Do’s and Don’ts of Operating an Aerial Work Platorm

Aerial work platformIt wasn’t too long ago that ladders and scaffolds were the only way to work at height. These days aerial work platforms (AWPs) are the equipment of choice for most jobs above ground. When used by a trained and certified operator, AWPs are sturdy, safe, and allow workers to be more efficient on the job. As one of the most mobile pieces of equipment, AWPs provide access to spaces that can’t be reached by ladders or scaffolds. With proper training, anyone can learn to operate these incredible machines.

What is an Aerial Work Platform?

Many people ask us: what is an aerial work platform, anyway? Also known as man lifts, push-around, and mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs), AWPs are mobile platforms that can lift workers to great heights. More secure than ladders, AWPs come in handy when taking care of overhead maintenance work, cleaning, and painting. These versatile machines come in handy in warehouses, on construction sites, and retail settings. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that all operators must be trained and certified before they begin using AWPs. Failure to obtain your aerial work platform certification could result in expensive OSHA fines and penalties.

Aerial Work Platform Best Practices

Before getting started with an aerial work platform, it’s important to choose the right model for the job. Certain types of lifts – called rough terrain scissor lifts – are designed for working on uneven surfaces. These are usually powered by a diesel engine. They also come with four-wheel drive and reinforced tire treads. This allows them to go where other types of aerial lifts can’t. It also provides better traction when working on rough terrain.

Some types of telescoping and articulating boom lifts can be used on uneven ground. However, the risk is greater than with a rough terrain scissor lift. In most cases, telescoping boom lifts are the preferred choice over articulating lifts.

Regardless of the lift type you choose, use these best practices to work safely:

  • Do not raise or extend the platform unless the lift is on a firm surface.
  • Use extra care when operating the lift near drop-offs. Only aerial lift certified operators should use boom lifts on slanted ground.
  • Do not exceed the lift manufacturer’s maximum slope rating.
  • Do not operate on uneven ground in winds greater than 28 mph.
  • Allow at least 30 feet between the boom and any live power lines.
  • Make sure the tires are designed for rough terrain and are properly inflated.
  • Most importantly, make sure all operators are trained and certified to work on the specific type of aerial lift that will be used on a sloping work site.


Most importantly, make sure all operators are trained and certified to work on the specific type of aerial work platform that will be used on a sloping work site.

Securing Safe Ground, Indoors and Out

Using an aerial work platform indoors is generally safer than outdoors because the work site is more controlled. However, warehouses and other indoor worksites have their own unique hazards. This includes unlevel surfaces, such as ramps for forklifts. These tend to have a small slope angle. But it doesn’t take much of a slope to make the aerial lift less stable. Tipovers can also occur indoors.

Other indoor hazards include:

  • Wet or slippery floor surfaces
  • Dirty or greasy floor surfaces
  • Overhead obstacles, such as lighting, piping and HVC conduits
  • Floor surfaces that need repairing
  • High amount of pedestrian foot traffic
  • Scissor lifts are the preferred choice for indoor jobs that use an aerial work platform. They tend to be smaller and more stable that boom lifts. They’re also easier to operate. Even so, anyone operating a boom lift indoors should have their aerial lift certification.

Safety guidelines include:

  • Keeping floor surfaces clean, dry and in good repair
  • Marking all obstacles on the floor, walls and ceiling
  • Roping off an area around the aerial lift to prevent foot traffic from getting too close

Avoiding Aerial Work Platform Tip-overs

The most common cause of aerial work platform tip-overs is when the boom or the bucket cable break. But there are plenty of other causes to watch out for. If the bucket falls, the lift can get out of balance and fall over. Working in bad weather, such as high winds or poor visibility can also result in a tip-over. Too much weight on the lift can make it less stable.

One hazard that often gets overlooked is working on uneven ground. Aerial work platforms require stability in order to operate safely. When working on a slope, that stability can be compromised. Scissor lifts are less prone to this danger because they only go straight up. Boom lifts can move vertically and horizontally, which makes them less stable than scissor lifts. Place a boom lift on uneven ground and the risk of tip-over goes up.

Before Operating an Aerial Work Platform: Assess and Inspect

A little advanced preparation can do wonders to prioritize worker safety. Uneven ground is just one aspect to keep in mind when working outdoors. Be on the lookout for ditches, debris, mud, puddles, potholes, snow, and ice. All of these can be jeopardize your safety in an aerial work platform.

Hazards not related to the ground can include live power lines and overhead obstructions. Trees too close to the work area can limit visibility and blow against the aerial lift. High winds can increase the risk of tip-over. Any hazard that could threaten the stability of the aerial work platform should be removed or protected against.

Once you have all ground hazards taken care of, it’s time to assess the condition of the aerial work platform. This requires a thorough inspection of the following:

  • Damaged controls
  • Bent or broken structural members
  • Hydraulic or fuel leaks
  • Fraying cables, loose wires, and cracked welds.
  • Tire tread wear and pressure

Also, check the aerial work platform for hazards such as a slippery surface or unsafe guardrails.

Aerial Work Platform Safety Protocols

Never exceed the load rating of an aerial lift wheel. The wheel manufacturer sets this rating, and can be contacted with any questions. If the rating is not available, don’t use the wheel. Exceeding the rating can compromise the function of the AWP and cause the ground underneath to give way.

Never let the pressure to complete a job keep you from following safety guidelines. Don’t use an aerial work platform on an incline or hill except under these conditions:

  • The AWP operator is trained, certified and experienced
  • You have an aerial lift designed to work on uneven terrain
  • The job supervisor is well trained and on-site

Never operate an aerial lift on unstable ground, even if it is level. If the ground at the work-site does not seem strong enough, don’t operate the aerial work platform. Otherwise you risk a tip-over or collapse that could lead to injury and death.

Begin Your Aerial Work Platform Training Now

There’s no denying the utility of aerial work platforms. When it comes to lifting workers to great heights, no other machine can really compare. Of course, it’s important to use this technology as safely as possible. Untrained workers may find themselves in over their heads – that’s why OSHA mandates that all AWP operators be fully trained and certified before using these powerful machines. 

If you or your colleagues are in need or aerial work platform training, ALC has you covered. Our convenient online courses allow you to learn new skills without ever leaving the comfort of your living room. Getting OSHA compliant means avoiding expensive fines while also fostering a safer work environment for all. When you’re ready to sign up, click here. Still have questions about AWP training? Reach out to us online or give us a call at 1-888-278-8896 today.