On the job site we see Ariel lifts parked around sometimes like the Prime Contract is selling them off the lot, but before you go up or down are you trained and how about the operator is he or she wearing that fall arrest gear properly! The very fact that you are concerned with which type of fall protection to use while operating a lift already puts you ahead of the game. How often have you seen workers in boom lifts with absolutely no fall protection? Why are Aerial Lifts Used?
- Aerial lifts are popular at various jobsites including:
- General building maintenance; and
- Other industries that are required to elevate workers to move materials, change lightbulbs, store boxes, and other tasks.
Aerial lifts are frequently used instead of scaffolding, which lacks mobility, calls for excessive setup time, and exposes workers to traumatic injury, especially during the assembly and disassembly stages.
Aerial lifts are mobile, can be deployed to various job sites, can elevate to substantial heights and involve minimal setup time.
Fall Protection IS Required When Operating a Lift
To reduce the likelihood of a worker being ejected from the work platform, the worker’s personal fall arrest system must be connected to an anchor point. If the work platform manufacturer does not provide an anchor point (usually because the unit is very old), then an anchor point certified by a professional engineer must be used. While this could mean having to add an engineered “hard” anchor point to the boom, anchor slings designed for use with booms are also available. If such an anchor sling is used, a professional engineer is still required to specify the limits under which that anchor sling can be safely used without affecting the stability of the machine.
The worker’s lanyard, if reasonably practicable, needs to be short enough to prevent the worker from being ejected yet be long enough to allow the worker to perform his or her work. Work platforms come in square and rectangular shapes. Because of the physical shape of the work platform, the location of the anchor points, and the need for workers to be able to move about the entire platform, it may be impossible to both limit the length of the lanyard and still allow a worker to perform his or her work unimpeded. The result may be a compromise.
The required personal fall arrest system, which must include a shock absorber as required by law, can function as a travel restraint system preventing the worker from being ejected. However, if the lanyard is too long to prevent ejection, then the shock absorber will help limit arrest forces on both the worker and the platform’s anchor point in the event of an ejection and fall.
Despite warnings to the contrary, workers continue to stand on midrails (and toprails) to complete work tasks. If a worker is wearing a correctly selected and adjusted travel restraint system, there is less chance that he or she will be able to stand on the rails. As a rule of thumb, if a worker can stand on the midrail while using the travel restraint system, then he or she can fall off the platform.
Scissor lifts and similar vertical aerial platforms are generally more stable than a work platform supported by a boom. Reflecting this higher level of safety, a worker need not use a full body harness and lanyard connected to an anchor point if the scissor lift or similar vertical aerial platform is operated on a firm, substantially level surface with all of the manufacturer’s guardrails and chains in place. However, if the manufacturer’s specifications require the use of a travel restraint or fall arrest system when the vertical aerial platform is being used, then the manufacturer’s specifications take precedence and must be followed.
What those workers don’t realize (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they haven’t been properly trained), is that you are required to be tied-off the moment you step into the basket of a boom lift. How you achieve tie-off may vary, but you must always be tied-off. Government OHS LAWS states that “A body belt shall be worn and a lanyard attached to the boom or basket when working from an aerial lift.” Note that there is no qualifier to this statement – no height at which it kicks in, no type of work you need to be performing, no amount of time you will be in the basket. If you are working from an aerial lift, you must be tied off.
Fall Protection As It Pertains To Mobile Elevating Devices
1. Fall protection shall be used when a worker is at risk of being ejected from the platform. The fall protection provided by the guardrail must be augmented by a fall arrest or a travel restraint system attached to the platform or device. A mobile elevating device shall not be moved unless all workers on it are protected against falling by a full body harness or a safety belt attached to specified attachment points on the platform government regulations.
2. While working on a mobile elevating device, you must use an approved harness fall arrest system consisting of a full body harness or 5-point harness with lanyard (as per government regulations).
3. The lanyard or strap shall be attached to the boom, basket, or platform prior to operating or elevating any mobile elevating device, as specified in the Operator’s Manual and required by government regulations.
4. Tying off to an adjacent structure or equipment while working from the basket, or platform should not permitted.
5. Communication and observation are essential at all times. This includes a two- way walkie-talkie system and hand signal system.
6. Personnel should not work from mobile elevating devices when:
a. Exposed to extreme weather conditions (thunderstorms, heavy rain, extreme heat or cold) unless provisions have been made to ensure their safety and /or protection.
b. Winds exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations.
7. Personnel should not sit or climb on the guardrail of the basket/platform.
8. Personnel should not climb up to an already elevated platform.
9. If the operator’s manual is missing and/or any registration decals are not clearly visible, the equipment should be rendered out of service.
10. If any function is not working as expected the equipment should be rendered out of service.
11. Never exceed the rated workload of the platform as government requires a sign visible to the operator at its controls indicating the rated working load.
12. Do not alter or disconnect or disable any safety device.
13. Smoking while near the batteries or fuel supply of any mobile elevating devices is extremely dangerous and may cause an explosion.
Body Belts – Aren’t Those Banned?
Something should, however, stand out from that paragraph to anybody familiar with safety. The words “body belt” are used here instead of “harness”. If your initial thought was, “Hey, didn’t OH&S ban the use of body belts back in 1998?” you would be correct – when it comes to fall arrest systems. However, body positioning or fall restraint systems are perfectly acceptable in boom lifts. These systems prevent the employee from being exposed to a fall in the first place and could still utilize body belts. While this is technically compliant, having a body belt available could lead to its use in the wrong situation. Since full-body harnesses are acceptable in all situations, it tends to be safer to only have harnesses available.
Will Any Lanyard Do?
You may also be wondering why OH&S doesn’t specify the type of lanyard to be used. Most workers who are actually wearing fall protection while using an aerial lift can be seen sporting a shock absorbing lanyard despite some safety professionals insisting only retractables or fixed length lanyards are compliant..
The current interpretation states that the lanyard in use must prevent the user from freefalling more than 6 feet or from contacting a lower level, in line with what Government Legislation. The thought process behind the original interpretation was that workers sometimes worked at heights where the necessary 18.5’ clearance for the use of the particular shock-absorbing lanyard in question was not available. The current interpretation basically states that the user must be familiar with the necessary clearance and ensure that a shock-absorbing lanyard is not used if that clearance is not achievable.
More important is the force applied to the lift. While the harness, lanyard, and anchor point may all be strong enough to properly arrest a fall, the lift itself may not be designed to sustain such forces. The longer the freefall, the more force on the lift. The fall arrest system needs to be designed in such a way that the lift is able to maintain a safety factor of 2 in the event of a fall. This means that the best possible option is a fixed-length lanyard that eliminates the possibility of a fall altogether.
Scissor lifts are different. In scissor lifts, OH&S requires that you be protected by fall arrest, fall restraint, or rails. Unlike in a boom lift, the rails of the machine are sufficient protection as long as the user is completely enclosed. In other words, that little chain at the end of the lift MUST be hooked, or the gate MUST be closed, or the slide-bar MUST be down for OH&S to consider you protected. Not doing one of these things is the safety equivalent of leaving your valuables in your car and only locking 3 of the 4 doors.
Key Points for Fall Protection on Lifts
A couple of other key points to remember when discussing fall protection in lifts:
1. You must clip your lanyard to the approved anchor point only. These are usually steel angles welded into the rail system or rings in the floor. You must not wrap your lanyard around the rails and tie back to your own lanyard, or tie off to the rail directly.
2. You must keep your feet on the floor of the lift at all times. It doesn’t matter which lift you’re using or what fall protection you have, Government specifically states that “Employees shall 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.”
3. You must never tie-off to an adjacent structure or any anchor point outside of your lift. If you are in the lift, you may tie-off to the lift only.
There aren’t often many second chances when fall protection goes wrong.
NIOSH has developed an aerial lift Hazard Recognition Simulator to help potential aerial lift operators acclimate to aerial lift operation and to identify the common occupational hazards that can be present during use, such as depressions (potholes), crushing hazards, tip over hazards, etc.
To access the simulation, users should:
- Click on the Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator link below to begin downloading the simulator
- Click “Open” on the menu
- Double click “AerialLiftSimulation” Application file
- Click “Extract All”
- Click “Browse” to select or create a folder location on your computer’s hard drive. Be sure not to select a networked shared drive.
- Select “Extract” (one folder and one application file will be downloaded).
- Double click on the “AerialLiftSimulation Application” file to run the simulator from your selected location.
- Select the screen resolution and graphics quality and click “Play!” (The default setting for the screen resolution and graphics (“good”) should work on most computers).
Once the simulation launches, please be sure that audio is enabled as the Hazard Recognition Simulator directions are given audibly. The user may then select the type of aerial lift scenario they wish to use (The boom lift simulator is under construction and only the scissor lift is available at this time). Once the Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator has been launched, the user will be instructed to position the lift in the appropriate area while avoiding the hazards present. The user will maneuver the lift by operating the keyboard/mouse controls (a help menu can be accessed by pressing “h” on the keyboard), and will follow the green arrows with the goal of aligning the platform of the driven lift with the transparent lift platforms visible at various locations in the simulated work area. A notification will be given when each target area has been reached successfully. The user will finish the simulator scenario by parking the lift at the final location.