Looking through my back issues of ARC magazine (December 2016 ‘New Professionals’) I was immediately drawn to the wonderful illustration on the cover by Peter Morphew from the University of Glasgow Archive, reproduced here.
This article is written by Rob Dakin. Rob is Sales Manager for Bruynzeel Storage Systems. He has over 30 years experience of designing storage systems for archive, museum and library clients.
Rendered in broad strokes of primary colour, the illustration captures a man on the top rung of a stepladder, retrieving or replacing an archive box from high shelving. It is a refreshing and original representation of what for most archivists is a very familiar image: ‘person up a ladder in search of a box file’.

Morphew’s picture got me thinking. In many instances, the only way of optimising the available space within an archive repository is to build up by installing high bay static or mobile shelving. But the upshot of high bay shelving is ‘working at height’, also known as ‘WaH’, which has considerable implications for organisations and their employees.

WaV or Genie pickers
In the UK, Manual Handling Operations Regulations state that any action involving your feet leaving the floor requires both adequate mechanical handling equipment and sufficient training for the employee. This might include a simple set of steps for accessing the top shelf, for example, or provision and training in the use of machines such as WaV or Genie order pickers to enable work at height to be carried out safely.

While these latter machines are excellent at facilitating picking at height, they are not for the faint-hearted, and require training for all employees before use. Order picker machines and their ilk also come under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (often abbreviated to PUWER), meaning that they must be serviced, maintained, suitable for intended use and operated only by people who have received adequate instruction and training.

Can Archivists Avoid Working at Height?
Is there any way to avoid WaH? One potential solution is to install a two-storey mobile shelving system, such as the one in use at Haderslev municipal historical archives, Denmark. Electronically controlled and fitted with relevant safety features to protect users, this system is effectively a double decker electronic mobile shelving with its own intermediate mezzanine floor and a staircase for employee access to the upper tier. The system can also be fitted with an integrated hoist, to eliminate the need to carry heavy items up and down stairs.

Apart from basic system training for operators, two-storey mobile shelving is a straightforward method of maximising storage in a high-ceilinged space without the need for picking machinery. Working at height is eliminated and faster retrieval rates can be achieved.

The system also bypasses some of the issues associated with the construction of a structural mezzanine floor, for example a reduction in storage capacity due to load bearing columns and thicker floors.

Excellent use of light and ventilation is achieved because this type of system has its own integral steel grid floor. Motion triggered LED lighting can be installed too, saving significant amounts of energy – an important issue when considering BREEAM.

So, if you or your staff feel nervous the next time you’re up a ladder, a two-storey mobile system could be the answer.

A version of this article first appeared in ARC magazine (No: 331, March 2017)