There are several deaths and serious injuries each year that come as a result of neglecting aerial lift operator safety, many of which are preventable. In this post, we will give you tips on scissor lift safety procedures and boom lift safety. We will also give you a brief explanation and some background to help you understand why it’s important. We hope that these tips will help guide you, as an employer or an employee, to practice and educate others on aerial lift operator safety.
But before we get into specifics, there are some general aerial lift safety precautions that can be taken regardless of what type of aerial lift you’re using. According to investigations of aerial lift safety conducted by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the main causes of aerial lift deaths are falls, electrocutions and collapses or tip overs. Many of these deaths could have been prevented by following the aerial lift safety procedures that are included in the owner’s manual.
Hire, train and test aerial lift operators.
Overall, employers need to make sure aerial lift operators are trained to follow safety procedures. In order to verify the person operating the aerial lift is trained and familiar with the safety procedures, we recommend having employees demonstrate their knowledge before going in the field to operate the piece of equipment. This way the employer can be confident knowing that the employee is well versed in the operation of the equipment and any necessary safety measures. The reason we note this tip first is that if you have a trained person using the lift, they should be familiar with the overwhelming majority of the tips on this list. However, whether you are the employer or the employee, it is good to be familiar with the aerial lift operator safety tips to ensure your aerial lift is being used safely.
Do not use aerial lifts (or any construction equipment) under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Accidents happen without these influences, so adding either of these to the mix increases risk for the operator and co-workers.
In addition to drugs and alcohol, just fooling around and practical jokes can put you and co-workers at risk. Keep it out of the work zone altogether. Make sure you are giving your full attention and focus to operating the aerial lift and following all safety precautions.
This aerial lift safety rule is a common one for all pieces of equipment — make sure you have your hard hat, safety glasses and steel-toe boots ready to go. If there is any sort of accident, these types of safety equipment can help minimize your injuries. In addition to wearing your protective equipment, make sure you are not wearing loose clothing that could get caught in any part of the lift (we recommend pulling back long hair, too).
The aerial lift should be inspected prior to use. Regardless of what type you are using, there are a variety of cords, pulleys, cables and chains that work together to make the lift work. They should be visually inspected to make sure that nothing is loose or out of place. Tires, wheels and casters should also be visually inspected — a solid foundation is essential to safely moving aerial lifts, so it is important that the tires and wheels are in good shape. The lift controls should be tested on site before anyone gets on the platform or in the bucket to ensure everything is working properly. If something seems to be malfunctioning or damaged, the aerial lift should not be used.
The manufacturer’s capacity limits should be strictly followed. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in addition to the weight of people, it includes all of the tools and bucket liners, too. Calculating the weight can take extra time, especially if additional tools are taken at the last minute. Regardless, the time it takes to calculate and make sure you are within the allowed capacity is worth it, given that one or more people will be relying on the lift to hold them. Make sure all debris is cleared off of the platform and out of the bucket, too – not only does that help free up some space, but it also helps ensure there isn’t anything extra to cause you to slip or trip as you’re working.
In addition to following the capacity limits for the aerial lift, you should also make sure you aren’t using the platform or bucket of the aerial lift as a support system for another piece of scaffolding. Regardless of whether or not it falls within the capacity limit, adding scaffolding or even something as small as a stepping stool, is putting you at a great risk of falling. Your feet should be flat on the platform or bucket at all times (ideally with some anti-slip treads).
The mention of electrocutions within the top three most frequent causes of injury or death with aerial lift may surprise you. But at the heights that aerial lifts are often used there is a good chance you will be level with power lines at some point. Power lines, wires and other conductors should be treated as if they are live wires, even if they appear insulated or you know they are down. To be safe, keep a distance of at least ten feet or three meters between you and any power lines at all times.
Almost all aerial lifts come with some sort of safety features built in, whether they are hydraulic, mechanical or electrical. Overriding these safety features is not recommended under any circumstances. These features were put in place by the manufacturer for your safety and should not be overridden.
Finally, we want to mention that aerial lifts can create sparks that could ignite any flammable substance — including vapors, fibers and dusts that may be in the atmosphere. Usually a leak or spill of a flammable liquid would be reason to cease work on site, however, while uncommon, these flammable vapors, fibers and dusts could be an issue if you are using an aerial lift in an area with poor ventilation. It is something every aerial lift operator should be aware of; even if it is something they never have to deal with.
In addition to all of these general aerial lift operator safety measures, there are additional safety measures that should be taken for the specific type of lift you’re working with. Scissor lifts and boom lifts work differently, and while they share some safety precautions, they also have some of their own.
Scissor lifts have a platform that moves straight up and down. Around the work platform, there is a mid rail and a top rail to protect workers from falling off the platform. When these lifts are extended and stationary, they can serve a purpose similar to scaffolding, and, therefore, have many of the same risks. However, the fact that the scissor lifts have the ability to move gives them a set of risks that scaffolding does not have. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have investigated injuries and fatalities as a result of using scissor lifts and found that the majority of them came down to preventable issues, such as stabilization, fall protection and positioning.
When scissor lifts are elevated, they are very tall and narrow, making them susceptible to tipping over if they are not stabilized and/or moved properly. The first step to preventing the lift from tipping over is to ensure it is on firm, stable, level ground. The base needs to have a strong, even foundation to support the lift when it is elevated. If you don’t have the most level ground to work with, make sure you’re using brakes and wheel chocks, as necessary — especially on an incline.
The second step is to make sure you’re only operating a scissor lift outside in weather conditions it can handle. Since it is very tall and slender in an elevated position, you want to avoid using it in windy conditions. It may seem like it would take a lot to push a scissor lift over, but the reality is a good gust of wind can do it. Not sure what the limit is? Don’t worry, the user’s manual will give you a limit, but it’s usually a maximum of 28 miles per hour.
Wind isn’t the only thing that can have enough force to tip a scissor lift over, which brings us to our third step — make sure the scissor lift is out of the way of other equipment. If you are working in tight quarters, this may mean alternating activity with other construction equipment and workers. This can be an inconvenience, especially when you are on a tight schedule, but it’s worth it to avoid the risk of equipment bumping into a scissor lift, causing it to tip over.
The final precautionary step you can take to prevent your scissor lift from tipping over is to avoid moving while operating a scissor lift in an upright position — no matter how small the distance. Some models may permit a certain level of movement with it in a partially elevated position, but never make any assumptions. Always make sure you consult the manufacturer’s owner manual so you aren’t putting anyone in danger.
While it is rare, it’s worth noting that scissor lifts can be unstable in another way: It’s possible that they can collapse. There are safety features built into these aerial lifts to ensure this doesn’t happen, and those features should be tested and maintained as needed — never bypassed. Why would you bypass a safety feature? Sometimes bypassing a safety feature could give you the ability to move the piece of equipment more quickly and conveniently. While there may be temporary benefits, the risks involved are not worth it.
In addition to the risks of tipping over and collapsing, there is also a risk of falling from the work platform when it is elevated. The mid and top rails are meant to protect workers from falling, but they are not meant to be climbed on or sat upon. The first step in preventing falls from scissor lifts is to make sure these rails are securely in place.
Is anything loose? Is everything on the platform securely fastened? Regardless of how recently the equipment was used, make sure you do your own inspection to minimize risks and ensure the safe use of scissor lifts.
The second step is to ensure the mid and top rails are only being used as a boundary and nothing else. While the scissor lift does a good job of getting workers to the height they need, the width of the platform limits how much horizontal space you can cover. Rather than taking the time to lower the scissor lift and move the entire lift a few feet, it may be tempting to climb on the rails to attempt to reach the area. This can lead to workers falling from the work platform, resulting in serious injury and sometimes death.
The positioning of the scissor lift while on a job site is also important to take into consideration to maximize the safety of employees. Make sure traffic controls are in place to avoid any vehicle or other equipment coming in contact with the scissor lift, especially when it’s in an elevated position. If you must move the scissor lift while it’s in an elevated position, map out the route you’re taking across the job site, no matter how short the distance, to ensure you will avoid electrical lines and any other objects that may be in your way.
There are two different types of boom lifts (also known as man lifts): telescopic and articulated boom lifts.
How the platform moves depends on the type of boom lift. Telescopic boom lifts extend straight out horizontally, and then up and down. Articulated boom lifts, on the other hand, have joints in their extension (also known as knuckle lifts), giving them more flexibility.
Since these lifts are not just going straight up in the air, there’s additional risk for the person riding in the platform. Regardless of whether you’re in a telescopic or articulating boom lift, make sure you always wear your harness and securely fasten the lanyard to the platform as instructed in the manufacturer’s manual. Falling out of the platform may seem unlikely, but an unexpected force from a collision with another piece of equipment or a gust of wind could knock you out off of the platform; without a harness and lanyard, it could result in serious injury or death.
Boom lifts are meant to lift people and tools to reach a certain area to work. They are not meant to lift heavy supplies — if you need to lift heavy supplies, you need to use a crane. Trying to use a boom lift to raise heavy supplies off the ground could result in tipping the lift over or something worse — putting those using the lift and those in the area at risk for injury or death. Know the capacity requirements and the acceptable uses and stick to them.
While the platform sizes may differ between a scissor lift and a boom lift— the rules are much the same. Never climb or sit on the edge of the platform. If you are having trouble getting to an area that is out of reach, work with the boom lift operator to get into the position you need. Do not under any circumstances try to reach by climbing on the edge of the platform.
Since boom lifts’ range of motion is greater than a scissor lift, it affects a larger area on site. Workers should avoid not only the base of the boom lift, but also the entire circumference of the boom lift, which can be a wide area. This may seem like an excessive measure to take, but tools or other pieces of equipment can be accidentally dropped from the basket and result in an injury to someone on the ground. In rare cases, boom lifts can tip over, much like scissor lifts, but with a greater reach, the boom lift could cause catastrophic damage. To be safe, make sure the area is completely clear.
When moving the boom lift around the job site, make sure you know whether it can be moved in an upright position. If it is not meant to be in motion while it is extended, do not try to move it. And even if it is permitted to move while fully extended, avoid it if possible. Navigating around a job site with a boom lift fully extended puts the person in the work platform at risk, and also puts the operator at risk for bumping into other pieces of equipment, structures or even electrical wires. With or without someone in the bucket, you have an increased risk of an accident, so we recommend keeping the bucket down when navigating around the job site.
Another part of aerial lift safety is the maintenance of the machine. Just like a car or truck, they need to be inspected and taken care of — without regular maintenance, over time they can be more likely to malfunction and break, putting users and others at risk. If you own, or are interested in purchasing an aerial lift, this is something to keep in mind. While maintenance can be expensive, it is an investment that needs to be made for the sake of your employees. If maintenance proves to be too expensive for you, or you are considering renting an aerial lift, you need to make sure the company you rent from has kept up with the maintenance on their models.