Aerial lifts are common pieces of equipment on job sites. However, proper training and safety precautions are crucial for guaranteeing proper use and minimizing the risk of injuries.
While training can get you far in understanding best practices, basic aerial lift safety tips can be a good reminder of how to work with or around aerial lifts.
Learn more about best practices to ensure safe job sites. Also, we do have a full video-based Aerial Lift Training program that you should check out as well.
Table of Contents
What Are Aerial Lifts?
Before exploring the safety tips, we must understand what equipment we are discussing.
Aerial lifts are vehicles with platforms that raise to lift people. This allows workers to do various tasks, such as trimming trees or repairing utility lines. Aerial lifts elevate personnel vertically or horizontally, such as an articulating boom lift. It’s worth noting that, per OSHA, scissor lifts are NOT included in this definition of an aerial lift.
However, operating scissor lifts depend on many of the same safety tips as operating an aerial lift. For this reason, consider applying these tips when working with scissor lifts, but remember that training should address this equipment in particular to avoid information and training gaps. Aerial lifts are also commonly known as boom lifts, cherry pickers, and other names as well.
How Safe Are Aerial Lifts?
When maintained as per the manufacturer’s instructions and operated following OSHA guidelines, aerial lifts can be a safe and useful piece of construction equipment.
However, as with most large machinery, there are risks. Proper safety measures must be taken to avoid serious injury. This is why learning basic aerial lift safety tips are crucial. Before anyone hops on an aerial lift, ensure all proper training and certification are completed.
What Are Most Aerial Lift Accidents Caused By?
You likely understand the importance of knowing aerial lift safety tips, but it’s crucial to understand what precisely workers are up against. What hazards put those on aerial lifts in danger?
To best prevent accidents, learn the common aerial lift hazards. This way, you know what to look for when on an aerial lift and can prepare properly for aerial lift safety needs.
A center of gravity is crucial to stability. But as aerial lifts grow taller, the center of gravity shifts, and the stability isn’t as strong. A lack of stability on tall machinery is the perfect storm for tip-overs. If an aerial lift comes into contact with any obstacles, like uneven ground while elevated, tip-overs are likely and dangerous.
There are two ways electrocution accidents occur for someone on an aerial lift:
- A person making direct contact with electrical lines while on the aerial lift
- Electric shock transfers through the machine when it touches a power line
The good news is that if the machine is properly insulated, electrical systems typically won’t be an issue for platform conduction. However, overhead power lines are a very real concern and a common hazard for workers.
An aerial lift doesn’t only hold people. Workers typically go up with some tools and may even bring down some small equipment.
While everything on the platform should be small (as discussed in one of the aerial lift safety tips below), even a small tool falling from a great height can be lethal to someone below. This makes falling objects a common hazard for workers on the ground.
Falling from Heights
Unfortunately, objects aren’t the only possible falls. Being brought up to an elevated position carries the risk of falling for anyone in the bucket or on the platform.
However, while severe, these hazards typically only happen when operators aren’t using proper fall protection. This means these are easily preventable accidents when workers follow recommended safety tips.
Structural failures refer to the failure of aerial lift structures. These are completely preventable in the case of structural failures caused by overloading by respecting weight limits. However, regular inspections and maintenance must be performed properly to avoid the case of defective equipment.
There are many electrical wires, cords, ropes, and pulleys that go into making aerial and boom lifts operate as they should. However, all these long pieces of the machine can cause problems when tangled up. When pieces do get tangled, things go wrong, and people get hurt.
Collisions occur when the equipment collides with an obstacle, be that another piece of machinery such as a scissor lift or something from the work environment, like trees or poles.
Because of this danger, remaining aware of the surroundings at all times is a crucial part of aerial lift safety.
How Do You Operate a Lift Safely?
All aerial lift operators should know the basics of operating an aerial lift safely. In addition to all the particular aerial lift safety tips, it comes down to these four basic checkpoints:
The Machinery: It must be safe, ready to go, and used only as regulations allow.
The Operator: They must be aware of their surroundings and the machine at all times.
The Person Being Elevated: They must be properly secured with long hair tied back and no loose clothing.
People Around the Equipment: Everyone should be aware and maintain a safe distance.
While our aerial lift safety tips will go into more detail for each component of aerial lift safety, it all comes back to these four points.
When Using an Aerial Lift, What Must You Wear at All Times?
Fall protection and personal protective equipment (PPE) are important components of aerial lift safety and can minimize the impact of most accidents.
Protective gear should always include fall protection, such as body harnesses. Safety regulations on some occasions allow. for body belts, but harnesses are preferred.
Depending on the situation, additional PPE like gloves or safety glasses are encouraged.
20 Aerial Safety Tips for Aerial Lift Operators, Boom Lift Operators, Employers, and People Working in the Area
Aerial and boom lifts can cause severe accidents. Of course, OSHA and manufacturer regulations should be your guide on how to run a work site. However, general aerial and boom lift safety tips are an excellent way to remind everyone on site of the standards and expectations of working with this type of machinery.
Here are the top 20 aerial lift safety tips everyone, from managers and operators to bystanders, should know.
1. Know OSHA and ANSI Rules and Regulations
Because of the possible severity of accidents from aerial lifts, OSHA has strict regulations on how this machinery should be used and handled. These are not just best practices – they must legally be followed by all users, operators, and employers. It’s important to understand ANSI and OSHA’s requirements under the new Mobile Elevated Work Platforms standard or MEWP.
One of the best ways to learn the rules is through training.
2. Ensure Operators Are Trained and Certified
Training is mandatory for any operator of an aerial lift. One of the compliance requirements is that all operators must undergo training.
Training is also important for learning not only OSHA and ANSI requirements but also the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. Inspect the Area for Potential Hazards
Before operating the machinery, the job site must be inspected. To protect workers, operators must avoid any potential hazards presented by the environment. These possible hazards must be spotted and accounted for in the planning. These hazards may include:
- Uneven terrain or unstable terrain
- Floor obstructions
- Power lines
- Other floor obstructions,
Things like uneven ground may not seem like much of a problem, but they can cause severe accidents, such as tip-overs.
4. Don’t Override Safety Features
Safety features are specifically designed to eliminate or minimize incidents and serious injuries. For this reason, an aerial lift operator must never override safety features.
Examples of safety features include:
- Tilt alarm
- Travel alarms
- Limit switch
- Warning lights
- Porthole protection sensors
- Emergency stop
5. Conduct Equipment Inspections Before Using
Before aerial lift operators can begin operations, a pre-start inspection must be performed. This ensures the equipment is safe to be used for the next shift. This allows workers to spot problems before they cause an accident.
Inspections will reveal issues such as malfunctioning emergency controls, low fluid levels, and loose or missing parts.
6. Respect the Limits for Weight and Reach
Aerial and boom lift equipment have specific reach and weight limits that must be adhered to.
In planning out a job, you need to know exactly what you’re looking to reach and what needs to be brought up there. Depending on those calculations, the equipment you have in mind may not be able to accomplish what it needs to.
If reach and weight limits aren’t respected, tip-overs are likely to occur.
7. Don’t Lean, Sit, or Climb on the Bucket or Platform’s Edge
On an aerial lift, you will have guardrails. These are meant as a means of fall protection, not a seat, rung of a ladder, or place to lean on.
If you slightly lean over the railing to reach something, this doesn’t mean a tip-over will occur. That being said, it’s always best to relocate the bucket or platform to where you truly need it rather than having to lean.
Using the equipment as intended includes respecting the purpose of the guardrail, as too much weight could destabilize it, causing a tip-over.
8. Use Brakes, Outriggers, and Wheel Chocks
Slopes are the enemy of aerial lifts. However, if there is a slight slope, you can minimize the risk of an incident with the proper tools (as the manufacturer’s manual allows).
Wheel chocks are an excellent way to further secure the boom lift while the machinery is on an incline.
As for the machine overall, outriggers and brakes also add further stability. These aren’t only for slopes. This accounts for any unexpected from the lift or the ground. Even if the terrain appears stable, it’s always best to be on the safe side.
9. Don’t Put Scaffolding on the Aerial Lift Platform
Sometimes, even if equipment falls within the weight limit, this doesn’t mean it’s meant to go up.
Scaffolding, including ladders, should never be added to the platform or bucket. The reach this equipment can achieve should be the maximum. If you need to reach any higher, you’ll need to consider a completely different course of action than that particular machinery.
10. Keep Lifts Away from Other Equipment
Because of the risk of tipping and falling objects, an aerial lift should never operate close to other machinery. Clear the surrounding area before operations. This way, if an incident does happen, the damage and injuries will be less severe.
11. Don’t Move Lifts with People in a Basket in Working Position (Be Aware of Any Exceptions)
Some moving equipment that also lifts aren’t designed to move while in the upright position. For example, if the platform of a scissor lift is elevated, it will need to be brought down before moving the machinery horizontally.
This is not true for all machinery. Operators should review the manufacturer’s instructions as their equipment may be one of the exceptions to this rule. However, this is a requirement for some machinery and a best practice for many.
12. Wear Fall Protection (Full-Body Harnesses or Restraining Belts)
Aerial lifts bring people to great heights. While this is excellent for getting tall jobs done efficiently, it also means that a misstep resulting in a fall from that height would result in a serious injury.
Body belts aren’t recommended anymore because they can cause greater damage during a fall, such as an injury to the back or lungs. Use a full-body harness instead and attach it to the railing with a lanyard.
13. Clear People from Around the Base
Just as you don’t want a scissor lift near other equipment, you also want to clear people away from the surrounding area. This way, in the case of a falling object or a tip-over, no one of the ground will be injured.
14. Don’t Use Lifts as a Crane (Don’t Overload Them With Materials or Equipment)
Cranes are specially designed to lift heavy equipment — aerial lifts aren’t. For this machinery, limit the haul to people and necessary small tools and equipment.
15. Be Attentive Around Overhead Power Lines and Communication Cables
Aerial lifts are commonly used to repair electrical power lines. However, these electrical lines, whether they’re being repaired or just happen to be present, can be a serious hazard. Ensure you’re aware of all wires overhead and avoid them.
16. Watch for Overhead Obstructions When Raising
In addition to electric power lines, boom lifts can run into other overhead obstructions. Overhead obstructions can pose a serious threat to those being raised, including head injuries. Potential overhead hazards must be inspected and accounted for.
17. Be Vigilant Near Slopes
Review the job site before operating a boom lift. If there’s a slope, avoid it if possible. If a slope can’t be avoided, proceed with great caution in accordance with the equipment’s manual.
18. Look Out for Falling Objects
Debris nets are a great way to prevent damage from falling tools or equipment. Additionally, secure tools in the bucket.
19. Check for Wind Speed
Severe weather conditions and high wind speed can affect boom lift safety. Check your equipment’s manual for further instructions, but generally, if the wind is over 28 miles per hour, it’s unsafe to operate.
20. Conduct Proper Maintenance
Between shifts, proper maintenance must be performed. Follow the manufacturer’s manual to ensure the best care is given to machinery.
Use Aerial Lift Equipment Properly with These Safety Tips
Aerial work platforms are excellent tools, but this doesn’t make them free of danger. Follow these aerial lift safety tips to keep your work site accident-free.
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