Aerial lifts are a type of widely used equipment that increases the risk of falls if precautions are not followed.

These powered, mobile platforms often replace stationary scaffolding to elevate workers to various heights. They can be found in many industries, including construction, warehousing, and general building maintenance.

Images from the NIOSH Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator showing different work environment scenarios for users to navigate.
Images from the NIOSH Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator showing different work environment scenarios for users to navigate.

In addition to their mobility, aerial lifts require minimal setup time and can reach substantial heights. For these reasons, aerial lifts are growing increasingly popular in various industrial jobs, such as painting, tile and drywall installation, and maintenance.

The problem is that some of the same attributes—mobility, high elevation—that make aerial lifts so useful can increase the risk of falls, especially with improper training and use and failure to follow manufacturer recommendations.

Falls, Collapses, and Tip-Overs

To prevent falls, NIOSH studies data from workplace falls to identify common hazards that increase risk.

In one study, NIOSH investigators examined data from three databases, including the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation reports, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Incident Investigation Records.

After analyzing the records, they found that most falls, collapses, and tip-overs related to aerial lifts occurred when the lifts were extended from 10– to 29–feet high. Constructing and repairing activities were most commonly associated with falls, collapses, and tip-overs.

Based on this analysis and other studies, NIOSH recently developed an Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator that provides a simulated real-world workplace, complete with hazards such as potholes and overhead structures.

The NIOSH simulator provides employers and workers with a valuable, realistic operator experience—all from the safety of a computer—to raise awareness of the potential hazards when using aerial lifts.

Videos Show How Accidents Happen

NIOSH investigators have also used computer modeling and physical experiments to test the responses of an aerial lift under different conditions and under limits recommended by the American National Standards Institute and major aerial lift manufacturers.

These tests allow investigators to identify how the lift and operators would respond to different environmental and physical impacts, including adverse operating conditions.

View the test videos.