4 Tips for Working With a Scissor Lift

Scissor lifts provide a versatility needed for tasks ranging from construction to entertainment, allowing operators to position them so that work is easily accessible. The scissor-like action of opening and closing cross-beams (which work as the lifting mechanism) moves the sturdy work platform straight up and down. 

1. Training

Accident reports related to the use of scissor lifts often identify key points where an operator did not have the appropriate training, did not review relevant safety protocols, or ignored protocols because of time restraints. OSHA standards delineate the minimum criteria for training workers how to use a scissor lift, covering common sense procedures that everyone, regardless of experience level, should observe. 

For example, OSHA standards specify that training must include reading and using the manufacturer’s instructions before moving or operating a scissor lift. Training also must include best practices, such as maintaining firm footing on a platform, refraining from sitting, standing, or climbing on guardrails, keeping work within reach, and handling materials safely on a scissor lift. Safe handling of materials not only involves the physical movement of items, but also recognizing that scissor lifts have weight limitations. Improper or unsafe lifting or movement may expose the operator and workers to high voltage or crushing hazards.

2. Pre-Work Inspection

As with scaffolding, employers should have at least one qualified individual that understands training needs as well as the necessity for a pre-work inspection. Pre-work inspections cover both the machine and the worksite. Before inserting the key into a scissor lift, review the manual and verify that everyone involved in operating the lift has proper safety helmets, work shoes, reflective vests, and fall-protection harnesses.

After reviewing the manual, check for correct fluid levels in hydraulic cylinders and lifting mechanisms. Then, check the welds, pins, bolts, and nuts that support structural parts for any cracks or defects. Another best practice is to check of outriggers, outrigger limit switches, brakes, and locking pins. Ensure that the platform is clear of any loose materials that could cause a worker to trip or fall, and that the platform includes an entry access gate, bar chain, and guardrails around the work area. Finally, check the battery level, the pressure of tires and pneumatic rollers, and an operable fire extinguisher.

Pre-work inspections also include site evaluations. Work surfaces must have the structural strength to support the lift, workers, and materials. A scissor lift requires stability and must operate on a level surface free of obstructions. When verifying that a scissor lift basket can handle loads without exceeding its capacity, also ensure that the basket will not encounter any overhead obstructions.  Check current weather conditions, too: sustained wind gusts stronger than the manufacturer’s specifications can cause a scissor lift to tip over or collapse. 

In addition, check for any electrical lines or other hazards that could contact the lift and injure workers. When using scissor lifts in an enclosed environment, establish sufficient ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide or hydrogen gas build-up as well as diesel exhaust.  Protect the scissor lift from potential collision points and bystanders from possible falling objects through the use of barricades.

3. Operational Inspection

After completing a pre-work inspection, workers should conduct an operational inspection. With the scissor lift started, ensure that ground controls are operating normally and that the emergency lowering controls remain ready for use. Check the basket controls, foot switch, and horn for proper operation. Inspect the battery discharge indicator to verify that the battery can support the operation of the lift for an entire workday. After checking the steering and drive systems, operate the lift along with rotating and tilting the basket. When operating the lift and basket, check that limit switches are operating and that any alarms or beacons work properly.

4. Positioning

Scissor lifts offer the advantage of relatively easy access to an otherwise out-of-reach work area. However, incorrect use of a scissor lift can present a crushing hazard. Best practices require a team to watch as a moving scissor lift nears a structure, especially if the lift passes under a frame or beam. Operators must remain aware of limited vision and blind spots that can occur when moving a scissor lift, and of the position of the extended platform.