According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 25 people are killed and many others are injured each year in accidents involving aerial lifts. This includes scissor lifts and boom-supported lifts, such as bucket trucks and cherry pickers. This equipment is indispensable to electricians, linemen and wiremen, but it is important to be aware of the hazards associated with them.
To better understand these risks, let’s look at some common scenarios that result in aerial lift injuries and fatalities.
On boom lifts, roughly 50 percent of falls involve the victim being ejected from the bucket after being struck by vehicles, cranes, crane loads or falling objects. Falls also occur when the lift suddenly jerks.
A majority of the injuries and deaths that occur on scissor lifts are linked to the equipment tipping over or a victim falling when he or she leaned too far over guardrails. Other fatalities are attributed to electrocutions involving overhead power lines.
The primary measure for addressing such dangers is training in proper use of aerial lifts and hazard recognition. At a bare 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 (including maximum intended load and load capacity); and any additional manufacturer requirements. Employers should supplement training by ensuring operators read and understand equipment manuals. Per the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety standards, when operators have questions, an expert should explain the manuals to them.
Next, employers must be sure the equipment is safe. A prestart inspection is required for all aerial lifts at each job site. Employers must hold operators or other qualified people responsible for checking operating and emergency controls, safety devices (such as outriggers and guardrails), personal fall-protection gear, wheels and tires, and other machine components specified by the manufacturer. During the inspection, they should look for leaks in air, hydraulic fluid and fuel lines, as well as loose or missing parts.
If an aerial platform does not operate properly or components of the equipment are in need of repair, workers are not allowed to use it. A qualified mechanic will need to make any necessary repairs. Equipment must be de-energized and locked out/tagged out before any maintenance or repairs can be done. Aerial lifts typically must be inspected every three months or after 150 hours of use, whichever comes first.
In addition to ensuring equipment safety, the job site must be evaluated. Aerial lifts should always be set up on a level surface that won’t shift, so be aware of and adhere to slope limits set by the manufacturer. Additional site hazards to identify and avoid include holes, drop-offs, bumps and overhead power lines.
When proper training has been provided, the equipment has been inspected and approved, and the site is safe, work can commence. While work is being conducted, follow safe operating practices. This includes ensuring that lift platform chains or doors are closed, adhering to load-capacity limits, and prohibiting leaning over guardrails or riding on bumpers.
Some of these measures relate to fall protection. It is noteworthy to mention that both the OSHA aerial lift standard 1926.453 and the fall protection section 1926.954(b)(3)(iii)(A) of Subpart V Electric Power Transmission and Distribution standard indicate that a personal fall-arrest or fall-restraint system must be in place. However, this issue is complicated. If a worker falls, he or she must not be allowed to strike anything below. But, use of the restraint device may not allow the worker to function, and a personal fall-arrest system may not prevent them from striking a structure below.
In recognition of this, current negotiations with OSHA propose that an employer will not be cited if they use fall-protection equipment that complies with all other aspects of 1926, Subpart M; the aerial lift truck is parked with the brakes set and outriggers extended as needed; and reasonable precautions have been taken to address any ejection hazards. Employers should consult their local OSHA office about current regulations and any applicable interpretations on enforcement.
Workers must comply with minimum approach distances to electrical lines and manufacturer requirements. Driving with the lift platform elevated should be prohibited, and vertical or horizontal reach limits or specified load-capacity of the lift should never be exceeded. When using an elevated scissor lift, avoid excessive pushing and pulling.
Hopefully, this information provides a better understanding of aerial lift safety and how to successfully mitigate common hazards resulting in death and injury on the job. For more information, visit www.osha.gov or contact the manufacturer of the equipment that you are using or intend to use.