Although many countertop fabricators do not use aerial lifts in the shop or during the course of a job, those who do should be aware of the dangers and hazards involved these large pieces of machinery. Aerial lifts, often called boom lifts, are highly regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Related lifts, such as vertical-platform lifts and scissors lifts are actually much more common in the countertop industry and are classified separately from aerial lifts as mobile scaffolds, many of the same safety rules and recommendations should be applied.
Aerial Lift Hazards
Statistics show that about 26 people die every year in accidents involving aerial lifts, and most of these deaths are for boom lifts operated from motor vehicles. Some of these deaths, however, involved scissor lifts. The leading causes of aerial lift deaths are as follows:
- Collapses or tip-overs
- Caught in or between the lift
- Being struck or crushed by other objects
- Ejected out of the lift
OSHA requires anyone operating an aerial lift on the job to be fully trained in its operation and in how to prevent, reduce and react to accidents that may lead to injuries or death. All training must cover the following topics:
- Explanations of common hazards
- Dealing with hazards
- Recognizing unsafe conditions
- Proper operating procedures
- Demonstration of knowledge and skills for safe operation
- Performing safety inspections
- Understanding manufacturer’s
Any time an accident occurs, new workplace hazards are discovered or a different type of aerial lift is used, employers must retrain all workers who are observed making mistakes while operating the lift.
To avoid injuries and death while using aerial lifts, it is important to conduct two separate inspections: an inspection of lift components and work zone inspection.
A full aerial lift prestart inspection includes all of the following checks:
- Vehicle components, such as fluid levels, wheels, battery, lights, horn, steering and brakes.
- Lift operating controls
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) availability and condition
- Hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical systems
- Insulating components
- Hazard signs in place
- Fasteners and locking pins
- Integral and mobile harnesses
- Stabilizers and other outriggers
The objective of a thorough work zone inspection is to detect possible hazards present in the area, and it includes the following checks:
- Holes, drop-offs and other unstable surface conditions
- Ceiling height
- Debris and other obstructive objects
- Overhead electrical or communications lines and other obstructions
- High wind and severe weather
- People or animals
Safely Operating Aerial Lifts
Before anyone operates an aerial lift, he or she must do everything possible to prevent falls and minimize the risk should falls occur. First, it is important to ensure the gates on the lift are closed, and the operator is standing firmly on the floor of the lift bucket or platform.
Never climb or lean on the guardrails, and never work from a plank, ladder or other object that does not allow you to keep your feet on the floor. In addition, anyone on the lift must be wearing a body harness or a restraining belt and lanyard attachment. However, be sure not to anchor to or tie-off on adjacent structures that are not part of the lift, such as poles or walls.
You will also want to ensure to protect the overhead area from becoming a hazard by being aware of the clearance and any objects that may be in the way. If overhead hazards do exist, try to reposition the lift to avoid them completely, and always stay clear of power lines. Electrocution is the leading cause of aerial lift deaths.
Now that the lift and the area have been analyzed for hazards, it is necessary to ensure that the lift is stable and has enough support. If the lift has outriggers, use them, but be sure to set the brakes if you are on a vehicle-based lift. In addition, wheel chocks should be used on sloped surfaces, and work-zone signs and cones or fencing should block access to the worksite and make others aware of the dangers.
The following safety tips are recommended whenever anyone is using an aerial lift:
- Do not exceed load capacity.
- Stay at least 10 feet from all electrical wires. If possible, power lines should be insulated or deactivated.
- Use an insulated bucket to help prevent electrical shock.
- To prevent falls, use a harness or another OSHA-approved support device.
- Never move the base while the platform is elevated.
- Obey the vertical limits for the lift.
- Do not carry objects larger than the platform
For further information on aerial lift safety, contact the nearest OSHA office or call the national number toll free at (800) 321-6742