Aerial lifts

An aerial lift is any vehicle-mounted device used to elevate personnel, including:

  • Extendable boom platforms
  • Aerial ladders
  • Articulating (jointed) boom platforms
  • Vertical towers
  • Any combination of the above

Aerial lifts have replaced ladders and scaffolding on many job sites due to their mobility and flexibility. They may be made of metal, fiberglass reinforced plastic, or other materials. They may be powered or manually operated and are considered to be aerial lifts whether or not they can rotate around a primarily vertical axis.

Many workers are injured or killed on aerial lifts each year. OSHA provides the following information to help employers and workers recognize and avoid safety hazards they may encounter when they use aerial lifts.

Hazards associated with aerial lifts

The following hazards, among others, can lead to personal injury or death:

  • Fall from elevated level
  • Objects falling from lifts
  • Tip-overs
  • Ejections from the lift platform
  • Structural failures (collapses)
  • Electric shock (electrocutions)
  • Entanglement hazards
  • Contact with objects
  • Contact with ceilings and other overhead objects


Only trained and authorized persons are allowed to operate an aerial lift. Training should include:

  • Explanations of electrical, fall, and falling object hazards
  • Procedures for dealing with hazards
  • Recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions in the work setting
  • Instructions for correct operation of the lift (including maximum intended load and load capacity)
  • Demonstrations of the skills and knowledge needed to operate an aerial lift before operating it on the job
  • When and how to perform inspections
  • Manufacturer’s requirements


Workers should be retrained if any of the following conditions occur:

  • An accident occurs during aerial lift use
  • Workplace hazards involving an aerial lift are discovered
  • A different type of aerial lift is used

Employers are also required to retrain workers who they observe operating an aerial lift improperly.

What to do before operating an aerial lift

Pre-start Inspection

Prior to each work shift, conduct a pre-start inspection to verify that the equipment and all its components are in safe operating condition. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and include a check of:

  • Vehicle components, e.g., proper fluid levels, leaks, wheels and tires, battery, controls, steering, brakes, etc.
  • Lift components, e.g., operating controls, personal protective devices, hydraulic, air, pneumatic, fuel and electrical systems, placards and warnings, mechanical fasteners and locking pins, cable and wiring harnesses, outriggers and stabilizers, guardrail system, etc.

Do not operate any aerial lift if any of these components are defective until it is repaired by a qualified person. Remove defective aerial lifts from service (tag out) until repairs are made.

Work zone inspections

Employers must assure that work zones are inspected for hazards and take corrective actions to eliminate such hazards before and during operation of an aerial lift. Items to look for include: drop-offs, holes, slopes, ceiling heights, debris and floor obstructions, overhead power lines, weather conditions and presence of others.

What to do while operating an aerial lift

Fall protection:

  • Ensure that access gates or openings are closed
  • Stand firmly on the floor of the bucket or lift platform
  • Do not climb on or lean over guardrails or handrails
  • Do not use planks, ladders, or other devices as a working position
  • Use a body harness or a restraining belt with a lanyard attached to the boom or bucket
  • Do not belt-off to adjacent structures or poles while in the bucket

By: Mike Huss
Risk Solution Services Consultant

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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