Here is a little information on aerial lifts you may not know from the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (ELCOSH) out of the United States. “An average of 26 construction workers die each year from using aerial lifts. This is 2 to 3% of all construction deaths. On aerial lifts, the major causes are falls, electrocutions, and collapses or tip-overs.” “and that there are also 2 to 3 deaths each year from working on crane personnel platforms.” (ELCOSH, 2001).
There are many types of aerial lifts or MEWPs (mobile Elevated Work Platforms) as many like to refer to them as, in use today. This aerial lifts/MEWPs include vertical ‘scissor’ lifts, self-propelled boom lifts, vehicle-mounted boom lifts and trailer-mounted boom lifts. For the purpose of this post, we will not cover suspended work platforms. Note: “We will write a safety blog post on their safe use in the future”. The use of the aerial lifts has the potential to be a cost and a time saver, if we use them correctly and safely. But as we can note above, they can be deadly if we do not use them safely.
Today we will explore 11 critical points for the safe use of aerial lifts on our sites.
What must we do to use aerial lifts safely?
What is the task? What are we going to use an aerial lift for? Aerial lifts are used to provide safe access to maybe hard to get to areas, areas where ladders and scaffolding are impractical to use for access. Where the use of a suspended platform can’t be used or presents an even greater hazard. Once we decide we need to use an aerial lift, which one do we use? Is the work indoors or is it outdoors, is it on a hard floor surface such as concrete or other surfaces, or is it outdoor rough terrain? Is the job underneath overhead steel works, ceilings/roofs, bridges or other overhead structures and hazards? After we determine the answers to these questions, then we can pick the correct style/model of aerial lift to use.
Risk assessment, assessing and managing the risk (HSE, 2014): Do we have a MS (Method Statement) for the work? Have we completed a RA (Risk Assessment) for the work? If not, then we must complete the MS and RA for the task. These are important parts of any safety plan. Once they have been completed, them must be communicated to and understood by the employees operating and working from the aerial lift. MSs and RAs are critical processes we need to use to help us meet our moral and legal obligations to our employees to provide them with as safe workplace.
Equipment delivery and storage: Equipment delivery and storage are a part of our planning process for the use of aerial lifts, or any other equipment we use on our site. We must plan to have trained operators, any one working in the basket with the operator must also be trained. We must also plan for who will be there for the delivery and offloading of aerial lifts from delivery trucks, who will supervise the unloading, do they have experience and training? Also we must determine where we will secure and store the aerial lift when not in use. Who will control keys, where will recharging take place for rechargeable batteries, refueling operations, where will those be performed, how much segregation do we need from other operations, OSHA says 25 ft./ 7.62 m (OSHA, 2016). Is the terrain level or un-level? Do we need to chalk the equipment or not against movement? How will we control access to the equipment? Will we use barricades, or other means of out-of-use protection?
Trained operators and assistants: Only suitably trained operators can use aerial lifts (must be trained for that specific item of plant equipment). Assistants must be trained as well. This training must include not only safe operation of the aerial lift, any work at heights required training as well. Let’s not forget dropped objects prevention training we well. Training for working near high voltage power lines and other sources of electricity must also be conducted. Now, depending on where you are working, this training may have to be 3rd party training, it may be in-house training or other training requirements for the site, the area, the state, or the country in which you are working that must be completed before using any aerial lift. Never forget to have someone that works at ground level to be trained on how to use the ground controls in the event of an emergency where the operator may be incapacitated. You need someone that can get the basket down.
Terrain conditions indoors, outdoors and overhead hazards: Terrain hazards must be taken into account when using any aerial lift. Is the ground level, is it sloped? Are we working on concrete (what is the safe working load limit), marble flooring, or uneven terrain? Are the obstacles, laid down materials, large rocks/boulders, floor openings or drop-offs in the areas? All of these items presents hazards to operation of an aerial lift. Have operators and supervisors walk the area before use, review travel paths and identify any hazards the operator may face at ground level. Know and understand where any other equipment is working and set exclusion zones if needed. All newer aerial lifts will have a sensor that lets the operator know when the equipment is sloping by 5 degrees or more with a warning alarm. Weather hazards such as rain, high winds and lightning will have to be taken into account and the hazards covered. Don’t forget to review the overhead hazards as well.
PPE (Personal Protection Equipment): Operators must follow your sites PPE requirements when operating an aerial lift, i.e. safety glasses, gloves, safety boots, vests, ear defenders, respirators and other general PPE requirements. The operator must also use proper tie points as provided by the manufacturer as well as using an approved PFA (Personal Fall Arrest) full body harness and lanyard. Operators must be trained how to don, doff and inspect the PFAs. Remember, no tie-off to the top or mid-rails, only the provided tie-off points can be used.
Exclusion zones/man machine interface zones: Exclusion zones must be set up and identified for all employees and operators to know where that can either work or walk when any heavy equipment is being used. Everyone trained on the types of barricades used, which ones can be crossed, by whom and when can they cross. Either never, or with caution, or by direction of a someone who is controlling the use of heavy equipment.
SIMOPS (Simultaneous Operations): SIMOPS simply means, that we must coordinate or work with other work crews, companies, or other such types of groups that may be on or in the same areas where we will be working. Those groups must know what work you are doing and how it may impact them and you must know what they are doing and how it will impact your work. Conduct a short meeting with those groups and work out any impact issues before the work begins. This may save you headaches and delays.
Equipment inspections: Operators must inspect their equipment before use, keep an eye on it during use and after use. They must identify any mechanical issues with the equipment on an inspection check lift and immediately report and have corrected any safety issues with the equipment. Warning stickers and the operator’s manual must be readable/serviceable at all times. Any safety warning devices must be working, or the equipment must not be used. The operator, must, just like a crane, perform a functions check before operating an aerial lift. If it is damaged, get it fixed, take it out of service
Rescue from heights, using ground controls: We must plan for emergencies. That planning for the use of aerial lifts must include what to do in the event of an accident, heart attack, stroke, the operator bounces out of the basket or other operator incapacitating events. Have a few employees working at ground level who can operate the ground controls in the event of such an emergency. It is not enough to just have the assistant in the basket trained. Remember a risk assessment is just simply asking what can go wrong and what is the impact if it does. Well, what if both operators become incapacitated? How will we get them down?
Proper supervision: Always ensure that any aerial lifts work is properly supervised. Supervisors should have a basic understanding of the safety requirements for the operations of any aerial lifts in their work stream or flow that they have influence over. Good supervision is one of the key elements of any good safety program. Supervisors should be a part of the planning process for the use of aerial lifts and have a basic knowledge of the safety requirements for their safe use. Then they have to follow and enforce the points we have talked about so far. Ensure your supervisors have the training needed to support safety and the use of aerial lifts.
Well, we have covered a lot of ground with the safe operations of aerial lifts in this post. There is still much more we could cover. These 11 points for the safe use of aerial lifts on our sites is only a part of the puzzle. But if we follow these 11 points and ensure that our supervision is meeting the basics of the job of using any aerial lift we use, is used safely, then we will be going a long way in reducing the chance of an accident or even worse, a fatality with the use of aerial lifts.
Deaths from aerial lifts. (ELCOSH, 2001). Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health Retrieved from http://www.elcosh.org/document/1417/d000484/Deaths+From+Aerial+Lifts.html?show_text=1
Fatalities FY 2015 to-date OSHA. (OSHA, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/dep/fatcat/fy15_federal-state_summaries.pdf
OSHA 1926 subpart F. (OSHA, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10673
The selection, management and use of mobile elevating work platforms. (HSE, 2014). Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved from http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/geis6.htm