March 1, 2008
The operation of a properly maintained aerial lift, used within the manufacturer's intended parameters, is a safe and efficient way to achieve tasks at

The operation of a properly maintained aerial lift, used within the manufacturer's intended parameters, is a safe and efficient way to achieve tasks at height. Unfortunately, these units are sometimes used beyond their specifications, with potentially fatal consequences. This misuse is often the result of insufficient planning to meet the requirements of a specific task at hand, or a misunderstanding of the capabilities and operational limits of various types of aerial lifts. This article will define one method of analyzing the requirements that are pertinent to the appropriate selection of an aerial lift.

As a general introduction, one must realize that there are many different types of aerial lifts, some of which may be suitable for your particular requirements and others that may not. These lifts include scissorlifts, boomlifts, personnel lifts, vehicle-mounted booms and other specialty lifts, all of which may be self propelled or not. It is the user's responsibility to determine which lift is best suited for which application, but a rental center can play a major role in helping the user make that determination.

The selection of an aerial lift should start with a jobsite task analysis. This is not only a review of the jobsite that the unit(s) will be working within, but also what tasks are going to be accomplished by use of the lift(s). In many cases, this analysis may indicate that more than one size or type of lift is required to complete all the tasks on a specific jobsite.

The jobsite task analysis must answer the following questions:

  • How high does the user need to get?
  • How close to the task can the operator get? (How much reach does he need)?
  • Who and what does the operator need to get to elevation?
  • What surface will the user be operating on?
  • How will the operator get the lift to the task?
  • Any other factors?

How high?

As mentioned previously, there are many types of aerial lifts that come in all shapes and sizes. Determining how high the operator needs to get is the most basic of the selection criteria. This height requirement will likely define a specific size range of lifts. Does the user need a unit that reaches a work height of 20 feet, 50 feet 150 feet, more, or some range in between?

How close can the user get?

Determining how close a user can get to his or her objective may best define the type of lift for the task. If the user is directly beneath or beside his objective, a scissorlift or vertical personnel lift may be the most appropriate. If there is an obstruction between the unit and the task, a boomlift is likely more suited to the job. In some cases, where there is not a direct path to the work location, an articulated boom may be required, as opposed to the straight telescopic boom.

Who and what is needed to get to elevation?

An elevated task that requires multiple occupants may need a different lift than a one-person application. If tools or materials are required at elevation, the lift will have to have sufficient capacity to carry these materials safely. These capacity questions will certainly define the size range of lift required and may define the type of lift as well.

What surface will the unit be elevating on?

Most aerial lifts require a firm, level surface from which to elevate properly. Other units can be elevated on some slopes with the aid of outriggers or chassis leveling. Regardless, in all cases the substrate conditions must be suitable to support the overall and concentrated loads of the lift. The size and type of lift required may be affected by these support conditions.

Will the unit need to be driven while elevated to perform the task? If so, is the expected path of motion suitable for elevated driving of an aerial lift?

These analyses may identify further site preparation that may be required prior to the safe elevation and potential elevated travel of aerial lifts.

How do I get the lift to the task?

Transportation of the lift on the jobsite is a factor that is often overlooked, but may help determine the size and type of lift selected. Smaller scissor and vertical lifts may be transported through standard doors and onto some elevators. Other, generally larger, units are designed to traverse rough terrain on jobsites to get to suitable elevating positions.

The rough-terrain designation is a description of the aerial lift in its stowed or transport configura-tion and does not describe elevating or elevated driving conditions.

Other factors?

Are there other factors regarding the use of an aerial lift that should be considered? These may include (but are not limited to):

  • Does the lift need to be electrically insulated? (A specialty application for a highly skilled and trained operator)
  • Will there by any potential wind exposure?
  • Do I have to worry about engine emissions in an indoor environment?
  • Is the unit to be used in a hazardous atmosphere?
  • Does the user need approved optional equipment, such as a pipe rack, material handler, welder or generator?
  • Are there other requirements that would call for a unit that is not commonly available?

Remember that this analysis may indicate that more than one type of aerial lift will be required at any specific location, and the evaluation process should be undertaken for each separate application. The aerial lift that will meet 95 percent of your needs for a project may be deficient in the remaining 5 percent. This seems to be a common error, with the user believing that a specific aerial lift is appropriate for every task on a specific site. Alas, in many cases, the employee operator is left to “make do” for the assignments that fall beyond the scope of the lift, creating a potentially dangerous situation. When operators get “creative” they often move beyond the limits of the equipment. Most people will try to complete their tasks with the equipment that is provided for them. A rental company can work to ensure that the equipment rented will allow them to do this safely.

Rental companies should be proactive in determining what rented lifts will be used for and attempt to find out if the customer has all the machines he will need to operate safely. Collaboration and communication between rental provider and customer are critical in ensuring that operators use rented aerial work platforms safely. Both rental companies and manufacturers should be able to help customers determine the proper machine for specific job requirements.

Brad Boehler is director of product safety for Skyjack Inc., Guelph, Ontario, Canada.