braking and locking features (such as pawls or dogs) or automatic secondary brakes must be engaged.

  • Guardrails and Gates: The basket must be equipped with a guardrail around its entire perimeter and gates that open inward with safety latches to prevent accidental opening.

  • Rigging: The rigging system, including bridles, links, and shackles, must be used exclusively to support the man basket and be capable of locking to prevent accidental openings. The load should be evenly distributed to avoid excessive strain on any one part of the rigging.

  • Inspections: Prior to each use, the man basket should be tested by lifting it to the expected working height with its anticipated load. All safety devices and controls must be checked. Before each use of a man basket, the platform should be loaded to its anticipated weight for the upcoming job and lifted to the height of each location where work will be performed. All controls and safety devices should be checked to ensure they are working properly. After workers enter the basket—but before they are fully hoisted—the man basket should be lifted a few inches and inspected to ensure rigging lines are clear of obstructions and are not kinked, the primary rigging attachment is centered over the basket, weight is spaced evenly in the basket, and that the crane or derrick remains stable.

  • Safety Practices: Workers should wear personal fall arrest systems, keep body parts inside the basket, and secure tools and materials to prevent tipping.

  • Controlled load lowering: The load line hoist drum must have a system, other than the load line hoist brake, which regulates the lowering rate of speed of the hoist mechanism. This system or device must be used when hoisting personnel. Note: Free fall of the load line hoist is prohibited.

  • Trial Lift: A trial lift with the unoccupied personnel platform loaded at least to the anticipated lift weight must be made from ground level, or any other location where employees will enter the platform, to each location at which the platform is to be hoisted and positioned. Where there is more than one location to be reached from a single set-up position, either individual trial lifts for each location, or a single trial lift, in which the platform is moved sequentially to each location, must be performed; the method selected must be the same as the method that will be used to hoist the personnel.

  • Proof Test: At each job site, prior to hoisting employees on the personnel platform and after any repair or modification, the platform and rigging must be proof-tested to 125 percent of the platform's rated capacity. The proof test may be done concurrently with the trial lift.

This is only a short excerpt of the requirements for hoisting personnel utilizing a man basket. For the full requirements, refer to OSHA’s 1926.1431 hoisting personnel standard.

Bosun chairs may also be termed ‘boatswain chairs’ and are specifically discussed in OSHA regulations. Employers must ensure that Bosun chairs are used safely, and workers must be properly trained in their use.

Bosun Chairs

  • Types and Construction: There are three different types of Bosun chairs:

    • Type I: The Bosun chair is a seated harness that is used with a fall arrest system. The chair must have a backrest, and the seat must be at least 18 inches wide. The chair must also be equipped with a fall arrest lanyard that is attached to the chair at the front and back.

    • Type II: The Bosun chair is a standing harness used with a fall arrest system. The chair must have a backrest, and the seat must be at least 18 inches wide. The chair must also be equipped with a fall arrest lanyard that is attached to the chair at the front and back.

    • Type III: The Bosun chair is a suspended platform used without a fall arrest system. The platform must be at least 18 inches wide, and it must be equipped with side rails or similar devices to prevent the user from falling off of the platform.

  •  Material and Design: Bosun chairs should be made of durable materials that can withstand expected loads. The seat slings should be reeved through four corner holes and cross on the underside to prevent slippage.

  • Safety Measures: Workers must wear properly fitted safety harnesses, inspect the chair and hardware before use, avoid overloading, and ensure the work area is free from debris. The ropes used must be capable of handling the loads and should be kept vertical unless specific conditions are met to prevent swinging and ensure safety.

So when can we use a Bosun’s chair? OSHA clarified this in a 1992 Letter of interpretation, stating: “The employer may use a boatswains' chair instead of a personnel platform in two circumstances. First, if the employer can demonstrate that use of a personnel platform is infeasible due to circumstances at the worksite, a boatswains' chair may be used if it is the safest feasible alternative. Second, if the employer can demonstrate that use of a personnel platform would be unsafe, the employer may use the chair if the employer demonstrates that use of the boatswains' chair is the safest feasible alternative. In that event the employer must either apply to OSHA for a variance or be able to show that a variance would be inappropriate.”

As such, my belief is that although we may, under certain circumstances, be allowed to utilize a Bosun’s chair or maybe even a man basket in most instances, the more practical solution is utilizing some sort of a mobile-powered area work platform such as a bucket truck, scissor lift, or boom lift to do this type of servicing work. They’re readily available from rental houses, but they do come with their own safety regulations, which we have to be aware of. Look forward to a breakdown of those regulations in my next article.

Until next time, keep turning to the right, and stay safe up there!