By: Thomas H. Welby Published: February 2013

Safety Policy: Safety Fundamentals for the Use of Aerial Lifts in Construction

Deaths associated with the use of aerial lifts are on the magnitude of 30 per year, or about 3% of all construction fatalities. Of these, boom-supported lifts account for roughly 70% of the deaths, with electrocutions (43%) being the greatest cause of death associated with boom-supported lifts, and falls (44%) and collapses/tip-overs (30%) being the primary causes of death in using scissor lifts.

Not surprisingly, electrical workers (45%) account for the largest subgroup of workers killed in using boom-supported lifts, while scissor lift fatalities are distributed about equally between electrical workers (22%) and construction laborers (23%), with "other trades" (plumbers, steamfitters and pipefitters, masons, drywall installers, etc.) being well-represented (38%).

The great majority of electrocution deaths involve overhead power lines. About half of these involve contact between power lines and the worker's body, and about a third result from power lines coming into contact with lift booms or buckets.

Approximately half of fatal falls from boom-supported lifts (and one-half of fatal falls from scissor lifts) involve being ejected from the bucket after the worker, or the lift, is struck by a vehicle, crane or other object. About one in six fatal falls from boom lifts occurs while entering or exiting the bucket while elevated.

With boom lifts, collapses of the boom or the bucket and tip-overs account for not quite one-fifth of the fatalities. Tip-overs cause almost one-third of scissor lift deaths, mostly where the lift was elevated more than 15 feet above grade.

A first principle of safe lift operation is to have a written protocol requiring proper maintenance and training. Lifts must be inspected by qualified mechanics, and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's manual. Buckets on lifts to be used near overhead power lines should be insulated, and the insulation regularly checked for wear. A detailed inspection of the entire apparatus should be performed at least annually. De-energize and lockout/tagout any aerial lift before performing maintenance and repairs.

Safety devices and operating controls should be checked by a "qualified person" before each use, and the area in which the lift will be used should be checked for stability, inclination (do not exceed the manufacturer's slope recommendations) holes, drop-offs, bumps, debris, and other hazards. Outriggers, brakes and wheel chocks should be deployed as necessary.

To prevent electrocutions, keep all non-electrical workers at least 10' away from overhead power lines. Electrical workers must de-energize or insulate power lines, or use proper personal protective equipment.

To prevent tip-overs, do not exceed the manufacturer's recommended load capacity limits, and do not use an aerial lift as a crane. Don't use it for any purpose, other than to lift people and personal tools. Do not travel to the job location with the lift in an elevated position. When working near traffic, always set up proper work-zone protection.

Also, observe all of the following "don'ts" in positioning and setting up the lift: don't drive near drop-offs or holes; don't raise the platform on soft, uneven, or unstable services; don't drive onto such surfaces, while the lift is elevated; don't raise the platform on a sloped surface, or drive onto a slope while elevated; and do not raise the platform in wet, windy or gusty conditions.

An aerial lift truck must not be moved while the boom is elevated and anyone is in the bucket, unless the equipment is specifically designed for that type of operation. Detailed requirements which must be satisfied if employees are to be permitted to ride on a scissor-lift platform are set forth in C.F.R. $ 1926.452(w)6). In using any type of lift, be sure that persons working or otherwise present in the area are warned, before the lift is moved from place to place.

OSHA regulates aerial lifts as scaffolds. Fall protection (full-body harness with lanyard, or body belt with 2-foot lanyard) is required on bucket trucks only. Harnesses and lanyards are not OSHA requirements on other types of boom lifts, or on scissor lifts, provided there are guardrails. In fact, because falling bodies being "arrested" can result in many types of lifts tipping over, there is a preference, in using scissor lifts, for fall-prevention systems, rather than fall-arrest systems.

Workers going aloft in lift buckets must be trained to tie off religiously; not to "belt off" to an adjacent pole or other equipment while working, and always to stand firmly on the bucket floor. They must never sit or climb on the bucket's edge, or use ladders, planks etc. to get a better work position.

Two hazards prevalent in the use of scissors lifts are tip-overs and falls resulting from the platform being overloaded with heavy objects, and workers being crushed, where the platform approaches or comes into contact with overhead structures. Also, many models of scissors lifts are not rated for outdoor use. Be sure to review the manufacturer's manual before using any scissors lift outdoors.

OSHA requires that lift operators be trained, but does not prescribe the content of such training. Reference should therefore be made to ANSI A92 aerial lift standards, which provide detailed guidance for a workplace inspection, issues that need to be addressed prior to each elevation, items to be covered in a daily pre-start inspection, and some three dozen topics that must meet compliance standards to operate the lift safely.

As lift equipment is typically rented, special care is required. While you should certainly obtain a written maintenance history for any lift you rent, of particular importance is that the lift have been inspected immediately prior to rental. Also, familiarity with one type of lift is no assurance of competence in operating any other type of lift. You need the operator's manual and (if separate) the maintenance manual. These, naturally, will only provide information concerning the make and model being rented.

According to the "Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment," both "training" and "familiarization" are necessary to ensure operator competence. Typically, according to the "Statement," depending on the number of trainees, and the number of equipment classifications to be covered, training will require 3-6 hours, or more. "Familiarization," for employees who have already completed training, typically requires 15-60 minutes, depending on the complexity of the equipment.

Employers are responsible for the adequate training of lift operators. Increasingly, OSHA inspectors are citing employers for failure to train employees "in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions" and OSHA regulations applicable to their work environment, even where an accident causing injury or death has not occurred.

Make sure your lift operators' training includes all of the following:

  • general coverage of your company's safety practices;
  • the manufacturer's recom-mendations for safe operation;
  • comprehensive coverage of potential hazards (including site conditions, as well as those specific to the equipment)
  • the requirement that the trainee give a "hands-on" demonstration, satisfactory to the instructor, of his or her ability to operate the lift; and
  • instructions as to the reporting of hazardous conditions observed (damaged or malfunctioning equipment and site conditions) and any accidents or "near-miss" occurrences.

Training should be documented and records retained for at least three years.

Naturally, if incidents ("near-miss" incidents) suggest the need, re-training should be provided.

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