The risk of falls from elevated working heights is very real. According to Liberty Mutual’s 2013 Workplace Safety Index, these types of incidents ranked as the fourth leading cause of workplace injuries, and they led to $4.9 billion in direct costs to businesses in 2011.
Enter low-level access lifts; these lifts have many features that raise the level of safety on jobsites and prove that the more traditional options are just not up to par.
One of the most common tools, and often the first one that people think of for working at heights, is the ladder. Ladders can be relatively quick to set up, are graded for a variety of applications, and since they’re fairly inexpensive, they’re an attractive option. But ladders can carry with them inherent problems.
Ladders come in four duty ratings: Type III household, Type II commercial, Type I industrial heavy, and Type IA industrial, which can withstand as much as 300 pounds. If that workload is exceeded, the ladder could snap under the combined weight of the worker, tools, and materials, causing severe injury. With a low-level lift, on the other hand, the worker can load materials onto a lift and move from place to place on the jobsite. Some of the lifts are even equipped with overload sensors that alert the user or limit the lift height if there is excess weight on the machine.
Selecting the right height also is critical. If a ladder is too short it could tempt a worker to ignore safety precautions and stand on the top rungs or overstretch beyond the rails. A ladder that’s too tall is more likely to be set up incorrectly against a wall and can slip out from underneath a worker because there is not enough friction to hold it in place. Low-level lifts address these potential pitfalls by offering working heights as high as 20 feet, and they can reach the exact height that offers the greatest productivity.
But let’s say you’ve selected the right type of ladder for the job. Now there’s the challenge of setting it up properly. OSHA recommends that a ladder be one-quarter of the working distance away from a wall. For instance, if you know the wall’s height is 40 feet, the base of the ladder should be 10 feet away. To access an elevated surface, OSHA says the top of the ladder should extend 3 feet higher.
Furthermore, the American National Standards Institute recommends ladders should be set at a 75-degree angle. It’s often impractical to measure for these recommendations on the jobsite, but not following them can lead to improper set up, substantially reduce the stability of the ladder and increase the risk of falls. Low-level access lifts are ready to use when they arrive on site, meaning less set up time is needed to ensure a safe ascent.
If you are working on a ladder, being productive and safe can become a juggling act. When large projects like electrical and HVAC jobs in new buildings require moving the ladder as work progresses, the contractor needs to climb down, fold up the ladder, carry it a few feet over, set it back up correctly, and climb up the rungs to start again. Constantly moving, climbing, and standing on ladder rungs can easily fatigue a worker, which increases fall risks. With a low-level access lift, the contractor can simply use the controls to move the platform up and down to eliminate fatigue and reduce the hassle of moving a ladder to a new location. By eliminating daunting climbs and providing a step-in height as low as 20.28 inches, the lift can quickly relocate workers without the hassles of disassembly and reassembly.
An operator might “walk” the ladder to avoid moving it, either to save on effort or time. “Walking” the ladder is when a user tries to alternate the weight from side to side on the rungs to make the ladder “walk” forward. This can cause the ladder to tip on its side or fold up on itself. With low-level access lifts, the user brings the lift to the ground and pushes the unit to the next location. With a self-propelled lift, he can simply drive.
Side loading also can be a safety concern. When a user standing on a ladder performs work that exerts force against the wall, like drilling or sawing, the ladder can tip due to lack of counterweight. Additionally, if the worker tries to pull up heavy tools or materials from the ladder’s side, he can actually pull himself down. Most lifts employ counterweights to address side-loading issues, and some even have tilt sensors that alert the operator when loads become imbalanced.
The International Powered Access Federation recommends performing a complete jobsite assessment before a project begins. It should address factors such as how people will gain access to the project, its scope and size, and the working environment overall. Only after they’ve completed the assessment should contractors and project managers select the right tools and equipment for the job.
When lifts are part of that tool and equipment mix, remember to inspect them daily and before each use. It’s also important to have a qualified aerial lift professional perform required annual inspections. Annual inspections keep users safe by addressing any mechanical issues that might arise through normal wear and tear.
By using low-level access lifts, contractors and project managers can continue making gains in both safety and productivity. They can be confident in knowing the masterpiece is more than the finished project; it’s the time and people that have been spared in the process of completing the project. ■
For More Information
Justin Kissinger is the marketing manager for Custom Equipment, Inc. He has been with the family owned business since 1998. Kissinger can be reached by email at, or at 262.644.1300, ext. 13.

Modern Contractor Solutions, January 2015
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