Aerial Lift Safety

OSHA provides guidelines for safe operation of aerial equipment.
Conventional aerial lifts are designed strictly to position personnel for performing various work operations.

Sign installers use a broad range of aerial equipment when performing their daily projects, and the core purpose of this equipment is to enable personnel to work safely at various heights above the ground. But fulfilling this objective requires training and knowledge of corresponding safety regulations. These rules are developed and enforced by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and by various, OSHA-approved state occupational safety programs.

In the on-premise sign industry, the most commonly-used types of aerial devices generally fit one of two categories. The first category includes ordinary “bucket truck” equipment designed strictly for safe positioning of workers, but not designed for hoisting loads. The second category includes crane-mounted personnel baskets, which may be used either to hoist signs and related components or to safely position workers.

While sign companies typically require field employees to wear body harnesses attached via lanyards to the baskets or booms of their aerial lifts and cranes, such employer requirements are necessary chiefly to protect employees when their work operations necessitate working outside of the bucket/basket (e.g. when an employee needs to access a rooftop or other elevated structure). But when personnel are able to perform all of their work operations from the bucket/basket, OSHA regulations do not require the use of fall-arrest systems.

In the Code of Federal Regulations [29 CFR 1926.453(b)(2)(v)], the relevant requirement states, “A body belt shall be worn and a lanyard attached to the boom or basket when working from an aerial lift.” As Curtis Chambers, president of OSHA Training Services and author of the OSHA Training Blog, points out, aerial-lift buckets or baskets are specifically designed to prevent workers from falling out, so the principal concern is stabilizing the worker’s body during boom movements which commonly produce bouncing or jerking motions that might, in severe cases, catapult a worker out of the bucket/basket. As further defined in OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1926.453(b)(2)(iii), “Belting off to an adjacent pole, structure, or equipment while working from an aerial lift shall not be permitted.”

Aerial lifts typically are not designed to facilitate the safe use of fall-arrest systems. Speaking to this point, Chambers states, “the long lanyard [typically 6 ft. in length] could cause the falling worker to swing back toward and then strike the structure of the aerial lift, causing severe injuries.” Hence, workers using aerial lifts and working strictly from the bucket/basket should wear body belts attached to the bucket, basket or boom structure via relatively short lanyards (i.e., not longer than necessary to allow a reasonable range of worker movement).

Remote-controlled personnel baskets attached to the tips of cranes are also widely used by sign companies.
Remote-controlled personnel baskets attached to the tips of cranes are also widely used by sign companies.

OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.1431 prohibits using a crane to hoist objects at the same time as a crane-mounted bucket/basket is occupied by a worker. The requirement states, “No lifts must be made on any other of the equipment’s load lines while personnel are being hoisted, except in pile driving operations.” Regulations also prohibit moving (i.e., driving) a vehicle while its bucket/basket is occupied.

Sign company installers also should be aware of safety requirements that govern the use of certain aerial-lift accessories. CFR 1926.453(a)(2) states, “Aerial lifts may be ‘field modified’ for uses other than those intended by the manufacturer, provided the modification has been certified in writing by the manufacturer or by any other equivalent entity, such as a nationally recognized testing laboratory, to be in conformity with all applicable provisions of ANSI A92.2-1969 and this section, and to be at least as safe as the equipment was before modification.” In effect, however, the cost of conformance to this regulation would prohibit a majority of users from making their own alterations to aerial lifts.

A related requirement governs usage of auxiliary hoists provided by many equipment manufacturers for hoisting objects up to the bucket/basket. According to 29 CFR 1926.- 1431(k)(11)(ii): “Factory-produced boom-mounted personnel platforms that incorporate a winch as original equipment: Loads are permitted to be hoisted by such a winch while employees occupy the personnel platform only where the load on the winch line does not exceed 500 pounds and does not exceed the rated capacity of the winch and platform.”

Signs of the Times February 2019

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