If you spray foam on large commercial roofs, chances are good that at some point in your career you will work on an aerial lift. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines an aerial lift as any vehicle-mounted device used to elevate personnel, including: Extendable boom platforms, aerial ladders, articulating (jointed) boom platforms, vertical towers, and any combination of the aforementioned. Constructed of metal, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, or other materials, aerial lifts may be powered or manually operated, and these elevating platforms are considered to be aerial lifts whether or not they can rotate around a primarily vertical axis. Given their ease-of-use, mobility, and flexibility, aerial lifts have replaced traditional ladders and scaffolding on many jobsites.
According to OSHA, however, aerial lifts are among the most dangerous pieces of equipment on any jobsite. Unlike the more permanent, fixed-in-place scaffold systems, aerial lifts are designed to move, and therefore, introduce a new element of danger that must be taken into account and accommodated with proper training. Unfortunately, the category, “aerial lifts” comprises a large number of preventable worker injuries and fatalities, including falls, electrocutions (when the lift or the bucket strikes high voltage power lines), and collapses or tip-overs. Not surprisingly, employers are required to ensure that their workers safely use aerial lifts – if the workers are required to use this equipment in the course of their employment.
In an effort to prevent injuries and fatalities, OSHA provides the following information to help employers and workers recognize and avoid the safety hazards they may encounter when working near or while operating aerial lifts.
HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH AERIAL LIFTS
As defined by OSHA, the following is a partial list of aerial lift-associated hazards that can lead to personal injury or death:
- Falls from elevated level,
- Objects falling from lifts,
- Ejections from the lift platform,
- Structural failures (collapses),
- Electric shock (electrocutions),
- Entanglement hazards,
- Contact with objects, and
- Contact with ceilings and other overhead objects.
In order to avoid these hazards, workers operating or working near aerial lifts must be given proper training. In fact, to be OSHA-compliant, only trained and authorized persons are allowed to operate an aerial lift. This comprehensive training should include:
- Explanations of electrical, fall, and falling object hazards, along with procedures for dealing with those hazards.
- Recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions in the work setting.
- Instructions for correct operation of the lift (including maximum intended load and load capacity); as well as a competent demonstration of the skills and knowledge needed to operate an aerial lift before operating it on the job; including when and how to perform inspections.
- Finally, the training must include knowledge and understanding of the manufacturer’s requirements.
Not only must workers be trained, they should be retrained if an accident occurs during aerial lift use; workplace hazards involving aerial lift use are discovered; or a different type of aerial lift is used. Employers are also required to retrain workers who are observed improperly operating an aerial lift.
WHAT TO DO WHILE OPERATING AN AERIAL LIFT
Ensure that access gates or openings are closed. When inside the lift, always stand firmly on the floor of the bucket or lift platform. Even if the lift is not in motion, do not climb on or lean over guardrails or handrails. Do not use planks, ladders, or other devices as a working position. Always use a body harness or a restraining belt with a lanyard attached to the boom or bucket. Never belt-off to adjacent structures or poles while in the bucket.
Weight is a concern. Do not exceed the load-capacity limits. It is very important that you take the combined weight of the worker(s), tools, and materials into account when calculating the load. Do not use the aerial lift as a crane. If you need to lift large objects, rent an actual crane. Do not carry objects larger than the platform. Physics will only allow for the distribution of so much weight. Do not drive with the lift platform raised (unless the manufacturer’s instructions allow this). Do not operate lower level controls unless permission is obtained from the worker(s) in the lift (except in emergencies). Do not exceed vertical or horizontal reach limits as this can cause the lift to tip over. Do not operate an aerial lift in high winds above those recommended by the manufacturer. Do not override hydraulic, mechanical, or electrical safety devices. Not only does this void the warranty, it voids common sense.
Be aware of overhead clearance and overhead objects, including ceilings, and, if possible, do not position aerial lifts between overhead hazards. Ensure that the power utility or power line workers de-energize power lines in the vicinity of the work. It is good practice though, to treat all overhead power lines and communication cables as energized, and stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away. Insulated aerial lifts offer protection from electric shock and electrocution by isolating you from electrical ground. However, an insulated aerial lift does not protect you if there is another path to ground (for instance, if you touch another wire). To maintain the effectiveness of the insulating device, do not drill holes in the bucket.
Stability in the Work Zone:
If the lift has outriggers, always set them on pads or on a level, solid surface. Always set the brakes when outriggers are used. Use wheel chocks on sloped surfaces when it is safe to do so. Set up work zone warnings, such as cones and signs, when necessary to warn others.
29 CFR 1910.67: Vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms, 29 CFR 1910.269(p): Electric power, generation, transmission, and distribution for mechanical equipment, 29 CFR 1926.21: Safety training and education, 29 CFR, 1926.453: General requirements for aerial lifts, and 29 CFR 1926.502 Fall protection systems criteria and practices.
American National Standards Institutes (ANSI) Standards:
ANSI/SIA A92.2-1969: Vehicle-mounted Elevating and Rotating Work Platforms, ANSI/SIA A92.3: Manually Propelled Elevating Aerial Platforms, ANSI/SIA A92.5: Boom Supported Elevating Work Platforms, and ANSI/SIA A92.6: Self-Propelled Elevating Work Platforms.
OSHA has a variety of publications, standards, technical assistance, and compliance tools to help you. OSHA also offers extensive assistance through workplace consultations, grants, strategic partnerships, state plans, training, and education. OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines (54 Federal Register 3904-3916, January 26, 1989) detail elements critical to the development of a successful safety and health program.
Direct questions about aerial safety to OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor
Phone: (800) 321-6742