A friend of mine, when he first got involved in the aerial lift rental business, wondered why the aerial lift manufacturers used cheap paint on the guardrail systems. Every time he rented a scissor lift, the paint was worn off the top of the rails when the unit was returned. It didn’t take too long in the rental business however, for my friend to figure out that the paint was being worn off because the users were using the mid and top rails as platform supports. In other words, the scissors lift users were improperly using the machine. I have had the same experience; users often tell me it is the only way they can get the work done. I even had one employer tell me that he tells his workers to use personal fall arrest equipment on scissors lifts so that when they climb on the guardrails, they are protected from falling. Now there is a conscientious employer! Amazingly enough, just the opposite happens with boom lifts (correctly known as “Boom Supported Elevating Work Platforms). Sine there is a guardrail system around the platform or basket, some users assume that fall protection is provided, never considering the possibility of being launched out of the basket or platform due to a possible catapulting action.
Have users never thought about the consequences of using an aerial lift improperly? There is the obvious consequence of falling from heights. But what are some of the other consequences? I dare say that we are now seeing the results of the misuse of aerial lifts. Let’s consider the scissors lift, a versatile machine that mechanically raises and lowers a platform so the worker can access the work area quickly and conveniently. The platform, typically no bigger than the wheel base of the machine, is lifted by arms that operate in a scissor like action. The platform is stable with minimal sway and no redundant vertical motion once the platform is in position. A guardrail surrounds the platform, protecting the worker from accidentally walking off the platform. The guardrail system is always at the correct height, assuming the worker is standing on the platform and not cleverly standing on a bucket or other makeshift device to gain height. Through the use of the guardrail system fall protection is provided. Nothing else is required. This guardrail system is the same as the guardrail system found at stadiums, auditoriums, bridges, balconies, decks and homes. If this is an acceptable system at these facilities, why then do safety people and compliance officers insist that personal fall arrest equipment be used by scissors lift occupants? Why are manufacturers installing anchors in scissors lifts? What good is a platform that is 8 feet wide and 12 feet long when I am attached to an anchor with a lanyard that will only allow 5 or 6 feet of movement? Frankly, it doesn’t make any more sense to “tie off” in a scissors lift than it is to tie off when I am standing on the balcony in my house.
But what makes this whole concept truly absurd is that the occupants tie off to the guardrail. Let’s see, the guardrail can hold 200 pounds and if the occupant decides to fall, not only will he break the guardrail, but will probably bring the whole machine down on top of him, adding embarrassment to the injury. Can this get any crazier? Well yes, it can.
Let’s look at boom lifts. The occupant hops in to take it up to do something quick, not thinking about the need for a personal fall restraint system. That’s right, I said fall restraint. We want you, the user, to stay in the bucket. Utilize a long lanyard and you’ll feel like an astronaut, for six feet. Then if you’re lucky, you’ll get left hanging around; if you’re not so lucky, you’ll bring the machine down on top of you. Neither option is healthy. Think about this: Who is the individual most exposed to the catapult action but doesn’t know it? Who is the least likely to go through the effort of wearing a full body harness and short lanyard to move the machine only a few feet? You’re correct if you said the truck driver. She thinks that since the machine is only going onto the truck, there is no danger of falling. On the contrary, there is a real likelihood that as the machine is driven onto the truck, it will tip and catapult the operator out of the basket, resulting in a real surprise at best, and a broken neck at worst.
Manufacturers are responding to all of this in a positive, constructive way. Anchors are showing up on scissors lifts so that if you choose to wear fall restraint/protection, a suitable anchor is available. Boom lifts are being designed to be more stable and capable of resisting flying occupants. So, how do you know what to do? It’s easy. Read the manual that is located on the machine. It will tell you amazing things that you may not know, such as what is required for fall restraint/protection. Can it get any easier than this? Get the training that is required before you operate an aerial lift. And don’t do stupid stuff.
Finally, no thanks to all who have not used an aerial lift correctly. You have managed to confuse a simple process to the point where perceptions and myths override common sense and personal responsibility. Due to the misdeeds of a few, many are punished. The Scaffold Industry Association has excellent information that you should have if you use aerial lifts. Contact them; they’ll tell you all about it.