14 Essential Aerial Lift Safety Tips

Aerial lifts are vehicle-mounted devices with extendable platforms used to elevate personnel. These lifts are great for accessing high job sites like roofs and HVAC equipment. This type of machinery is an ideal alternative for projects where scaffolding isn’t the best option or work sites in hard-to-reach spots. It’s important, however, to keep safety top-of-mind when operating these machines.

Aerial lift safety is of the utmost importance since aerial lift-related accidents account for about 3 percent of all construction deaths. To prepare you and your team, take a look at our guide for a list of common safety hazards, information about certifications and tips to stay out of harm’s way.

A great way to start incorporating safety into your workday is to go through an aerial safety checklist. Creating a safety process will get you and your team in the habit of checking for any red flags before and during lift operation. We put together a list of 14 safety tips that your team should follow when operating aerial lifts. Take a look to see what steps you and your team should follow.

1. Verify that employees operating aerial lifts are trained and certified.

aerial lift safety ensure certificaiton

Only those who are trained and certified are allowed to operate a lift. Confirm that your employee’s certifications are up-to-date and that they’re familiar with the manufacturer guidelines for each lift they will operate.

2. Review every part of the vehicle and the lift prior to operation.

aerial lift safety pre inspection

Take some time to inspect every single part of the lift. Begin with the vehicle itself. Check fluid levels including oil, hydraulic, fuel and coolant. Other things to check include the batter, charger, wheels, tires, horns, lights and backup alarms.

With the lift, you should check that all systems like hydraulic, air and electrical systems are functioning as well as all operating and emergency controls. Look for any loose or missing parts, missing or unreadable operational or instructional placards or markings to see your team needs to replace anything. You should also test the lift to ensure it’s functioning prior to loading any personnel or supplies on it.

3. Inspect the surrounding work area for any hazards.

examine the work area aerial lift safety

A safe work zone is just as important as safe machinery. When working indoors, you should examine the ceiling to make sure it’s an adequate height and if there are any potential overhead hazards. You should also examine the floor and surrounding area for unstable surfaces, bumps or anything else that can cause an obstruction.

When working outside, inspect the surrounding area for any drop-offs, holes, ditches, slopes, debris and other floor obstructions that need to be cleaned up or avoided. You should also take note of nearby overhead electrical lines and communication cables. High winds and severe weather conditions are major hazards to watch out for that can tip over or otherwise endanger your employees.

It’s necessary to take safety precautions both prior and during operation. Learn about the different things you should do while operating an aerial lift.

4. Don’t override hydraulic, electrical or mechanical safety features for any reason.

aerial lift safety dont override safety features

Any temporary convenience (like moving equipment more quickly) is not worth the increased potential for accidents in exchange.

5. Stay attentive to your surroundings when working near power lines and wires.

aerial lift safety caution around power lines

A good rule of thumb is to always treat lines, wires and other conductors as energized regardless if they are down or appear insulated. If you can’t completely avoid power lines, you should keep at least stay 10 feet away to prevent possible accidents. You should also steer clear of positioning aerial lifts between power lines and other overhead hazards when possible.

6. Refrain from surpassing reach and weight limits.

aerial lift safety dont exceed capacity limits

In terms of weight limits, you should take the time to calculate weight before loading and operating your aerial lift and remember to take into account the combined weight of the operator, tools, and materials. Always adhere to weight limits set forth by the manufacturer to avoid tip overs. Reach limits should also be adhered to for the same reason.

7. Don’t lean, sit or climb on the edge of the bucket or platform.

aerial lift safety dont climb on the platform

Guardrails are meant to protect workers from falling and should not be used to climb on or sit. Doing so puts employees at risk of falling and/or the lift at risk of tipping. Although it’s tempting to reach over to something slightly out of reach, it’s safest to lower the lift and move the entire machine a few feet than to risk a serious injury.

8. Use outriggers, brakes and wheel chocks when possible.

aerial lift safety use outriggers brakes and wheel chocks

Outriggers and brakes add a layer of stability to prevent any unexpected shifts in the ground or the lift. These should be used even if the ground seems stable at first glance. Wheel chocks are essential for ensuring your lift stays in place when working on inclines.

9. Don’t put scaffolding on the aerial lift platform.

aerial lift safety scaffolding

Adding scaffolding to the platform or bucket can greatly increase your risk of falling. You should avoid this regardless if the scaffolding falls under the capacity limits.

Scissor lifts have a distinct set of hazards to look out for thanks to its shape and potential height. Its ability to extend vertically combined with its ability to move can cause problems if one does not operate with caution. Read on to see what you should do to stay safe when operating a scissor lift.

10. Keep scissor lifts away from other equipment.

clear scissor lift work zone aerial lift safety

Clear the surrounding area of other equipment when operating scissor lifts. These lifts can potentially tip if it bumps into another piece of equipment.

11. Don’t move a scissor lift in an upright position.

aerial lift safety lower scissor lift before moving it

Employees should completely lower a scissor lift before moving unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer’s manual. Moving a scissor lift even slightly while it is elevated can put the lift at risk of tip over.

Boom lifts also have unique safety precautions due to its design. Its range of motion creates a handful of potential hazards to keep your team aware of in the field. Check out a few of these boom lift safety tips below.

12. Wear a full-body harness or restraining belt.

aerial lift safety secure yourself with a harness or belt

Falling out of a lift is especially likely in a boom lift since it moves forward and backward in addition to moving up and down. Make sure you’re secured before moving the lift.

13. Clear workers and pedestrians from the base and surrounding area of a boom lift.

aerial lift safety clear people from the boom lift work zone

A boom lifts range of motion offers more opportunities to injure someone in the surrounding area. Clear the entire circumference of the boom lift’s reach prior to starting any work and set up work zone warnings to warn others and to keep the area clear.

14. Don’t use a boom for lift overweight objects or supplies.

aerial lift safety don't lift heavy supplies in boom lift

Since boom lifts are only meant to lift people and tools, refrain from loading it with any weighty objects or supplies. This puts the lift at risk of tipping and puts the entire team at risk.

Common Aerial Lift Hazards

The heights that aerial lifts reach create dangerous situations unique to these machines. For example, strong winds are dangerous working conditions for aerial lifts since winds have the potential to tip an aerial lift over. Here’s a list of things to look out for:

  • Personnel or objects falling
  • Tip overs
  • Structural failures
  • Electrocutions
  • Entanglement
  • Contact with objects, ceilings, and other overhead obstructions

aerial lift safety hazards

Knowing basic boom lift safety tips and other types of aerial lifts are important since each lift differs in functionality and potential safety hazards. For example, boom lifts can tip over if it’s too top heavy or if it is not on even ground. This is rare but important to keep in mind when you’re out in the field.

Training Tips for Aerial Lift Operators

As we mentioned, only trained and certified aerial lift operators should operate these lifts. Keep in mind that different lifts require different certifications to operate different lifts. These certifications need to be renewed at least every three years and sometimes more frequently depending on different factors that can occur. These include:

  • An accident occurs during aerial lift use
  • Workplace hazards involving an aerial lift are discovered
  • A different type of aerial lift is used
  • An employer observes an employee improperly using an aerial lift

Keep these aerial lift safety tips handy the next time your team is handling boom or scissor lifts. Proper training, adequate pre-inspections and heightened awareness at all times are key ways to keep you and your team safe. To learn about even more ways to keep your work zone safe, take a look at our collection of safety articles.