When ladders, scaffolds or stairs are needed to access an elevated position, an aerial lift can easily answer the need. Aerial lifts are mobile, designed to reach various heights and easy to use. The design solves two main problems – mobility and the ability to reach high places – but the solution also creates two major risks that must be addressed every time the aerial lift is put into use. Failure to address these risks results in serious injury and death. As current statistics show, a dozen or more people die every year from improper aerial lift setup and use.
Vehicle mobility is the first risk. Lifts are powered pieces of equipment designed to easily move about the job site. With any kind of mobile equipment, the issue of safe operation while in motion must be an operator’s first and foremost concern.
The second risk is the three-dimensional operation of the boom. To allow the bucket or basket to be placed at the exact location of work, three specific movements must occur while deploying the boom:
1. Rotation of the boom: The boom’s ability to rotate 360 degrees around the vehicle.
2. Extension of the boom: The boom’s ability to move outward and inward.
3. Articulation of the boom: Boom movement at joints that connect the boom assembly.
The combination of these two risks seriously compounds the hazards and creates situations that will create opportunities for harm.
Most common causes of death involve electrocutions, falls and aerial lift tip-overs. Other causes of injury include being caught between the lift bucket/guardrail and an object in the work environment like a steel beam, joist or wall. Being struck by falling objects is another common hazard for people working near an aerial lift operation.
Other overhead hazards include power lines, support structures, walls, roofs and ceilings. Environmental factors such as wind, lightning and confined space compound the risk of hazards.
Addressing Risks and Ensuring Safe Operation
Inspection of critical parts and components should include:
• Operator and emergency controls
• Safety devices, outriggers and rails
• Wheels, tires and brakes
• Engine or motor
Specifically look for:
• Air and fluid leaks and loose or missing parts
• Fall protection anchorage and condition of harness and lanyard
• Systems interlocks that prevent the machine from moving while elevated
On travel routes at job locations and work areas:
• Check the work zone for potholes, bumps, obstacles, objects that could get caught in the lift mechanism and overhead hazards.
• Stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) from power lines unless trained, qualified and working from equipment that provides electrical contact protection.
Use of an Aerial Lift
• Always close lift platform chains or doors.
• Stand on the floor of the bucket or lift platform. Do not climb on or lean over guardrails.
• Do not exceed manufacturer’s load-capacity limits (including the weight of such things as bucket liners and tools).
• If working near traffic, set up work zone warnings, like cones and signs.
To prevent electrocutions:
• Non-electrical workers must stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
• Electrical workers must de-energize/insulate power lines or use proper personal protective equipment and tools.
• Insulated buckets protect from electrocution due to electric current passing through you and the boom to ground. An insulated bucket does not protect if there’s another path to ground – for instance, if you touch another wire.
To prevent falls:
To help keep workers inside guardrails or in buckets, OSHA requires either a full-body harness or a positioning device on bucket trucks and boom-supported lifts. OSHA accepts a positioning device (belt) with a short lanyard if there is an anchorage inside the bucket.
To prevent tip-overs:
• Check the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Do not drive with the lift platform elevated unless the manufacturer approves and your travel route is clear of hazard.
• Do not exceed vertical or horizontal reach limits or the specified load capacity of the lift.
A qualified person must train all users. The training shall include:
• Information about all electrical, fall and falling-object hazards
• Procedures for dealing with hazards
• How to operate the lift correctly, including maximum intended load and load capacity. Users must show they know how to use the lift.
• Manufacturer requirements
Note: If hazards change, the type of aerial lift changes or a worker is not properly operating a lift, workers must be retrained.
• De-energize and lockout/tagout aerial lifts before any maintenance is or repairs are performed.
• Each aerial lift must be inspected as the manufacturer requires, or at least every three months or after 150 hours of use, whichever comes first.
By following these simple rules, many serious injuries can be prevented!