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10 Safety Tips for Operating Aerial Lift Equipment

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Holleben, Germany. 26th Feb, 2019. A truck-mounted crane with its boom extended drove against a motorway bridge near the Holleben motorway junction. The driver was seriously injured in the accident. Photo credit: dpa picture alliance

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Operating aerial lift equipment looks like fun, doesn’t it? No doubt soaring high in the air and looking down on the world is exciting. But improper use of these machines kills and maims construction workers every year. Use our 10 tips to safely operate aerial lift equipment on the job site.

Don’t Get Caught

Let’s take a moment to scare you straight, since many construction workers think that safety measures are for suckers. How can you get hurt (or killed) operating aerial lift equipment? Here are the most common types of accidents:

Electrocutions

Workers get shocked when their body or the lift equipment hits a powerline.

Falls

Workers usually fall when something hits the aerial lift equipment, like a crane. Not the end of your world if you bothered to make sure all the cables and harnesses were attached to the lift.

The Lift Tips Over

The aerial lift can tip over when the bucket cable breaks, the boom breaks, or the bucket falls.

Getting Caught Between a Lift and Object

This typically happens when the bucket is being moved. The worker can get caught between the edge of the bucket and another object – like a roof joist or a beam.

Being Struck by Objects Outside the Bucket

This type of accident is usually caused by unstable or unfinished structures on the job site that can collapse onto the worker.

A truck-mounted crane has fallen into an open-air swimming pool. The driver was not injured. Photo credit: Daniel Naupold

Top 10 Safety Tips

Our safety tips would make a great on-the-job checklist. We recommend laminating them and handing them out before every shift.

Tip #1: Verify that employees operating aerial lifts are trained and certified.

There are new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards that took effect in December, 2019. Aerial Lifts are now called “Mobile Elevated Work Platforms” or MEWPs. Beyond a name change, ANSI Standard A92.24 now requires training for “Occupants and Supervisors.” An occupant is someone on the MEWP platform who is not an operator. The MEWP operator is responsible for training all occupants on fall protection systems and what to do if the operator, for whatever reason, cannot operate the lift.

MEWP operators are still required to have documented training. (This proof typically takes the form of a certificate of training completion.) The new ANSI training standards require that an operator familiarize themselves with all MEWP equipment before they use it. This includes:

  • Reading the equipment manual.
  • Completing a walk-around inspection of the equipment.
  • Taking time to understand how to use all the controls before using the MEWP.
  • Understanding all of the limitations of the equipment, such as maximum weight and reach.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that MEWP operators are properly trained on new equipment. Should the operator be involved in an accident, they should be retrained before they are allowed to operate any MEWPs on future jobs.

Tip #2: Carefully inspect the vehicle, the lift, and the work area before you begin.

You’ll need to do more than a cursory inspection. Look around the surrounding area. Are there powerlines or loose material near the machine? Carefully inspect the aerial lift equipment for loose or missing parts. Ensure that the guardrail and other safety systems are in place. OSHA provides a detailed list of items to inspect.

Tip #3: Don’t override safety features.

Sometimes safety features are cumbersome or uncomfortable. Unless you want to lose a limb or freefall to your death, don’t override any of the mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic safety features, no matter how inconvenient.

Tip #4: Do not exceed reach and weight limits.

What’s another few pounds or a couple of extra feet? You truly don’t want to find out the hard way. Although you do want to know before you turn the machine on what those limits are. Consult the manufacturer’s guide or contact the equipment dealer.

Tip #5: Stay a healthy distance from power lines.

OSHA advises that you stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away from live power lines. (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/aerial_lifts_safety.html) Not sure if the power lines are live? Assume they are.

Tip #6: Do not place scaffolding on the platform.

Scaffolding on the aerial lift platform is unstable. So, even if the added scaffolding is under the machine’s maximum weight capacity, the risk of falling is greatly increased.

Tip #7: Check the weather.

OSHA issued a hazard alert in 2011 when a University of Notre Dame student employee was killed while filming football practice from a scissor lift. The employee, who was not trained in the proper use of aerial lift equipment, raised the lift beyond its 39-foot maximum reach. That may not have done him in, but the 50+ mph winds pushed the lift over. (Not to speak ill of the dead, but he also violated tips #1 and #4.)

Tip #8: Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Why does PPE always end up on safety tip lists? Because workers find them uncomfortable and taking them on and off time-consuming. Please re-read the above section on the most common types of aerial lift accidents. Then go grab your hard hat and make sure your body harness is attached to the boom or bucket.

Tip #9: Move the humans out of the way.

There should be no workers or pedestrians hanging around the base or surrounding area of a boom lift. Before you begin, check the area, and kick the humans out of the way.

Tip #10: Be extra cautious using scissor lifts

Scissor lifts can be particularly unstable. Take extra care to ensure the machine is on a level surface. Never move a scissor lift while it’s in the upright position. Remember that a scissor lift can collapse. Test the machine’s built-in safety features before you turn it on.

Wrap Up

Aerial lift equipment greatly increases efficiency on the job site. This specialized construction equipment should only be operated by trained personnel. Pre-inspections of the equipment and work area, properly using safety equipment, and donning your PPEs will help you avoid common accidents.

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