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Safely Using Aerial Lifts and Scissor Lifts

July 5, 2024
About one-fourth of the fatalities from incorrect use of aerial lifts and scissor lifts are electricians.

The three major causes of death when using these lifts are falling off, being on it when it tips over, and being electrocuted while on it. Here are best practices for avoiding these hazards when using aerial/scissor lifts.

Your first line of defense is inspection before using it. Make sure to:

  • Look for arc marks, hydraulic fluid leakage, cracked welds, bent metal, and other signs of damage.
  • Test the controls. If the lift doesn’t operate smoothly, report the problem and either find another lift or reschedule the work.
  • Inspect the ground or floor where the lift will be used. Holes, ramps, sudden drop-offs, loose gravel, etc., must all be adjusted for so the lift has a level, secure surface.
  • Inspect the area above where the lift will be used. You don’t want to hit a low ceiling, I-beam, overhead power line, or busway.
  • Inspect the area around the where the lift will be used. Your primary concern is the removal or mitigation of combustibiles. Few things can ruin your day like being stuck on a lift while a fire rages underneath you.

Take steps to ensure you are using proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • This, of course, includes your normal gear such as safety glasses and hardhat.
  • Due to being on a lift, you are at increased risk of accidental contact with any nearby power lines. Wear the appropriate PPE (e.g., voltage-rated shoes, Class E hardhat, etc.).
  • Wear a fall protection harness. Once you enter the lift, attach the lanyard to the boom or platform.

Operate the lift correctly by following these steps:

  • Operate the lift only if you are a “qualified person” in that regard.
  • Don’t bypass any controls or use anything to defeat the “deadman” function.
  • Lower the boom before driving the lift.
  • Stand on the lift platform, not on the guardrails (don’t sit on the guardrails, either).

Besides the aforementioned precautions, you will likely need to rope off the area after coordinating with operations or whatever department controls the area.

You may need an attendant to serve as a safety watch and provide other assistance such as helping to raise and lower buckets with tools or materials. The attendant should never stand on a side of the lift that is parallel to its longest dimension, as doing so puts him in the tipover zone. We know from actual fatality data that people standing in that zone don’t do a great job of jumping out of the way.

Don’t forget to test for the absence of voltage as part of your lockout/tagout (LOTO) process. You do this from the ground as much as possible, but then when you are on the lift you also do it there. For example, you did a LOTO for the motor you are replacing overhead. The disconnect is within sight of the motor, and it’s now locked in the open position. It seems impossible that the motor leads would still be hot.

So do you really need to test each of the leads after you remove the motor lead tape? Yes. One reason is, well, you just never know. Better safe than sorry. Another reason is you need to perform safety checks the same way every time so that you never make a mistake. If you skip this check for motors and then after a dozen motor jobs you are working on something else where the disconnect isn’t within site of the allegedly de-energized equipment how sure are you that you will remember to make this exception to your pattern? If any number other than 0% comes to mind, you are very optimistic about human behavior. With electrical safety, optimism doesn’t protect you — certainty does. Always make that voltage check.

About the Author

Mark Lamendola

Mark is an expert in maintenance management, having racked up an impressive track record during his time working in the field. He also has extensive knowledge of, and practical expertise with, the National Electrical Code (NEC). Through his consulting business, he provides articles and training materials on electrical topics, specializing in making difficult subjects easy to understand and focusing on the practical aspects of electrical work.

Prior to starting his own business, Mark served as the Technical Editor on EC&M for six years, worked three years in nuclear maintenance, six years as a contract project engineer/project manager, three years as a systems engineer, and three years in plant maintenance management.

Mark earned an AAS degree from Rock Valley College, a BSEET from Columbia Pacific University, and an MBA from Lake Erie College. He’s also completed several related certifications over the years and even was formerly licensed as a Master Electrician. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and past Chairman of the Kansas City Chapters of both the IEEE and the IEEE Computer Society. Mark also served as the program director for, a board member of, and webmaster of, the Midwest Chapter of the 7x24 Exchange. He has also held memberships with the following organizations: NETA, NFPA, International Association of Webmasters, and Institute of Certified Professional Managers.

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