Accidents on aerial work platforms are preventable with proper training, equipment inspections, maintenance and basic safety measures.
Aerial work platforms such as boom lifts, scissor lifts and push-around lifts can be priceless resources on construction sites. These handy units make it easy to reach work areas once accessible only by way of scaffolding or man buckets on cranes. Not only do they help save time, mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) also tend to be safer than other means of reaching high work areas, such as ladders. But accidents do happen, and fatalities involving aerial work platforms are a major contributor to the number one cause of deaths on jobsites — falls from heights.
A glance at aerial lift accident statistics underscores the potential dangers. According to data from the International Powered Access Federation, 174 deaths involving MEWPs occurred worldwide from January 2019 through December 2020. Falls (93 deaths) and electrocution (91) were the leading causes, followed by entrapments (73) and overturns (48).
Aerial lift safety requires a proactive and ongoing effort. Even if your company makes great progress toward achieving zero accidents, vigilance is essential. Choosing appropriate equipment, training your employees, performing hazard analyses for each jobsite and following recommended best practices are crucial steps to keeping workers safe.
Follow OSHA aerial lift safety requirements and recommendations
One of the biggest hazards of aerial work platforms is simply using the equipment improperly.
Always read the instructions that come with each piece of equipment and follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and safety recommendations for the use of aerial work platforms. The OSHA aerial lift fact sheet covers a full list of recommendations. Boom lift safety tips and scissor lift safety tips include:
- Training aerial lift workers in the operations and limitations of the equipment
- Performing visual inspections and function tests of equipment before each shift
- Checking for overhead obstructions
- Never modifying aerial lifts without written authorization of the manufacturer
- Ensuring that all equipment is properly maintained
The real key to aerial lift safety is having an experienced, well-trained operator working the equipment. In addition, operators and riders should follow these do’s and don’ts.
Aerial lift safety tips: 12 do's and don'ts
- Wear a harness. Everyone who operates aerial equipment is required to use a properly sized and adjusted hardness with a self-retracting lanyard or 4-foot fixed lanyard securely attached to an anchor point in the platform. Running over an uneven surface like a pothole or bump can send a ripple of energy up to the platform that bounces occupants around in the basket or even throws them out if they are not secured. Consider a personal fall protection system or a fall arrest platform boom lift.
- Examine the ground surface prior to lift operation. It should be level and free of obstructions.
- Keep booms, cranes and attachments as low as possible when moving aerial equipment.
- Use a spotter. Also, check your path for people on foot and obstructions before getting in the basket.
- Hold everyone accountable. If you see someone acting in a dangerous way, speak up.
- Move the lift with workers in an elevated platform. The exception is when the manufacturer permits it. Always read the manual.
- Enter or exit the platform when it’s extended. This common practice goes against manufacturer recommendations.
- Overload the equipment. Both people and objects (tools and materials) can overload the equipment, causing it to tip or collapse. Follow the weight limits, and don't allow workers to gather at the edge of a platform.
- Operate near power lines. This is the leading cause of lift-related deaths. Never operate aerial lifts within 25 feet of power lines. (OSHA requires maintaining a minimum clearance of at least 10 feet from the nearest energized overhead lines.) Do not test or raise the boom for attachments under them; find another spot. Make sure workers on the lift wear the proper insulated or voltage-rated protective clothing.
- Overreach or bend over the guardrail when you are in the basket. Keep your feet firmly on the platform.
- Speed. Speed, and you could tip over.
- Operate in poor weather conditions. Wind is one of the top weather concerns, but snow, ice and rain can also affect aerial lift safety.
- Let anyone who isn’t properly trained use an aerial lift. Follows OSHA’s training requirements for this equipment.
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