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Boom Lift Safety: Understanding the Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Boom Lift Safety: Understanding the Hazards and How to Avoid Them

A look up at the platform of a boom lift with a worker standing in it

Boom Lift Safety: Understanding the Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Reading time: 6 min

Introduction to Boom Lifts

Boom lifts are essential pieces of equipment in the construction industry, especially when working at heights. Commonly used for tasks such as window cleaning, painting and maintenance work on tall structures, boom lifts boost operational efficiency and provide access to hard-to-reach areas.

There are two primary types of boom lifts: articulating and telescopic. Articulating boom lifts, also known as knuckle booms, feature sections that hinge or "articulate" allowing the operator to maneuver around obstacles.

On the other hand, telescopic boom lifts, or stick booms, consist of a straight, extendable arm that provides a stable platform for tasks that require a longer reach vertically.

Due to their function and design, boom lifts can be the source of workplace hazards if certain precautions are not taken. In this guide, we’ll detail boom lift safety best practices, helping you keep your team safe.

Understanding Boom Lift Hazards

Due to their design and function, boom lifts come with inherent risks that can lead to severe accidents if not properly managed. Here are some of the most common hazards associated with boom lifts, along with strategies to mitigate these risks.

Tip-overs

Tip-overs can occur due to improper stabilization, overloading or operating the boom lift on uneven surfaces. High winds can also increase the risk when working at significant heights. To prevent tip-overs, always ensure the lift is on stable ground and within its load capacity guidelines. Use outriggers, if available and closely monitor weather conditions such as wind speed.

Falls From Heights

Falls can occur if operators fail to properly use safety harnesses or make abrupt movements at high elevations. Jobs that require frequent repositioning of the lift, like painting or window installation, may increase the risk of falls. Adhering to strict safety harness protocols and ensuring adequate training in the use of personal protective equipment are key preventive measures.

Electrocution Hazards

Working near power lines can lead to electrocution risks, particularly during tasks like tree trimming or working near overhead utility lines. To keep operators safe, it’s important to maintain a safe distance from power lines, utilize non-conductive materials for booms and conduct thorough inspections.

Getting Caught Between Structures or Obstructions

Operators can become pinned between the lift basket and nearby structures, especially when working in tight spaces. Tight Spaces are common in cluttered environments like industrial facilities. To avoid these incidents, always be aware of the lift’s movement and surroundings and use spotters to navigate tight areas.

Collisions and Struck-by Incidents 

These occur when a boom lift collides with other equipment or workers on the ground are struck by falling objects. These incidents are more likely on busy sites where multiple types of equipment operate simultaneously. Implementing effective communication systems, designated walkways and restricted areas can help prevent collisions and protect workers.

Operational Best Practices for Boom Lifts

Operating boom lifts safely requires operators to stick to established best practices. The following guidelines help prevent accidents and ensure the safety of both the operator and other job site personnel.

Maneuvering on Rough Terrain

When operating a boom lift on rough terrain, it’s important to maintain a slow, controlled pace to avoid sudden jolts that could destabilize the lift. Always keep the boom retracted when moving the lift, extending it only when you are at the work site and the lift is stationary.

Securing the Operating Area

Securing the operating area is an important part of protecting both operators and ground personnel. Set up barriers or use cones to set apart the working area and keep unauthorized personnel out. Implement a spotter system to assist the operator with blind spots and to manage the safety perimeter effectively.

Pre-operation Checklist

A thorough pre-operation checklist is essential to ensure the equipment is safe to use. This checklist should include checks for hydraulic, oil and fuel levels; inspection of the tires and wheels; and a test of all safety devices and controls. Additionally, examine the working area for obstacles or hazards, assess weather conditions and verify that all emergency mechanisms are functional.

Entering and Exiting Safely

Safe entry and exit from a boom lift are critical to prevent falls. Before entering or exiting, ensure the lift is fully lowered and stable. Use the handholds and steps provided, maintaining three points of contact at all times. Never climb over the safety rails. Avoid jumping off or onto the platform, as this can lead to injuries.

OSHA Requirements for Boom Lifts

OSHA sets guidelines to ensure the safety of boom lift operations. Adhering to these standards is not only mandatory but crucial for maintaining a safe work environment.

Training Requirements

OSHA mandates comprehensive training for all operators of aerial lifts, including boom lifts. This training must cover the correct operation of the equipment, hazard identification and the appropriate responses to emergencies. Operators are required to receive retraining whenever there is a change in workplace conditions or a new type of lift is introduced.

Routine Inspections

Routine inspections are a critical component of OSHA’s safety standards. These include pre-operation inspections to check mechanical, hydraulic and electrical systems, as well as structural integrity before each use. Periodic inspections must also be conducted, typically annually, to ensure continued safety and functionality of the equipment.

Fall Protection Equipment

To prevent falls, OSHA requires operators to use personal fall protection equipment when using boom lifts. This includes a full-body harness and lanyard, which must be attached to designated anchor points on the lift.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Accidents

Maintaining a boom lift in optimal working condition is crucial for safety and efficiency on the job.

Preventive Maintenance Tasks

Preventive maintenance for boom lifts should include regular inspections and servicing according to the manufacturer's recommendations and maintenance schedules. Key tasks include checking fluid levels (hydraulic oil, engine oil, coolant, etc.), inspecting hoses and belts for wear or leaks and examining the boom, basket and guardrails.

Operating in Adverse Weather Conditions

Operating boom lifts in adverse weather conditions such as wind and rain requires additional precautions. OSHA and manufacturers often provide specific guidelines regarding wind speeds above which boom lifts should not be operated. Typically, boom lifts should not be used if wind speeds exceed 20 miles per hour, but always refer to your specific model's manual for exact numbers.

Specific Considerations for Different Types of Boom Lifts

Telescopic and articulating boom lifts, while serving similar functions, have distinct structural differences that affect their operational and maintenance requirements.

Telescopic boom lifts have a straight extendable arm used for tasks requiring height over maneuverability. Maintenance for telescopic booms focuses heavily on the telescopic sections and the hydraulic systems that extend and retract the boom.

Articulating boom lifts feature joints that allow the boom to bend, making them ideal for areas with obstacles and tight spaces. The maintenance of articulating booms involves frequent checks on these joints and the bearings that facilitate their movement.

Both types of lifts require routine checks of all safety features, such as harness attachment points and emergency controls. Due to their different designs, the focus and frequency of certain maintenance tasks may vary.

Final Thoughts

Ensuring the safety of all personnel on a job site is a crucial aspect of construction management, and this is especially true when operating boom lifts. Regular safety checks and adequate training can help identify potential issues and ensure that all operators are knowledgeable about best practices.

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