Key to Scissor Safety: Training, Not Tie Off

At the recent regional meeting of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), AWP safety expert Gary Riley gave an excellent presentation that questioned whether scissor lift users should tie off to the machine.

Just to be absolutely clear, Riley’s case for not using a harness and lanyard applies only to scissor lifts. In contrast, boom lift users must always tie off because a boom lift can catapult them out of its platform. OSHA regulations, industry best practices, and physics all demand a harness and lanyard be used when operating a boom lift.

Riley is an experienced veteran of the AWP industry and a strong advocate of training and safety. He is a safety and training expert for NES Rentals and an IPAF-certified senior safety instructor. His 25-plus years in the AWP industry include work in delivery, field service, maintenance, rental fleet management, risk management, and safety training.

Look at the root cause

Here are Riley’s two key points: First, having scissor lift users tie off in the platform does not address the root problem—the need for effective operator training that leads to safe operation. Second, tying off in a scissor lift may actually increase a user’s likelihood of being injured or killed in an accident.

Although being tethered into a scissor lift may prevent falls by keeping users from climbing on the railings or accidentally stepping out of an exit, Riley’s experience and research have convinced him that few people actually fall out of a scissor lift. He defines a fall as an accident in which the user tumbles out of the lift, but the unit remains upright and usable.

Riley believes that most scissor lift accidents involve the lift tipping over, but many tipover accidents are misnamed as falls, particularly by mainstream media. Riley has combed through OSHA’s fatality reports, then run down media coverage where photos show tipped-over lifts in stories that call the accident a fall. “Yes, the person fell, but only because the scissor lift tipped over,” he said.

As a result, the industry thinks it has a problem with people falling from AWPs, when it really should focus on preventing scissor lifts from tipping over. “The industry is trying to solve a problem it doesn’t understand with a solution that won’t work,” he said.

As Riley makes his point, I think of an analogy. This would be like the airline industry addressing crashes by making sure pilots wear seat belts instead of making sure they are trained to fly properly.

Riley’s recent research shows that in six scissor lift tipover accidents, the three users who were tethered to the lift died, whereas three users who weren’t tethered survived. That’s a small sample and doesn’t account for many other factors that could have had an effect, but it is enough to make one think.

In one accident, a worker who was tied off to a lift climbed safely onto a beam as the rig began to tip, but the toppling lift then yanked him down to his death. In contrast, a worker in another accident was not tied off. When his lift tipped over, he clung to an overhead pipe until he was rescued, unhurt.

Riley thinks that scissor users frequently have the chance to grab onto a pipe, beam, truss, building, or other structure in order to avoid falling with the lift—if they aren’t tied to the machine.

But he emphasizes that the real solution is making sure operators get the effective training and proper supervision that lead to safe operation.

“If an operator knows how to correctly assess and avoid jobsite hazards, how to do a proper pre-operation inspection, and how to run a machine safely, he or she can avoid tipovers,” he said. 

It makes sense to me. What do you think? Weigh in at www.mlarson@hcgi.media.

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About the Author: 

Mike Larson

Mike Larson has been writing about heavy equipment and construction for more than 25 years. He joined Heartland Communications Group in 2011 as editor of Lift and Access. During his career, he has edited Western Builder and Midwest Construction, and has been a regular contributor to Engineering News-Record and Constructor magazines. Larson also worked in and managed marketing communications for Manitowoc Cranes. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.