Safety tips for working with aerial lifts

Workplaces often use aerial lifts when staging and scaffolding are impractical. This aids many jobs that might not otherwise be possible, but there are a number of dangers associated with their use. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), electricians, general laborers, painters, ironworkers, and carpenters are especially at risk for injuries and fatalities when using these machines.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that most falls, collapses, and tipovers that occur on aerial lifts happened while between 10 and 29 feet in the air. Machinery tipovers made up nearly 50 percent of the total boom-lift falls. When your crews are working on aerial lifts, take the following precautions to keep them safe.

Aerial lifts are strong machines that must be carefully maneuvered to the work site before using the controls to move the platform. These lifts need to be serviced and maintained regularly and should only be operated by employees who have been trained thoroughly to use them. Supervisors should also always be present when the lift is in use.

Riders and workers at the top of aerial lifts should always use fall protection. When shipyards and boatyards use lifts, working above water is no excuse not to - according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), life preservers and other floatation devices are insufficient when used alone in protecting workers from falls of over 40 feet. Shock-absorbing lanyards, harnesses, and retractable lanyards should always be used and securely anchored to lift railings or hooks.

The wheels of a lift should never be operated or moved while its arm is raised or a worker is on it. Shifts in balance can easily cause a fall or can eject employees from the bucket or platform of the lift. In fact, no lift should ever be raised if the brakes aren't engaged, its outriggers are not fully extended, tire pressure is low, or the ground that the lift sits on is not level.

Lift operators need to be aware of the lift's swing radius. This means that a rotation of 360 degrees will extend the basket or cherry picker a specific distance from the base. Workers operating lifts should always make sure that the area around the machine is clear of other equipment and employees before moving the lift arm.

When a crane is not available, an aerial lift is not a suitable replacement. It is not designed to push, pull, or manipulate objects and other devices and can malfunction if used to do so. This sort of situation can cause a tipover, which will endanger nearby workers as well as the operator of the lift.

If for some reason an aerial lift becomes caught on a tree, structure, or wire, the operator should not struggle to release it. When freed suddenly, the basket of a lift can eject employees or knock them off balance.

By understanding that there are many dangers associated with this equipment, employees can avoid being injured on an aerial lift. With the right safety supplies, such as fall protection, hard hats, safety glasses, and work gloves, workplaces can successfully and safely use aerial lifts for many tasks.

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