How Scissor and Aerial Lifts Differ

Aerial Lift Safety

Many general industry workplaces have replaced ladders and scaffolds with scissor lifts and aerial lifts thanks to their mobility and flexibility in allowing workers to perform certain job functions. The use of this equipment poses serious safety hazards, according to OSHA, resulting in worker injury and death. 

A fall is one of the most serious hazards associated with scissor and aerial lift use, according to OSHA. There are no general industry standards that specifically address this, but OSHA does provide guidance in its publications, and Construction Standards. By thoroughly reviewing this information, employers and employees can gain a better understanding of scissor and aerial lift fall protection. 

Aerial Lifts vs. Scissor Lifts

In the workplace there are numerous types of “lifts,” which can be confusing for employers and/or employees. OSHA defines a scissor lift as a mobile scaffold with a vertically moving platform. Aerial lifts are platforms that move vertically and horizontally on a vehicle. In some cases, the aerial lift can rotate around a vertical axis.

Workers use aerial lifts to reach difficult work positions not accessible by other equipment, even scissor lifts. This is why aerial lifts are extremely dangerous. When not operated correctly, a lift can become extremely unstable when lifting a worker up and out of it. Workers who use scissor lifts and aerial lifts are inherently at risk of falling. By understanding the difference between each, you can ensure that your workplace is taking the appropriate safety measures. It is especially important when it comes to fall protection.                                                                       

General Fall Protection

According to OSHA, employers should ensure that workers adhere to the following general fall protection measures when using scissor and aerial lifts:

  • Ensure that guardrails are in good repair and comply with 1910.23(e).
  • Ensure that access gates or openings are closed.
  • Keep your feet firmly planted on the bucket or work platform.
  • You should never climb or lean over guardrails or handrails.
  • Avoid leaning away from the lift by keeping the work within easy reach.
  • You should not use planks, ladders, or other devices as a working position.
  • Providing fall protection to individuals
  • Several OSHA Letters of Intent describe how fall protection should be used on scissor and aerial lifts. 
  • Each lift has its own protection. A scissor lift differs in design and function from an aerial lift, thus presenting varying degrees of fall risk.

Scissor Lifts – According to OSHA, a scissor lift is a type of scaffold. The agency explains in this letter that if the scissor lift has guardrails that comply with OSHA requirements, then this is all that is needed for fall protection. If the scissor lift has a properly designed and maintained guardrail system, workers do not have to be tied off. The guardrails serve as fall protection.

Aerial Lifts – Aerial lifts have different fall protection requirements. According to OSHA’s general industry aerial lift standard 1910.67(c)(2)(v), a body belt must be worn and a lanyard attached to the boom or basket at all times to prevent an employee from falling out. A body belt can only be used for fall restraint and fall positioning systems to prevent falls. Fall protection requires a full body harness.

As per 1910.67(c)(2)(iii), workers cannot belt off to adjacent poles, structures, or equipment from aerial lifts. Employees may, however, enter or exit an aerial lift basket that rests on or adjacent to an elevated surface. At 1910.23(c), OSHA requires fall protection at four feet above a lower level. If fall protection such as guardrails or a fall arrest system is used while the worker moves from the lift to the working surface, the worker may enter or exit the aerial lift.

Aerial lifts and scissor lifts continue to pose a number of safety challenges, particularly falls, despite OSHA’s efforts to educate employers. While there are many factors that contribute to falls, the majority of injuries are caused by falls from a lower level that often involve equipment, including scissor and aerial lifts. It’s fortunately possible to protect yourself against this hazard by understanding scissor and aerial lift fall protection and implementing the necessary safeguards.

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