Take aerial lift safety measures seriously

In 2006, aerial lift violations were the fifth most-frequently cited violation (29 CFR 1926.453) for electrical contractors. Aerial lifts include boom-supported aerial platforms, such as cherry pickers or bucket trucks. A study of fatal falls showed at least 6 percent of all construction fall-related deaths were from aerial lifts. In addition to falls, electrical contractors must take care to prevent electrocutions related to the use of aerial lifts. Many deaths occur when employees make contact with live lines or equipment either directly due to their elevated position on the boom or indirectly via a part of the boom and the live parts. Consider the following accidents:           

  • An employee operating an aerial lift was thrown from the basket. He fell 37 feet to his death. The machine was being moved with the boom fully extended. It ran over bricks causing the boom to flex or spring.
  • An employee was correcting crossed conductors while working on an upgrade from a 7,200-volt, single-phase system to a three-phase system. As he was working on a splice, the end of one of the conductors became birdcaged and would not go into the connector. He removed his rubber insulating gloves and adjusted his aerial lift. The jib arm on the aerial lift contacted an energized overhead power line below the bucket and electrocuted the employee.
  • An employee fell to the ground from an aerial lift/bucket trailer and was killed when the vehicle overturned. The outriggers had not been deployed.
  • An employee splicing lines leaned against the door of a bucket. The door was defective, opened and he fell approximately 11 feet to the ground. He was wearing a harness and lanyard, but they were not tied off to the boom.

The accidents described here are indicative of the major causes of fatalities on aerial lifts. They include falls, electrocutions, and collapses or tipovers. To prevent accidents, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations in the 29 CFR 1926.453 require employers to implement certain safety precautions. The regulation also mandates equipment compliance with applicable American National Standards Institute (ANSI) mandates.

Above all, aerial lifts should be maintained and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not exceed the load limits of the equipment. Allow for the combined weight of the worker, tools and materials. Aerial lifts should not be modified. If a modification is made, it must conform to the safety requirements set by ANSI. Written certification is needed from the manufacturer or “equal entity” that the modification is approved. Never override hydraulic, mechanical or electrical safety devices.

When using the lift, there are a few simple actions to take to avoid injury. No employees are to climb on the edge of the basket or use planks, ladders or other devices for a work position. They should stand firmly on the floor of the basket and not sit or climb. Employees are not to wear climbers while working from an aerial lift. Remind employees to adhere to the minimum approach distances from overhead lines. And, instruct employees to avoid other overhead hazards. They should not position themselves between obstructions, such as joists, beams and the rails of the basket. Movement of the lift could crush them.

An aerial lift truck shall not be moved when the boom is elevated in a working position with people in the basket, except for equipment specifically designed for it. Ensure the setting of brakes and the use and security of outriggers before the boom is raised. Use wheel chocks when on an incline. When moving ladder and tower trucks, make sure the ladder is safely stored and secured. Ensure the tower is properly cradled. For any lift with outriggers, be sure the riggers are in the stowed position before moving.

Employees in a boom basket must be protected from falling from the basket. A body harness with a lanyard attached to the boom or basket should be used. A body belt used in a tethering system or in a restraint system is acceptable. Attaching any system to an adjacent pole, structure or equipment while working from an aerial lift is prohibited.

A boom used primarily for personnel must have both upper and lower controls. The upper or platform controls must be within easy reach of the operator. Lower controls that can override the upper controls are for emergency use. They cannot be used without the permission of the employee in the lift. All controls must be plainly marked as to their function.

Finally, each day before use, employees must inspect the lift and test the controls to make sure they are in safe working condition. Maintenance must be performed on a regular basis, and do not allow unauthorized workers to use a lift: all operators must be properly trained in its safe use.        EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.