Aerial Lift Safety on Construction Sites
Aerial lifts are incredibly valuable machines, but using them always comes with a degree of risk.
- By Tom Wilkerson
- Mar 01, 2022
There are few pieces of equipment more versatile and more useful than the modest aerial lift. Whether they need access to high job sites, want an alternative to scaffolding or are eager to complete tasks in hard-to-reach spots, construction professionals routinely turn to aerial lifts for solutions. While there is no denying the utility of such machines, it is important to keep aerial lift safety in mind when using them. By educating workers on the risks and training them to avoid many of the most common hazards, construction teams can stay safe on every job site.
Common Aerial Lift Hazards
Aerial lifts are incredibly valuable machines, but using them always comes with a degree of risk. The heights reached by aerial lifts are indeed impressive, but that height only contributes to potentially dangerous situations. Strong winds, for instance, can create hazardous working conditions for aerial lift operators. Without careful maneuvering, aerial lifts may tip over on an especially windy day.
Falling objects are another aerial lift hazard of which to be mindful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dropped objects accounted for 255 workplace fatalities in 2016 alone. Countless other workers suffered injuries as a result of dropped objects. That is because dropped items gain momentum as they fall. Even the lightest of tools can become deadly when dropped off the roof of a skyscraper.
In 2017, two of OSHA’s “Top 10” included hazards stemming from electricity: improper lockout/tagout procedures and electrical wiring methods. Since many aerial lift operators are involved in overhead line work, the risk of being electrocuted on the job is very real. While many boom lifts are insulated to protect workers from shock, it is important to wear protective gear and ensure that power lines have been de-energized before work begins.
Entanglement also presents serious aerial lift risks. Any time a lift is raised or lowered, there is the chance that ropes could become caught in the equipment. Given how many moving parts are found on any given lift, it is easier than you might expect to find yourself tangled in these ropes. To protect against entanglement, avoid wearing loose clothing and always be sure to keep hands, arms and other body parts away from potential pinch points.
Aerial lift operators may also become injured should they make contact with objects while working. Collision hazards exist both on the ground and while working at heights. That is why it is crucial to use extreme caution when moving a lift, especially when traffic is high, space is limited or when surface conditions are uneven, wet, icy or slippery.
Perform Daily Equipment Inspections
Every single part of the lift should be inspected before it is used each day. Hydraulic, air and electrical systems must be in good working order. Fluid levels including oil, water and hydraulic fluids should be monitored. Everything from the battery to the battery charger to the wheels, tires, horn and lights should be double-checked before a day of work can begin in earnest. While this might seem like overkill, daily inspections are a good way to keep an eye on the condition of a given piece of equipment and contribute significantly to aerial lift safety overall.
Stabilize the Aerial Lift
Outriggers and brakes can add a much-needed layer of stability to any aerial lift setup. These should always be used, even if the ground looks perfectly stable. There is no telling what hidden cracks might lie right beneath the surface. Wheel chocks are especially vital for ensuring that lifts stay in place when working on an incline.
A safe work zone is just as important as safe machinery. In fact, it is almost impossible to truly stabilize an aerial lift without first inspecting the area for hazards. When indoors, be sure to check the ceiling height and look for potential overhead hazards. When outside, check for potholes, ditches, debris and anything else that might jeopardize the structural integrity of an aerial lift. Skipping over this important step just is not an option if you are hoping to prioritize aerial lift safety.
Prevent Falls with PPE
OSHA requires all aerial lift operators to wear adequate fall protection equipment. This includes full-body lanyards and harnesses that attach to the basket or lift. Retractables, cable and rope grabs can also come in handy. While these wearables might seem restrictive at first, they are essential for preventing dangerous slips and falls from great heights.
Since construction technology is constantly evolving, the latest wearables make it easier than ever to keep tabs on worker safety. Sensor clips, for example, can alert supervisors should a fall happen. Workers can even report an injury by repeatedly pressing a button on their sensor. Fall protection best practices have never been easier to implement.
Winter Lift Safety Tips
Working outside on an aerial lift can be incredibly challenging and at times, even dangerous. Those risks are elevated during the winter months. Even with the latest safety tools and techniques in use, accidents and injuries may still occur. All of the aforementioned risk factors are exacerbated in the winter. Freezing temperatures can cause operators to lose focus. Strong winds increase the chill factor. Snow and ice make platforms slippery. No matter how you look at it, the winter months are inherently more dangerous for aerial lift operators than any other season.
Work cannot just grind to a halt at the first sign of freezing temperatures, though. Windows still need washing, construction projects must remain on track and routine maintenance must be completed. Aerial lift winter safety starts by dressing for the weather. While this might seem like common sense, people often underestimate the impact that cold temperatures have on outdoor work. Lift operators should don at least three layers during the winter months. Knit masks can guard against the biting cold and waterproof boots help keep feet dry and warm even in the deepest of snow. Hard hat liners can also help prevent heat loss through the head.
When conditions are icy, the odds of slipping and falling go up significantly. Proper footwear with good tread can help give workers a stable footing. Taking shorter steps and walking slower are also good strategies for preventing falls. Ultimately, though, winter safety should be proactive, not reactive. As soon as a winter storm passes through, clear snow and ice from the work area and spread deicer liberally.
Knowledge truly is power, especially in the winter months. That is why it is so important to closely monitor weather reports. Know ahead of time how your organization plans to respond to the threat of blizzards, wind chill advisories and winter storm warnings. With enough clarity on weather policies, employees will be empowered to keep an eye on conditions and take extra precautions on the job.
The Importance of Training and Certification
No matter the season, it is important that all aerial lift operators are properly trained and certified before they begin working. It is impossible to safely operate lifts without a thorough understanding of workplace hazards and operational best practices. OSHA requires all workers to be certified every three years in order to legally operate these machines. Aerial lift safety education can go a long way to keep your organization in compliance with OSHA and promote a safer working environment.