Aerial Lift Injuries Are Preventable With the Right Knowledge

Aerial Lift Injuries Are Preventable With the Right Knowledge

Mobile elevating work platforms, more commonly referred to as aerial lifts, have replaced ladders and scaffolding on many job sites due to their mobility and flexibility. While theses aerial lifts often provide a more safe and efficient way to perform work at heights, unfortunately, these devices are not without their own inherent dangers. One of the known hazards associated with aerial lifts, which can lead to personal injury or death, is contact with ceilings, pipes and other overhead objects which result in trapping and crushing injuries to the operator. Occasionally, operators of these devices have been known to become trapped between the machine and surrounding objects forcing their torso onto the operator controls. As the person’s torso is forced onto the controls, the controls become activated in a manner that further moves the machine and operator towards the obstacle, worsening the operator’s injuries and often resulting in death to the operator. This situation is known in the industry as Sustained Involuntary Operation.[1] Use of a safety system which eliminates Sustained Involuntary Operation gives the operator a vital second chance.

In the mid to late 2000s, along with the growth of use of aerial lifts came an increase in the number of serious or fatal accidents, with an increase in reports of operators becoming trapped over the platform controls of the machines. Instead of accepting any blame for these injuries and deaths, or engineering out, or guarding against the known risk of Sustained Involuntary Operation, the manufacturers of these machines often blamed these incidents on operator error, site conditions, and poor operator training.

There are two primary ways to eliminate or guard against operator entrapments due to Sustained Involuntary Operation: Physical Guarding and Pressure Sensing Devices.

Physical Guarding

These are typically steel structures designed to physically protect the operator from colliding with any surrounding structure before a trapping or crushing incident can occur.  The idea is, once the operator is alerted to the hazard the steel structure will give the operator protection and allow him/her an opportunity to maneuver the platform back to a position of safety.

Pressure Sensing Devices

There are several different brands and types of pressure sensing devices, however, in general they all act in a similar manner. A pressure-sensitive edge sits between the operator and the platform control panel.  If the operator is pushed against the control during a potential trapping or crushing incident, the pressure sensing device stops the machine from operating, thereby preventing the machine and operator moving towards the obstacle.  The technology appears to function in a similar manner to how an elevator door operates while closing.  In the elevator door situation, when the pressure sensor comes in contact with an object, the doors automatically reverse and open back up so that the object, usually a person or their limbs doesn’t get trapped and crushed by the closing door. 

This pressure sensing safety device, for use in Aerial Lifts to prevent Sustained Involuntary Operation, has been available on the market since a company, Nifty, first introduced its SIOPS device in 2009. Although this technology has been available since 2009, many other manufacturers of Aerial Lifts have been slow to adopt and incorporate this safety technology into their products. Moreover, while these pressure sensing safety devices can easily be retro-fitted to many Aerial Lifts already on the market, the manufacturers and equipment rental companies that rent out this type of equipment, have been lackadaisical in their efforts to retro-fit and make safe these existing pieces of equipment.

Unfortunately, these manufacturers and equipment rental companies seem content to put profits over safety.  Rather than incorporate this lifesaving technology, they continue to conduct business as usually and when a worker gets injured by this industry-wide risk the manufacturers and equipment rental businesses simply blame the worker for inattention or lack of proper training, rather than take responsibility for their failure to utilize this existing safety technology on their equipment.

Images courtesy of NiftyliftGenie, & JLG Original Parts.

[1]White Paper “Intelligent Secondary Guarding: Advancements in MEWP Safety.  Preventing Trapping and Crushing Incidents.  Mark Keily, QHSE Director, Nationwide Platforms.

Today's blog: Aerial lifts make workers' jobs much easier but there are lots of ways to get injured - read the blog today to find out how to prevent these types of personal injuries.