Boom Lift Safety: Insider Tips from a United Rentals Safety Champion

Here are some of the mistakes we see.

Like most pieces of construction equipment, boom lifts are safe when they’re used properly and potentially unsafe when they’re not. Whenever we rent equipment, we like to help customers understand how to use it safely. Here are seven of our most important tips for using a boom lift safely based on the behaviors we’ve seen.

Use a harness every time

A lot of our customers who rent boom lifts want to operate them without a harness and think they will have no problem staying the basket. Here’s why that thinking is misguided, aside from the fact that OSHA requires the use of a harness on a boom lift.

A boom lift has large bounce as you’re hitting bumps. Usually when you hit a bump, that’s when people become ejected. A small 1-inch crack or divot in the parking lot can turn into 12- to 14-inches of bounce in the boom before you know it. (Boom lifts are meant to have a certain amount of spring to them.)

The kind of harnesses we like to wear at United Rentals are 1- to 6-foot retractable harnesses. If for some reason you were to become ejected, it would not necessarily go to the full 6 feet; it would stop as soon as it catches a movement, which will minimize the amount of injury the person suffers. It’s going to shock you, but it’s going to stop you from hitting the ground.

Adjust the harness properly

If your harness isn’t snug, if you do fall, it may cause more damage than the usual bruises you’d otherwise sustain.

A lot of people put a harness on loosely; they don’t tighten up around the groin or leg areas, perhaps because they find it uncomfortable. But in a fall, a loose harness could pull and grab the groin area, the skin, the chest area. If the harness is snug, it’s not going to budge. If it’s loose, when the lanyard stops, the harness going to move and catch whatever’s in the way. 

How snug is snug enough? You don’t want to be able to get your hand underneath it. You want it just like a belt on your pants — snug enough to hold your pants up without causing any pain.

Inspect the basket before you get in

The basket floor is the only thing between you and the ground. You want to make sure there are no big tears in the mesh floor and no cracked welds.

Baskets do fail. We’ve had baskets come back from customers damaged. They also rot out after a period of time; if you’re adding heavy weight to them, they tend to stretch and crack at some of the seams. Part of every rental-ready inspection at United Rentals is looking at the basket. We also check the baskets during quarterly inspections.

Make sure the tie-off points are good

You want to inspect the tie-off points because a lot of the time they are welded to the actual structure. If the unit fails or rolls over, the tie-off point is the only thing that’s going keep you attached. Check the welds and make sure there aren’t any cracks you can see through the paint. If the weld starts to crack, it will put a crack in the paint and you can see the separation.

Make sure the control panel has all its safety stickers

Boom features and functionality vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some switches do different things on different units. That’s why manufacturers make sticker kits for each machine. All functions on the control panel should be labeled clearly.

If there are no safety stickers, the operator could move the joystick the wrong way or hit the wrong switch and possibly tilt someone out of the basket. Even if you’re familiar with the particular boom you’re running, you may not be the only one operating it that day; you may be going up with someone who hasn’t run it before.

Checking for these stickers is part of the inspection, or familiarization, process. OSHA wants you to conduct a familiarization for every particular boom lift you operate. United Rentals can walk you through the process when you rent the equipment. In addition, our training branch, United Academy, offers equipment familiarization classes.

Stay clear of power sources

Make sure you’re always 15 feet away from any power source — overhead wires or even a ground wire. If you get too close, it has the possibility to arc and carry through to you, which means no more you.

We have a three-face power line that goes right over our shop, so we remind each other every day to stay away from the line and keep the boom low when going underneath it. We had the power company come out and flag the line with orange flags to remind everybody that the line’s active.

Avoid the temptation to use cribbing

When the lift goes out of level, the boom is not going to extend all the way up; it’s a safety feature. Don’t try to override this with cribbing. Customers have been known to drive on boards or bricks to try to level the boom lift back out, but that’s a bad idea. Instead, reset the lift on more level ground.

 

Jason DeCelle is an area dispatcher and branch safety champion for United Rentals’ Smithfield, Rhode Island branch. He’s been with United Rentals for 16 years.