Aug 04, 2023

5 facts for safe use of aerial lifts

Photo: CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training

Aerial ladders. Vertical towers. Extendable boom platforms. Articulating (jointing) boom platforms.

All are aerial lifts, defined by OSHA as “any vehicle-mounted device used to elevate personnel.”

The agency says aerial lifts “may be powered or manually operated, and are considered to be aerial lifts whether or not they can rotate around a primarily vertical axis.”

Even though the lifts “have replaced ladders and scaffolding on many jobsites due to their mobility and flexibility,” several hazards are associated with their use. Among them: falls from height, objects falling from lifts, tip-overs and electric shock/electrocution (often caused by contact with power lines).

Here are five facts about aerial lifts to help ensure they’re used safely.

That’s according to OSHA. In an August 2000 letter of interpretation, the agency states that its standard on aerial lifts in construction (1926.453) is based on an American National Standards Institute consensus standard: ANSI A92.2-1969.

“Therefore, the requirements in 1926.453 apply to equipment identified in that 1969 ANSI consensus standard as aerial lifts. The ANSI standard definition includes the following vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms: ‘extensible boom platforms,’ ‘aerial ladders,’ ‘articulating boom platforms,’ ‘vertical towers,’ and ‘a combination of any of the above,’” writes Russell B. Swanson, former director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction.

Scissor lifts are considered scaffolds and, because they’re mobile, “the specific requirements for mobile scaffolds in the scaffold standard (1926.452[w]) must be met.”

That’s according to A92 Committee Chair Joshua Chard, who adds that an aerial lift is “generally understood to be equivalent to the defined term ‘mobile elevating work platform,’ or MEWP.” An “aerial device,” meanwhile, is a “chassis (generally a truck) mounted elevating work platform.”

The A92.20, A92.22 and A92.24 standards apply to MEWPs, while A92.2 applies to aerial devices.

OSHA regulates aerial lifts under 1910.67, 1910.269(p), 1926.453, 1926.21 and 1926.502.

The Scaffold & Access Industry Association has served as secretariat for the A92 standards since 1984.

Only trained and authorized workers are permitted to operate an aerial lift, per OSHA. That training should include:

Retraining is required when an incident occurs while using an aerial lift, workplace hazards involving an aerial lift are discovered, a different type of aerial lift is being used or if an employer observes a worker operating an aerial lift improperly.

The ANSI/SAIA standard on training requirements for MEWPs is A92.24-2018. Training requirements for aerial devices are found in OSHA’s 1910.67 and 1926.453, as well as the ANSI/SAIA A92.2 standards.

OSHA’s 1926 Subpart L, which covers aerial lifts and scaffolds, requires employers to have “each employee who performs work while on a scaffold trained by a person qualified in the subject matter to recognize the hazards associated with the type of scaffold being used and to understand the procedures to control or minimize those hazards.”

The ANSI/SAIA A92 standards differentiate between operators and “occupants.” An occupant is, for example, someone who’s on a work platform but not at the controls.

“Sometimes the work may require you to have an assistant,” said Mike Kassman, director of OSHA and disaster response training at CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training. “He or she should also have an orientation to that aerial lift or scissor lift.”

OSHA requires everyone working from an aerial lift to have a personal fall protection system.

“Employers must ensure that employees tie off at all times when working from an aerial lift,” the agency writes in an August 2011 letter of interpretation.

When workers are 6 feet or higher above a lower level, personal fall arrest systems must comply with 1926.502(d) in Subpart M.

In the general industry standards, a fall arrest or travel restraint system must meet the requirements of Subpart I. Personal fall arrest systems need to be rigged so that workers don’t fall more than 6 feet and make contact with a lower level.

Body belts, as of January 1998, are no longer an acceptable part of a personal fall arrest system, according to 1926.453(b)(2)(v). However, the use of a body belt as part of a tethering system or restraint system is acceptable and regulated under 1926.502(e), OSHA says.

OSHA’s 1910 and 1926 standards require that employees “always stand firmly on the floor of the basket, and shall not sit or climb on the edge of the basket or use planks, ladders or other devices for a work position.”

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