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Using Aerial Lifts Safely

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck
LHSFNA Management
Noel C. Borck

Ladders are one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment on a construction site. They account for almost half of all the equipment-related injuries in construction. Ladders are often used incorrectly, and the falls that result lead to serious injuries, particularly among older workers. Because of these risks, many companies have started moving away from ladders when possible and choosing to instead make use of aerial lifts.

Aerial lifts provide a stable platform to work from and can be maneuvered to the correct height and location, making working at heights both safer and easier for workers. However, aerial lifts bring risks of their own and can also be dangerous. Every year, about 20 construction workers are killed while using aerial lifts.

“Having a workforce that is trained to use ladders, aerial lifts and other construction equipment safely gives construction contractors the flexibility to choose the best tool for a given task,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Refreshing workers about the hazards they may face on the job is a proven way to reduce injuries on job sites.”

Types of Aerial Lifts

There are two main types of aerial lifts: articulating boom lifts and scissor lifts. Articulating boom lifts have several sections and can hinge to move around objects. Scissor lifts go straight up and down and cannot travel as high as boom lifts. Scissor lifts are more susceptible to tipping, but boom lifts present a greater risk of power line contact.

The main hazards involved in using both types of aerial lifts are falls and electrocutions. Falls can result from a structural failure of the boom, workers climbing the guardrails to increase their reach, unstable ground or tipovers due to high winds or being hit by another piece of equipment. Workers can also fall out of the basket when they are not tied off. Electrocutions can occur when booms (or workers) come in close contact with energized overhead power lines or other sources of electricity.

Preventing Aerial Lift Injuries and Fatalities

Preventing aerial lift fatalities starts with a good pre-start inspection of the lift, including ensuring that all controls are operable, wheels and tires are in good condition and that horns, lights, the backup alarm and the battery and charger are all functioning properly. Operators need to be trained on how to operate the lift correctly, how to recognize hazardous conditions (e.g., electrical hazards when operating near power lines) and how to use fall arrest equipment. Safe use during aerial lift operation includes:

  • Staying within the lift basket at all times
  • Setting the brakes while working on the lift
  • Only moving the lift when it is in the down position
  • Ensuring the lift is on stable, level ground  and is protected from traffic if being used in a work zone

Lift operators should check that the load capacity and reach are not exceeded, that no one operates the lower controls without permission and that operations stop whenever wind and weather conditions present a danger. All overhead power lines and communication cables should be treated as if they are energized, and workers should stay at least 10 feet away at all times, which is consistent with OSHA’s standard for power line work. The operator’s manual must always be followed and should be kept on hand for reference.

As long as they are used safely, aerial lifts can be a useful tool for working at heights in construction.

Ordering Toolbox Talks from the LHSFNA

Giving regular toolbox talks about safety hazards relevant to your site is an important way to remind workers about the potential hazards present and safe work procedures. The LHSFNA’s toolbox talk series was specifically designed to make it easy to give toolbox talks on your site. These short publications are meant to be read out loud to a group of workers and include sample discussion questions and a place for workers to sign off that they received the information. To order the Fund’s Aerial Lift Safety toolbox talk or any of the other topics available, visit the online Publications Catalogue or call the Fund’s OSH Division at 202-628-5465.

[Scott Schneider]

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