Using Scissor Lifts Safely

Using Scissor Lifts Safely by Safety Counselling 505-881-1112

When operated according to the manufacturer’s directions, scissor lifts provide workers with a safe and reliable platform to conduct job duties. However, Scissor lifts can be dangerous to employees if they are not used appropriately. Businesses are responsible for keeping employees safe. This article details the hazards that exist in workplaces where scissor lifts are employed and the controls that employers must apply to avoid accidents or deaths.

Scissor lifts are work platforms used in various industries (such as construction, retail, and manufacturing) to transport personnel vertically safely and to multiple locations throughout the workplace. Scissor lifts differ from aerial lifts in the way that the lifting mechanism uses crossed beams that function in a scissor-like pattern to move the work platform straight up and down. When extended and immobile, scissor lifts are similar to scaffolding in terms of danger, which is why using scissor lifts safely requires taking into account the equipment’s capabilities, limitations, and safe procedures.

Over the course of a year, OSHA examined ten preventable deaths and more than 20 preventable injuries caused by various scissor lift events. Most injuries and fatalities with scissor lifts were the consequence of companies failing to address:

  • Protection from falls
  • Stabilization of the scissor lift
  • Proper positioning of the scissor lift

The Basics of Safely Using Scissor Lifts

Employers must analyze the job site to detect any potential hazards before selecting the right equipment for the job. Employers who utilize scissor lifts must assess and put adequate fall safety, stability, and placement controls into place. Only trained personnel should be permitted to use scissor lifts, and employers should ensure that those workers can demonstrate competent scissor lift operation. Maintaining the scissor lift, following the manufacturer’s specifications, providing personnel with training and necessary personal protection equipment (PPE), and establishing safe work practices are all critical aspects of scissor lift safety.

Fall Protection Requirements

Employers must put guardrails on scissor lifts to keep workers from falling. Employers should also provide workers with training in the following areas:

  • Before working on the scissor lift, make sure there is a guardrail system in place.
  • Never stand on the guardrails; always stand on the work platform.
  • To avoid leaning away from the scissor lift, keep work within easy reach.

Stabilizing the Scissor Lift

Businesses must make sure scissor lifts are sturdy and won’t fall over or collapse. The following are some safe work practices for using scissor lifts safely and steadily:

  • For safe movement, follow the manufacturer’s instructions—this usually includes never repositioning the lift while in an elevated position.
  • Isolate the scissor lift or use traffic control methods to prevent other equipment from coming into touch with it.
  • Choose work areas with firm, level surfaces and are free of risks that could create instability (e.g., drop-offs, holes, bumps, or ground obstructions).
  • Only use the scissor lift outside when the weather is nice. Outdoor scissor lifts are typically limited to wind speeds of less than 28 miles per hour.

Although scissor lift collapses are uncommon, they can be avoided if employers: 

  • Ensure that safety mechanisms designed to prevent collapsing are maintained and not bypassed.
  • Allowing the weight on the work platform to exceed the manufacturer’s load rating is never a good idea.
  • Allowing equipment other than the scissor mechanism to elevate the work platform is never a good idea (e.g., using a forklift to lift the work platform).
  • Prevent the lift from colliding with other moving equipment on the job site.

Use Extra Caution When Operating a Scissor Lift in High Wind Conditions

An employee student at the University of Notre Dame was killed while photographing the school’s football team practice from a scissor lift during the Fall 2010 college football season. According to reports, the unskilled worker elevated the lift to a height of 39 feet to film the activity. Unfortunately, the wind gusted to more than 50 miles per hour that day. As a result, the lift was blown over by the strong winds, killing the worker.

Proper Positioning of the Scissor Lift

It is critical to position the scissor lift to avoid crushing or electrocution risks. Crushing dangers are always present in scissor lift operations, and people nearby (including those not working on the scissor lift) may be exposed. In addition, at job sites, scissor lifts (just like automobiles and other mobile equipment) present crushing threats. 

Therefore, employers should instruct personnel to be cautious when:

  • Moving scissor lift is near a fixed object,
  • A moving vehicle and a scissor lift are nearby.
  • A fixed object, such as a door frame or a support beam, is passed beneath the scissor lift. When working near energized power lines, it’s critical to position the scissor lift to minimize electrocution, arc flash, and thermal burns. Electrocution can occur even if neither the scissor lift nor the worker touches the power line because electricity can arc or leap from the power line to the scissor lift or the worker.

To ensure that scissor lifts are safely positioned, employers should apply the following work practices:

  • Implement traffic control measures around the scissor lift to prevent other workers or vehicles from getting too close.
  • When using or transporting the scissor lift throughout the workplace, use ground guides.
  • Choose workplaces at least 10 feet away from electrical power sources (e.g., power lines, transformers) and do not offer any other overhead dangers (e.g., other utilities, branches, overhangs, etc.).
  • If the job demands working near an electrical source, ensure the employee is qualified and has completed the necessary electrical training.

Proper Scissor Lift Maintenance

Scissor lifts must be maintained regularly to guarantee safe use (e.g., prevent the lifting mechanism from collapsing). At a minimum, the employer should:

  • Test and examine controls and components before each usage, according to the manufacturer’s maintenance and inspection instructions.
  • Make sure that the guardrails are in good functioning order.
  • Check that the brakes, once set, will keep the scissor lift in place.

Proper Training

Employers must offer workers safety training, which includes how to work properly with or near scissor lifts. At a minimum, this training should include:

  • Operating the scissor lift vertically and in motion according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • How to handle materials and what weights are allowed on the scissor lift
  • Working on a scissor lift can expose workers to various other workplace risks (e.g., contact with electrical wires).
  • Employees should report any equipment flaws or maintenance requirements.

To protect workers from the hazards related to scissor lifts, employers must adhere to all OSHA requirements.