Aerial lifts help workers in many industries to safely do their jobs at height. But they’re not perfect. Accidents still happen. Falls from height are the leading cause of aerial lift fatalities:
-Falls from height – 31%
-Lift overturns – 27%
-Electrocution – 15%
-Entrapment – 15%
To reduce the number of falls, OSHA requires employers to set up the workplace to prevent employees from falling off elevated work stations. In the construction industry, OSHA also mandates the use of fall protection equipment when workers can fall six feet or more. Other mandates vary by industry and the type of aerial lift.
There are two basic types of fall protection on aerial lifts: guardrails and fall arrest equipment. Guardrails are designed to keep lift operators contained inside the platform or bucket. Fall prevention equipment arrests a fall before the worker hits the ground.
The use of these tools varies according to the industry, type of aerial lift and local laws. For example, all scissor lifts must have a guardrail or fall restraint barrier. As a result, OSHA does not require the use of fall arrest gear on scissor lifts. However, other types of safety equipment are usually mandated.
Aerial Lift Guardrails
Many people believe that guardrails provide the same level of safety as fall protection gear. This is not true. Guardrails do prevent falls in many situations. But lack of training and/or unsafe work practices can make them ineffective and lead to falls. Workers can also fall through the space below the mid rails. So guardrails are not 100% effective in preventing falls.
To overcome these limitations, workers should always wear fall arrest gear, especially when:
-The guardrail system is damaged or not working properly
-The operator is required to leave the regular work platform
-The job site is difficult to access
-The work requires using heavy or bulky tools
Aerial Lift Fall Arrest Systems Are Safer
Fall arrest systems improve safety by providing a backup when guardrails fail. They consist of three basic parts – anchor point, connector and body support. When a fall occurs, the arrest system stops the fall before the worker hits the ground. It also minimizes injury by helping reduce the force of the sudden mid-air stop.
The anchor point serves as the foundation of a fall arrest system. It provides a secure point at which to attach the lanyard or lifeline. Guardrails should not be used as an anchor point because they often lack the required strength. Instead, use the approved anchor point as indicated by the lift manufacturer. Most scissor lifts are built with an approved anchor point. Other types of aerial lifts may or may not have them.
Lanyards and lifelines are attached to the anchor point and worn by lift workers. There are different types of lifelines designed for different types of jobs. Some of the most popular are self-retracting lifelines (SRLs). They can weigh less than two pounds and are comfortable to wear. They can be directly attached to the worker’s harness and they give workers a high degree of mobility. Most SRLs have an average fall clearance of 4.5 feet. This is less than half the distance required for shock-absorbing lanyards.
Always calculate the minimum fall clearance distance before using an SRL. Shock-absorbing lanyards often require a fall clearance of at least 16.5 feet. This makes them unsafe for many aerial lift jobs performed at lower heights. When calculating the fall clearance, be sure to factor in where the anchor point is located. Also, measure the distance up to the railing and downward. This should be done with both SRLs and lanyards.
Fall Prevention Safety Procedures
Fall prevention safety involves more than just having guardrails and fall arrest systems. It starts with proper training for lift operators and anyone else working on the lift. These days, aerial lift training can be easily obtained online.
As mentioned, having guardrails on the lift does not provide full protection. The safest lift setup uses the “primary and secondary” approach to fall protection. This gives lift workers two lines of defense against falling – such as a guardrail and a fall arrest system.
Lift setup also plays a key role in fall prevention safety:
-Properly position the lift to avoid overreaching
-Make sure the guardrail system is solidly in place
-Workers should keep their feet on the work platform
-Never climb onto the guardrail
-Make sure lanyards and/or SLRs are securely attached
Preparation, good equipment and proper training are necessary for fall prevention. When you need to train lift workers to prevent the accident that nobody wants to happen, we can help. Workers can even get the certification card the same day they take the training.