3 Keys for Using Scissor Lifts Safely


A scissor lift is a personnel platform which is designed to lift workers vertically to perform many types of maintenance, construction, manufacturing, imaging and testing activities. Scissor lifts are, also, designed to travel forward and back with a lowered platform to position platform for the next task. Folding supports assembled in a criss-cross “X” pattern (pantograph) allow the scissor lift to provide significant vertical lift with a small footprint on the ground. Scissor Lifts come in a variety of lengths, widths, maximum platform heights and capacities. The maximum working height is six feet higher than the platform height. These lifts have many advantages over scaffolding and ladders and are an asset to many workplaces when operated safely and maintained properly.


There are three keys to using scissor lifts in a safe and productive fashion.

1.   Fall Prevention

Scissor Lift users can help prevent falls from the platform by remaining within the vehicle guard rails. Never stand on the guard rails. If your scissor lift does not have a maximum platform height high enough for the task at hand, then get a properly sized scissor lift. Extending yourself by leaning over the guardrail more than your arm’s length when standing straight up increases your risk of falling off the platform. You should either extend the platform, provided your scissor lift has this feature, or lower the platform and reposition the scissor lift on the ground. The guard rails must be kept in good working order, firmly secured to the platform and inspected both by the operators and during maintenance checks. When guardrails are properly in place the use of body harnesses and lanyards is optional. Guardrails are required to prevent workers on scissor lifts from falling. Please refer to 29 CFR 1926.451(g) and 29 CFR 1910.29(a)(3)(vii).


2.   Stabilization

The objective here is to minimize any hazards which would reduce the stability of the scissor lift. Specifically factors that would contribute to tip-overs or collapses. Reading the manufacturer’s operators manual will familiarize an operator with the proper instructions for moving on a scissor lift safely. Proper traffic control implementation or scissor lift isolation will ensure your scissor lift is adequately protected from being contacted by other moving vehicles or other workers on the work site. Use ground guide personnel around the scissor lift in the work zone. Avoid ground debris, drop-offs, bumps, holes, and slopes. Keep your scissor lift on solid stable ground. Do not overload your scissor lift. Stay within the capacity guidelines your scissor lift was designed to lift for the combined weight of workers and load and tools. Stability will be adversely affected when an overloaded scissor lift platform is lifted higher. The base will become increasingly unstable. Do not try to make up for a lack of scissor lift height by lifting scissor lift with a forklift or crane. Keep in mind that slow and steady keeps you safe. Rushing the lifting of people and objects will expose your workers to avoidable risks of injury. When operating a scissor lift outside you want to operate in fair weather. Rain can change the stability of the ground beneath the scissor lift. Scissor lifts are not designed to be used in high winds. Gusts of high wind create a strong possibility of tip-over.


On October 28th, 2010 the University of Notre Dame had a 20-year-old student cameraman, Declan Sullivan, filming football practice for the team from a 50-foot high platform height scissor lift. According to a South Bend, IN reporter, Barry Petchesky, and a South Bend, IN meteorologist sustained winds that day were around 40 mph and gusts of 53 mph were recorded. The cameraman was killed when the scissor lift was blown over on its side. This fall of 50 feet could have been avoided with proper operator training and worker supervision. Rough terrain scissor lifts, those rated to be used outside, should not be used when wind gusts are 25 miles per hour or higher. Sadly, Declan Sullivan tweeted before going to work that day that he was concerned about going up on the scissor lifts because winds were forecasted to be gusting at over 50 mph that day. Later that day while filming on the elevated scissor lift platform Declan tweeted that he was terrified.

In March 2016 David Sparkman, a reporter for Material Handling & Logistics Trade Journal, reported that “OSHA points out that over a one-year period it had investigated 10 fatalities and more than 20 other serious injuries it termed preventable involving scissor lifts. OSHA says it found that most of these injuries and fatalities were the result of employers not properly addressing fall protection, stabilization, and positioning.”


3.   Positioning

The objective of good positioning of the scissor lift is to avoid electrocution or crushing hazards. Let’s deal with electrocution hazards first. It is very possible for workers to be electrocuted even when no direct contact is made with energized power lines. Getting positioned too close to energized power lines can result in thermal burns, arc flash and electrocution. Arc flash is when electricity jumps from the nearby energized power line to the scissor lift and worker. Keep your scissor lift at least ten feet away from energized power lines. If your job assignment requires work near an electrical source make sure the workers are qualified to do the work and they have received the required electrical training (29 CFR 1910.269; 29 CFR 1910.333; 29 CFR 1926 Subpart V).

Crushing hazards are occurrences such as being pinned between scissor lift and another vehicle or fixed object like a wall, tree branch, or pole, being crushed by moving components of the scissor lift, being lifted in to an overhead obstruction, being injured passing under a door frame or support beam, or being hit by a falling object. If people or things are in the way of safe operation of the scissor lift then workers and employers must make sure the situation is corrected before the scissor lift is put in position to accomplish the work to be done.


Learn more about scissor lift safety and maintenance on OSHA’s website

%s thoughts on "3 Keys for Using Scissor Lifts Safely"

  • Sam Li says:

    I love the advice you gave about the importance of not overloading your scissor lift. Working with heavy equipment requires the best functionality, so it’s important to make sure your scissor lift has a good battery and battery charger on hand. If I were to need a battery charger, I would contact a reliable company that has great customer reviews.

  • Thank you for the good explanation of a scissor lift, in that it raises workers vertically to perform maintenance or construction. My boss is looking for ways to do his work more efficiently. I’ll have to look into scissor lifts.

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