Episode 43 – Scissor Lift Safety


Toolbox Topic: Scissor Lift Safety

It seems scissor lifts have become commonplace in construction, maintenance, and other industries. They provide temporary elevated work platforms. Although now commonplace, they can pose certain safety risks if not operated properly. In this episode, we have eight tips on how to operate a scissor lift safely.


Scissor Lift Definition

A scissor lift is a mobile elevated work platform. It moves vertically, providing access to higher areas that may be hard to reach. It’s named the ‘scissor’ lift due to the cross-brace supports that extend and compress, resembling the shape of a pair of scissors.


The History of Scissor Lifts

The Pantograph

The design of the scissor lift is based on the pantograph, which has been used in many applications since the 19th century. The pantograph mechanism is a series of interconnected folding arms that can extend and retract.


Early Designs

The earliest scissor lifts were manually operated. They were used primarily for lifting heavy objects in industrial settings. In the 1920s, Sweden used hydraulic lifts for streetlight maintenance and repair.


The Invention of the Scissor Lift

It was 1966 when Charles Larson received a U.S. patent for his scissor lift design. Larson’s model was both simpler and more efficient than earlier versions. Despite Larson’s patent, John W. Parker is generally recognized as the inventor of the scissor lift.


Scissor Lifts Evolve Over the Decades

The first scissor lifts were relatively basic, but evolution was inevitable. In the 1970s, the scissor lift experienced its first major update. Hydraulic and pneumatic systems were introduced, vastly improving lifting power and efficiency. These systems utilized the principles of fluid mechanics to amplify the lift’s strength. These improvements made it capable of lifting heavier loads with less effort. Within that same decade, major lift manufacturers, including JLG and MEC, joined the market.


The 1980s brought another wave of innovation with the introduction of the electric scissor lift. Electric lifts were perfect for indoor applications where noise and emissions were a concern. The ability to use scissor lifts indoors expanded their use to warehouses, retail stores, and many other industries.


The 2010s brought advancements in safety features. Modern lifts are smarter and safer with tilt sensors, automatic braking systems, and wind speed sensors. Many now have platform extensions, increasing workers’ reach without the need to reposition the lift.


In the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of smart scissor lifts that can diagnose mechanical issues and track usage data. Some can be remote-controlled using an app. With every innovation, the scissor lift only gets safer and more efficient.


Scissor Lift Injury Statistics

In 2021 the BLS recorded 100 deaths related to aerial lifts, including scissor lifts. Falls accounted for half of these incidents, and being struck by an object made up another quarter.


One OSHA study reported ten avoidable deaths and over 20 preventable injuries from scissor lift incidents. Most of these cases were due to a lack of fall protection, stabilization, or improper positioning.


Between 2011 and 2014, 1,380 workers were injured using an aerial or scissor lift. Three hundred and six injuries resulted from slips, trips, and falls. In the same period, 87 workers died while operating an aerial or scissor lift. Forty-eight of those deaths resulted from slips, trips, and falls from one level to another.


Scissor Lift Safey Tips

Safety Tip #1: Pre-operation Inspection

Before using a scissor lift, conduct a comprehensive inspection. Look for any potential damage or leaks, and verify that all controls are working correctly.


Safety Tip #2: Start-Up and Shutdown

Adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for starting and shutting down the scissor lift. This usually involves checking controls, emergency stop buttons, and other safety mechanisms. Also, remember the scissor lift’s load limit to avoid overloading.


Safety Tip #3: Harnesses

Though not mandated by OSHA, a safety harness should be worn if your employer, local jurisdiction, or other guidelines require it.


Safety Tip #4: Secure the Work Area

Remove any debris or obstacles from the work area. Place warning signs to inform others that work is in progress.


Safety Tip #5: Windy Conditions

High winds can destabilize a scissor lift. Exercise caution and avoid operating the lift in such conditions.


Safety Tip #6: Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

Always be vigilant of overhead obstacles and nearby power lines.


Safety Tip #7: Training

Only individuals who have undergone appropriate training should operate a scissor lift.


Safety Tip #8: Know the Safety Features

Operators should be familiar with their specific scissor lift’s safety features and follow the recommended operating procedures to ensure safety.



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