Every year, dozens of people are killed and many more are injured in accidents involving aerial lifts, including cranes, digger derricks, scissor lifts, and boom-­supported lifts, such as bucket trucks and cherry pickers. Electricians and line and wire workers use this equipment often, so it is important to understand the hazards and risks associated with aerial lifts.


Most aerial-lift incidents involve falls, electrocutions or equipment tipping over. Falls generally occur as a result of a worker leaning too far over a guardrail or a lift being struck by an object, such as a vehicle. Electrocutions often involve contact with overhead power lines. Finally, tipovers can occur due to operator error, equipment positioning or equipment malfunction.


Operator training can improve aerial-lift safety. At minimum, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a qualified person to train aerial lift users on electrical, fall and falling-object hazards; procedures for dealing with hazards; how to operate the lift correctly; maximum intended load and load capacity; and any additional manufacturer requirements.


To supplement this training, ensure operators read and understand equipment manuals. It is the employer’s responsibility to answer any questions regarding the material. This is an acceptable practice according to the American National Standards Institute safety standards.


Equipment inspection also can help mitigate aerial-lift accidents.


“Performing daily, weekly, monthly and annual aerial work-platform inspections can be tedious,” said Cara Eccleston, marketing coordinator, Elliott Equipment Co., Omaha, Neb. “But, not only do these keep businesses compliant with federal rules and industry guidelines, they ensure a robust maintenance program that keeps equipment in service, keeps maintenance costs in check and keeps workers safe on the job.”


Prejob inspections are required for all types of aerial lifts on every job site. Operators and other qualified people are responsible for checking operating and emergency controls, safety devices, outriggers and guardrails, personal fall-protection gear, wheels and tires, and other mechanical components specified by the manufacturer. During an inspection, personnel should look for possible leaks in air, hydraulic fluid and fuel lines as well as for loose or missing parts. More thorough inspections are usually required every three months or after 150 hours of use. An even more thorough inspection should occur annually.


Manufacturers often provide logbooks for daily, weekly and monthly inspections. Daily logs cover items required in prejob inspections. Weekly logs address items such as battery function, winch brake operation and driveline function.


“Monthly logs include assessing cylinders and valves; checking the machine’s welds and pins; placement of control, safety and capacity placards; and assessing boom wear pad fasteners and rollers,” Eccleston said. “The logs also include space for mechanics to document problems, prescribe solutions and record repairs.”


Upadated logs can be helpful when completing OSHA inspections and paperwork. In addition, employers are required to keep maintenance and inspection records pertaining to aerial lifts for five years.


If aerial platforms are not operating properly or other components of the equipment are in need of repair, the lift must not be used. Only qualified mechanics can repair an aerial lift. Equipment must also be de-energized and locked out/tagged out before any maintenance or repairs can occur. 


The job site itself should be inspected as well. Aerial lifts must be set up on a level surface that won’t shift. Workers should be aware of and adhere to manufacturer slope limits. Equipment may not work properly or may tip over when set up on steep slopes. Other site hazards to search for and avoid include holes, drop-offs, bumps and overhead power lines.


Adhere to minimum approach distances to electrical lines and don’t drive with lift platforms elevated. Workers should never exceed vertical or horizontal reach limits or specified load-capacity on a lift, and they must follow all manufacturer requirements. Workers also should avoid excessive pushing or pulling when using an elevated scissor lift.


For more information on aerial lift safety and relevant rules and regulations, visit www.osha.gov or contact the equipment manufacturer.