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Best Practices for Scissor Lift Safety

Best Practices for Scissor Lift Safety

Best Practices for Scissor Lift Safety

Reading time: 6 min

The scissor lift is one of the most practical and commonly encountered machines on construction sites. Scissor lifts are compact and easy-to-use, allowing operators to reach work areas of varying heights safely and with little fuss.

While popular, scissor lifts must be used properly in order to avoid workplace accidents. As a fleet manager or foreman, it’s your duty to understand scissor lift best practices and limitations.

Here are some crucial scissor lift best practices you’ll need to know in order to keep your crew safe.

Prevent Falls

Unfortunately, falls continue to be a leading cause of death in the construction industry. Any time your crew is working at heights, you need to be mindful of this deadly risk and manage it accordingly.

When it comes to scissor lifts, the best way to prevent falls is through proper guardrail installation and maintenance, as well as proper operator training.

The Importance of Guardrails

While working at heights is inherently risky, maintaining sturdy guardrails on your scissor lift can dramatically lower the risk of falls.

In fact, guardrails are so crucial to scissor lift safety that OSHA mandates their use. According to OSHA guidelines, scissor lifts may only be operated if they are fitted with a guardrail that is 42” high, as measured from the walking surface of the toeboard.

OSHA guidelines also require guardrails to be fitted with a mid rail at a height of 21” so that a spherical object with a diameter of 19” could not pass through the openings in the guardrail.

Train your operators to respect the limitations of the guardrail. Operators should only enter and exit the work platform of the scissor lift from the safety gate and should never climb on or over the guardrail to reach the work area.

Be sure to maintain your scissor lift’s guardrail according to manufacturer requirements. If your machine’s guardrail breaks or becomes loose, do not allow it to be operated until the guardrail has been repaired by a qualified technician.

Train Operators

Providing your operators with adequate training is an important step in ensuring not only their own safety, but that of your entire team.

OSHA guidelines require all scissor lift operators to be trained by a qualified professional on the proper safety precautions and operation of the machine.

As part of your operator training, be sure to instruct operators on the role of guardrails and how to inspect them. Train your operators to never lean on, climb over or stand on a scissor lift’s guardrails.

Before each shift, operators should inspect the safety features of the scissor lift, including the guardrail and any safety chains. If any of these safety mechanisms has become damaged or loose, the machine should be serviced before it is operated again.


Avoid Scissor Lift Tip-overs

The biggest safety risk associated with scissor lifts is that they can easily tip over if the proper precautions are not taken. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk of your scissor lift tipping over.

Operate in a Secure Area

One of the most common ways scissor lifts tip over is by colliding with obstacles on the ground, such as other equipment or even workers.

When scissor lifts are in their extended position, they are easily destabilized. Even small collisions can be enough to tip over a scissor lift while it’s being driven in its fully extended position. To minimize this risk, train operators to use the scissor lift in an isolated area, away from workers and other equipment.

In busy environments, like construction sites, implement traffic control systems so that the scissor lift doesn’t come into contact with other machines or vehicles on the job site.

In addition, be sure to follow manufacturer guidelines for safe operation of the scissor lift. Most manufacturers advise against driving the scissor lift while it’s in the extended position, since it can easily become destabilized.

Avoid Adverse Weather Conditions

If you must use a scissor lift outdoors, first ensure weather conditions are favorable. In particular, avoid using a scissor lift outdoors when wind or lightning are present. Wind can easily tip over an extended scissor lift, while lightning strikes are unsafe for operators.

Generally, scissor lifts that are rated for outdoor use can withstand wind speeds up to 28MPH. Check your machine’s operating manual to find what wind speeds it can withstand. If winds are stronger than the speeds indicated in your machine’s operating manual, do not use the machine outdoors until weather conditions improve.

Operate on a Level Surface

Ground-level hazards, such as uneven surfaces, are especially problematic for the safe operation of scissor lifts.

Operators do not have great vision of the ground while they are elevated in the air, so it’s important they verify ground conditions before climbing into the basket.

Train your operators to look out for any of the following ground conditions, which may cause tip-overs:


  • Uneven surfaces
  • Bumps
  • Drop-offs
  • Slopes
  • Holes
  • Potholes
  • Debris
  • Cords, ropes or cables


If any of the above conditions are present, operators should address the hazard before operating a scissor lift.

Check for Overhead Hazards

Sometimes, the most dangerous obstacles for scissor lifts are not on the ground below, but up above.

Overhead hazards like power lines, extended tree branches, ceiling beams or utility conduits can easily cause scissor lifts to tip over. In fact, overhead hazards are more likely to tip over a scissor lift than hazards on the ground. 

Since an extended scissor lift frequently has a height of more than 20’, running into an overhead hazard with the machine’s basket can apply a lot of rotational force to the machine – easily tipping it.

Power lines are especially dangerous, as they can tip over scissor lifts and electrocute operators.

Train operators to thoroughly inspect the overhead conditions of the work area before operating a scissor lift. Whenever possible, only drive the scissor lift while the work platform is in its lowered position.

Preventive Maintenance and Routine Inspections

A well-designed preventive maintenance program, which includes routine inspections, will save on maintenance costs and improve operator safety.

Maintenance requirements for scissor lifts vary depending on the make and model of your machine, but there are some general guidelines you should follow. OSHA recommends operators inspect the following key areas before operating a scissor lift:


  • Check fluid levels and inspect for leaks
  • Inspect the machine’s battery and charge level
  • Check tires, including tire pressure
  • Inspect lower-level controls
  • Test the machine’s steering and brakes
  • Verify horns, lights, backup alarms and gauges are working


In addition, OSHA recommends the following areas are checked as part of all aerial lift inspections:


  • Operating and emergency controls
  • Personal protective devices, cable and wiring harnesses and guardrails
  • Hydraulic, air, pneumatic, fuel and electrical systems
  • Fiberglass and other insulating components
  • Missing or unreadable placards, warnings, or operational, instructional and control markings
  • Mechanical fasteners and locking pins
  • Outriggers, stabilizers and other structures
  • Loose or missing parts


At the start of each shift, train your operators to inspect these areas, as well as those specified in your machine’s operating manual.

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