Fact Checked

What are Aerial Lifts?

Shannon Kietzman
Shannon Kietzman

Aerial lifts are commonly used to handle routine maintenance in buildings with high ceilings, but can be used for a number of tasks involving high, hard to reach areas. For example, they can be used to repair lines on telephone poles, paint trim on large buildings or two-story homes, raise heavy items to shelves high off the ground, and trim tree branches. While a ladder could be used for such jobs, a lift offers more stability and safety when used properly.

There are a number of aerial lifts to choose from, with each being better suited to different situations. Scissor lifts, which can be classified as mobile scaffolding, use criss-cross braces that extend and stretch upward. As the braces rise, the platform attached to the top also goes up. Painters often use this type of aerial lift.

Bucket trucks are often used for tree pruning or removal.
Bucket trucks are often used for tree pruning or removal.

Cherry pickers and bucket trucks are types of aerial lifts that contain a bucket-like platform on top of a long arm. As the arm unfolds, the platform rises. Boom lifts contain a hydraulic arm that extends outward and raises the platform. Forklifts, on the other hand, contain a forked arm that moves upward as the lever is moved. Each of these devices requires special training to use.

In the US, the Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) offers training programs to earn a special OSHA certified license for using this equipment. These programs are rigorous and cover operation of the machine, safety procedures, machine inspection and maintenance, and machine load capacities. Only people with OSHA operating licenses should use aerial lifts.

Statistics show that more than 20 operators die each year while operating aerial lifts. Of these, 8% are commercial painters. The majority of these deaths can be prevented because most occur from the machine being improperly braced. Therefore, it is critical to brace all tires on a lift in order to prevent the machine from tipping over.

OSHA has simple guidelines to prevent injury while using aerial lifts. Many of the guidelines are common sense rules, such as not using the machines to give rides. It is important to make sure there are 10 feet (3 meters) of clearance between a lift and any electrical lines.

Operators should check that all wheels are locked and braced to prevent aerial lifts from toppling over. They should also mark an area surrounding the machine to guarantee passers-by do not come too close while the equipment is in use. Anyone on the lift should wear the appropriate safety harness while in the air.

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Discussion Comments


Not all aerial lifts are for repair work. Ski Lifts are a type of aerial lift. They are basically just recreational people movers. They just run in a circle all day long bringing Alpine skiers up the mountain.

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    • Bucket trucks are often used for tree pruning or removal.
      By: Pix by Marti
      Bucket trucks are often used for tree pruning or removal.