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How To Operate a Scissor Lift

How To Operate a Scissor Lift

A scissor lift is an aerial lift used to raise workers and materials on a platform. Scissor lifts can be powered by electricity, diesel fuel, or hydraulics, expanding like an accordion straight up and down. They work well in warehouses, to stack or remove inventory, or for jobs such as sign maintenance, ceiling work, and window work.

Understanding lift safety is essential before using a scissor lift. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to train workers before they operate any kind of aerial lift.

This article will cover scissor lift controls, safety procedures, precautions, and inspections, so you’ll have a good idea of how to operate a scissor lift.

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Scissor Lift Controls

scissor lift controls

Scissor lifts are divided into several parts: the platform, scissor legs (the section that expands to lift workers to a work area), a cylinder that powers the legs, the base, and the power source.

Controls are present on both the base and the platform to operate the lift. These buttons and switches allow operators to control different lift functions from the ground and overhead. While each machine is slightly different, these are the primary controls.

Base Controls

  • Emergency stop button — You can press this button to stop the lift. Doing so cuts power to the control circuit. You need to pull out the emergency stop button to enable operation.
  • Key switch — This determines if you can operate the scissor lift from the bottom panel, platform console, or both. If left in the neutral position, you’ll be able to operate the lift from either panel.
  • Lower-neutral-raise switch — This allows you to raise or lower the platform, or keep it in the same (neutral) position.
  • Indoor and outdoor settings buttons — Some machines include a control that enables you to choose between indoor and outdoor settings.

Platform Controls

  • Mode selector — Also known as the drive/steer control, this switch has two settings, allowing the operator to either drive the platform or raise/lower it. You won’t be able to raise or lower the lift while you’re driving.
  • Key switch — Turn the machine on or off from the platform.
  • Joystick — After moving the mode selector to the appropriate setting, you can use this to maneuver the lift.
    • In drive mode, moving the joystick forward moves the lift forward and pulling back reverses it.
    • In lift mode, pulling the stick backward elevates the platform; pushing forward lowers it.
  • Emergency stop button — Push this to stop all operations.
  • Speed switch — Adjusts how fast or slow the machine can move.
  • Steering — Turns the wheels to the right or the left to help steer the machine.
  • Horn — This allows you to warn others that you’re moving or adjusting the scissor lift.

Operating a Scissor Lift

1. Take Safety Precautions

In addition to understanding how the lift controls work, it’s important to know what safety precautions to take and to be on the lookout for potential hazards.

Falls are a particular concern: That’s why scissor lifts are equipped with a railing accessed through a protective gate. When climbing aboard a scissor lift, it’s important to maintain three points of contact with hands (keeping both on the ladder railings) and one foot.

Once you have entered the platform, secure the locking gate behind you. Stand firmly on the floor, and avoid leaning over the platform. Here are some other precautions to keep in mind:

  • Don’t exceed the lift’s specified weight limit or carry objects larger than the platform.
  • If operating outdoors on uneven ground, choose a four-wheel-drive rough-terrain model.
  • Be aware of weather conditions, and don’t operate a scissor lift in winds stronger than the maximum recommended by the manufacturer (typically 28 mph).
  • Be cognizant of overhead clearance, including ceilings, cables, and power lines that might cause electrocution.
  • Take stock of your working conditions, including potential obstructions, holes in the earth, and other workers in the area.

In addition, consider what personal protective equipment (PPE) you need for the job. This may include eye protection, a harness, a hardhat, and earplugs.

2. Conduct a Scissor Lift Safety Inspection

scissor lift safety inspection process

Before operating a scissor lift, it’s important to conduct a safety inspection. Check both the vehicle and lift components, and make sure the equipment is properly suited to your job site (such as having a rough-terrain lift for uneven ground outdoors).

Be sure all the controls are functioning properly on both levels. It’s important to make sure the stop button is working in case of an emergency, and that other operating switches are functional and do what they’re designed to do.

At the vehicle level, inspect the following on your lift:

  • Wheels and tires
  • Fluids (check for leaks)
  • Control panel functions
  • Horn and backup alarms
  • Gauges and lights

At the platform level, inspect:

  • Operating controls/joystick
  • Hydraulic and pneumatic systems
  • Fuel system
  • Electrical system
  • Guardrail system
  • Fasteners and locking pins
  • Fiberglass/insulating material
  • Cable and wiring harnesses

Also, be sure that all operational and warning placards and controls are legible, and check for any missing, loose, or defective parts.

3. Turn on the Scissor Lift

Before starting your scissor lift, be sure you’re operating on a level surface and away from hazards such as slopes, debris, or holes. This is important because the lift needs to be stable when raised to avoid tipping.

Disengage the emergency stop buttons at both the ground and platform levels. Then activate the controls, switching them to the platform before climbing up and entering through the gate. Lock the gate behind you and place your feet firmly on the platform.

4. Position the Scissor Lift

Once aboard the platform, move the operating switch to drive mode, using the joystick to position the lift where you want it. To do this, press the joystick forward to advance or pull back to move in reverse; to turn left, depress the left steer button on the top of the joystick; to turn right, hold down the right button.

5. Raise and Lower the Platform

Once the lift is in place, move the operating switch to the lift or elevation setting, pulling back on the joystick to raise it to the desired height. Be sure to check for any overhead obstructions: be on the lookout for low ceilings, overhangs, tree branches, and utility wires. Also, select workspaces at least 10 feet away from electrical power sources and power lines.

You may have the option of extending the platform horizontally for greater reach with the help of a locking side handle and foot pedal. To extend the platform, just unlock both and push outward on the handle as you move forward. Lock the platform in place again when you’ve extended it; to retract it when you’re done, undo the two locks and pull it back into place before locking them again.

Then, when you’re done with your work or need to reposition the platform to a lower level, push forward on the joystick to let it down.

6. Shut Down the Scissor Lift

scissor lift shut down process

Once you’re done using the scissor lift, begin the shutdown process by being sure you’ve lowered the platform all the way to the ground and making sure the emergency stop works on both the platform and base controls. Then turn off the machine and recharge the battery or refuel.

Scissor Lift Safety Tips

To review, here are some scissor lift safety tips you can refer to as a checklist before and during operations.

  • Be sure to operate the lift on firm, level surfaces, avoiding uneven surfaces and drop-offs.
  • If your project is on rough terrain, select a scissor lift designed for use in that work environment.
  • Always lower the work platform completely before moving the equipment.
  • Avoid inclement weather, and don’t operate a scissor lift outdoors in high winds.
  • Conduct inspections to guard against mechanical failure or collapse:
    • Don’t exceed the maximum weight set by the manufacturer.
    • Don’t load material that’s too bulky for the platform or hangs over the edge.
    • Check the lift’s failsafe functions, such as the emergency stop button, before you use it.
    • Never use other equipment to raise the work platform.

Do You Need a License To Operate a Scissor Lift?

No special license or certification is needed to operate a scissor lift or work on a lift platform. Learning how to operate a scissor lift and scissor lift training, however, is a must. As mentioned earlier, OSHA mandates that employers train workers in the safe operation of a scissor lift before they use one.

As part of this safety training, site managers must go over accepted procedures for using a scissor lift and handling materials on a lift. They’re also expected to supply workers with the manufacturer’s instructions and to detail potential worksite hazards, along with maintenance procedures.


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There are several kinds of scissor lifts from which to choose. They can reach a working height of up to 50 feet and are available to rent in electric or four-wheel-drive outdoor models.

Before you use one, however, it’s important to become familiar with its controls and potential hazards and to know how to operate it. Online scissor lift/aerial lift courses are available to help you.

Once you know what you’re doing, there’s a lot you can accomplish with a scissor lift.

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