Aerial lifts can cause severe injuries. From 2011 to 2014, they were involved in nearly 100 fatalities and more than 1,300 injuries. Fortunately, workers and employers can follow several regulations, standards and safety practices to prevent such accidents.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines aerial lifts as any vehicle-mounted device used to elevate personnel or a work platform that can move vertically or horizontally. Examples include extendable boom platforms, aerial ladders, articulating/jointed boom platforms and vertical towers. Bucket trucks, common in the electrical construction industry, have a built-in aerial lift.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) significantly revised its standard addressing aerial lifts in late 2018 and changed its definition of an aerial lift to mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs). They are divided into two groups.
Group A lifts have a center of work platform that remains within perimeter of chassis (e.g., scissor lifts and vertical lifts). OSHA, however, considers scissor lifts to be mobile scaffolds and addresses them in scaffold regulations. Group B lifts have center of work platforms that can be positioned beyond the chassis, such as boom lifts.
ANSI further classifies these groups by operating characteristics into three types:
- Type 1—can travel only in the stowed position and must be moved manually
- Type 2—controlled from chassis and can be driven while elevated
- Type 3—have controls on a work platform and can be driven while elevated
Prior to operating a MEWP or an aerial lift, it’s important to understand the pertinent hazards. The most common hazards are electrocution, fall, tip-over and entrapment. According to a recent three-year study by the International Powered Access Federation, out of 200 fatalities, there were 30 electrocutions, 62 falls, 54 tip-overs, and 30 entrapments or caught between bucket/guardrail and object.
As a result, workers must be properly trained and understand their roles before working on or near an aerial lift, and employers must document this training. ANSI identifies roles and responsibilities for the manufacturer, dealer, owner, user, supervisor, operator and occupant. ANSI standards should be consulted for training requirements.
It is imperative to inspect a MEWP or aerial lift prior to use. The dealer should conduct a predelivery inspection, and the owner should conduct frequent and annual inspections in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. Proper maintenance is also an important element for safely operating an MEWP.
Additionally, the user or operator should perform a prestart inspection each day or at the beginning of each shift. The manufacturer typically provides a specific checklist for each of its MEWPs. However, if this is not the case, general items to consider are fluid levels, possible leaks, loose wiring, horns, gauges, lights and backup alarms.
The lift should also be accompanied with chock blocks and traffic cones, and the vehicle must be equipped with a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. Insulative protective equipment, such as hot-sticks, blankets and hoods, should also be available when operating on or near live wires, circuits or equipment.
Prior to beginning work, evaluate the job site to ensure there are no drop-offs, holes, unstable surfaces, inadequate ceiling heights, slopes, ditches or bumps, debris and floor obstructions, overhead electric power lines, and communication cables or traffic hazards. Aerial lifts should also not be used when there are high winds or other adverse weather conditions.
When operating MEWPs, it is important that workers set up work-zone warnings, set outriggers on pads or a solid surface, set brakes when outriggers are used, and use wheel chocks on sloped surfaces when it is safe to do so. Operators should never exceed load-capacity limit, use the aerial lift as a crane, carry objects larger than the platform or exceed vertical or horizontal reach limits.
When operating a MEWP or aerial lift near electrical hazards, make sure the lift is not altered and no holes have been drilled into the bucket. Workers must always maintain proper clearance distances to power lines and cables unless lines have been confirm to be de-energized or when working under approved energized work permit or working in accordance with acceptable electrical transmission and distribution rules and safe work practices.
Finally, a rescue plan is needed in the event that an incident does occur. There are three types of rescue that should be included: self-rescue, assisted and technical (which requires assistance from by emergency personnel). All owners, operators and supervisors should be familiar with each.