Dangerous & Fatal Falls: Manlifts & Powered Platforms at Work

Workplace safety is a paramount concern, especially when it involves high-risk equipment such as manlifts and powered platforms. These devices, while essential for various construction and maintenance tasks, pose significant dangers if not used properly. In Louisiana, the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from falls and other accidents involving these platforms has prompted OSHA to increase inspections and enforcement efforts. In this article, our work injury lawyers aim to educate workers and employers on the types of powered platforms, the associated hazards, and the necessary safety measures to prevent accidents and save lives.

What Is a Manlift?

A manlift is a type of aerial work platform designed to provide access to elevated work areas that are difficult or impossible to reach by conventional means. These devices are essential in various industries, including construction, maintenance, manufacturing, and warehousing, where tasks require workers to perform duties at significant heights.

Types of Manlifts

Manlifts come in several types, each suited to specific tasks and environments:

  • Vertical Manlifts: These are designed for vertical movement in tight spaces. They are compact and ideal for indoor use in facilities like warehouses, where they are used for inventory management, equipment installation, and maintenance tasks. Vertical manlifts typically extend up to 20-30 feet.
  • Boom Lifts: Equipped with extendable arms, boom lifts provide both vertical and horizontal reach, making them versatile for various outdoor and indoor applications. Boom lifts come in two primary variations:
    • Articulating Boom Lifts: These have multiple sections that bend, allowing the platform to reach over and around obstacles. They can reach heights up to 150 feet.
    • Telescopic Boom Lifts: These have straight, extendable arms, providing greater horizontal reach. They are suitable for tasks like electrical line maintenance, construction, and tree trimming, and can also extend up to 150 feet or more.
  • Scissor Lifts: Though technically not a manlift, scissor lifts are often categorized with them due to their similar purpose. Scissor lifts provide stable, vertical elevation and are widely used in construction, maintenance, and repair tasks. They can reach heights of up to 50 feet.

Capabilities & Uses

Manlifts are designed to enhance efficiency and safety in tasks requiring elevation. Their key capabilities include:

  • Height Access: Depending on the type, manlifts can provide access to heights ranging from 20 feet to over 150 feet. This makes them suitable for high-rise building construction, maintenance of tall structures, and utility work.
  • Mobility: Many manlifts are mounted on wheels or tracks, allowing them to be easily maneuvered around job sites. Vehicle-mounted manlifts, such as those on trucks, offer additional mobility for roadside and utility tasks.
  • Versatility: With options for both vertical and horizontal reach, manlifts can navigate around obstacles and provide access to hard-to-reach areas.

Safety Features

Manlifts are equipped with various safety features to protect operators and ensure stability:

  • Guardrails and Gates: To prevent falls from the platform.
  • Stabilizers and Outriggers: To provide a stable base, especially on uneven terrain.
  • Emergency Descent Systems: To allow safe lowering of the platform in case of power failure.
  • Control Systems: Including joystick controls for precise movements and safety interlocks to prevent unauthorized use.

Common Hazards Associated with Manlifts & Powered Platforms

Falls from heights are the most common hazard associated with manlifts and powered platforms, often caused by the lack of proper fall protection systems, operator error, sudden movements, or equipment failure. Electrocution is another significant risk, particularly when working near power lines. This can occur when equipment comes into contact with live wires or when workers are unaware of the proximity of power lines.

Mechanical failures due to inadequate maintenance and inspections can lead to hydraulic failures, structural collapses, and malfunctioning safety features. Operator error, stemming from improper use of equipment, lack of training, or negligence, can result in serious accidents. This includes overloading the platform, not following safety protocols, and inadequate supervision.

Injuries from Falls off Manlifts

Falls from manlifts can lead to a wide range of injuries, many of which are severe and life-threatening. These injuries can occur due to various factors, including equipment failure, operator error, and inadequate safety measures. Understanding the types of injuries that can result from such falls is crucial for both prevention and treatment.

  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs): Falls from significant heights can cause head injuries, including concussions and more severe traumatic brain injuries. Even with a helmet, the impact of hitting the ground or other surfaces can lead to serious brain trauma.
  • Spinal Cord Injuries: Falls can result in damage to the spinal cord, leading to partial or complete paralysis. The severity of these injuries depends on the height of the fall and the force of impact.
  • Fractures and Broken Bones: Common injuries from falls include broken arms, legs, ribs, and other bones. These injuries often require extensive medical treatment, including surgery and prolonged rehabilitation.
  • Internal Injuries: The force of a fall can cause internal bleeding and damage to internal organs such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys. These injuries may not be immediately apparent but can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
  • Lacerations and Contusions: Falls can result in deep cuts and bruises, especially if the worker lands on sharp or hard objects. These injuries, while less severe than TBIs or spinal injuries, can still require significant medical attention.
  • Soft Tissue Injuries: Sprains, strains, and torn ligaments and tendons are common in falls, particularly if the worker attempts to catch themselves during the fall. These injuries can be painful and may limit mobility and function.

OSHA Regulations & Safety Standards

OSHA has established comprehensive regulations to ensure the safe use of powered platforms and manlifts. These include requirements for regular inspections, proper training and certification for operators, and adherence to safety standards. Employers must ensure equipment is inspected before each use, operators are adequately trained to understand the equipment and potential hazards, and that safety protocols, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and fall protection systems, are strictly followed.

Case Studies & Statistics

Recent statistics reveal an alarming increase in workplace injuries and fatalities involving manlifts and powered platforms. According to OSHA, falls from heights accounted for 33.5% of construction fatalities in 2020, highlighting the persistent dangers associated with elevated work environments. This concern is particularly acute in Louisiana, where the construction industry has seen a troubling rise in accidents involving these platforms. In response, OSHA has ramped up inspections and enforcement efforts in the state to curb this trend.

Across the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in 2021, there were 1,008 construction-related fatalities, with a significant portion involving falls from heights. Additionally, non-fatal injuries related to falls, slips, and trips amounted to over 25,000 cases, many of which required days away from work.

Several instances of fatal falls have occurred in recent years in Louisiana. For example, in 2021, a construction worker in New Orleans fell from a boom lift while performing maintenance on a high-rise building. The worker, who was not wearing a harness, suffered fatal injuries. OSHA's investigation revealed multiple safety violations, including the lack of proper fall protection and inadequate training.

Another incident in Baton Rouge involved a worker who fell from a scissor lift while installing overhead lighting in an industrial plant. The lift tipped over due to unstable ground, resulting in severe injuries. The investigation found that the ground had not been properly assessed for stability, and the lift's weight capacity had been exceeded.

The increase in OSHA inspections in Louisiana has had a noticeable impact. In 2022, OSHA reported a 15% increase in inspections compared to the previous year, focusing on construction sites and industries with high incidences of falls from heights. These inspections have led to better compliance with safety regulations, substantial fines for violations, and a push for improved training programs to ensure workers are better educated on the use of manlifts and powered platforms and the importance of fall protection systems.

Prevention & Safety Measures

Proper training and certification are essential for the safe operation of manlifts and powered platforms. Operators must understand the equipment, recognize potential hazards, and follow safe operating procedures. Regular maintenance and inspections are crucial to prevent mechanical failures. This involves checking for wear and tear, testing safety features, and conducting pre-use inspections.

Using PPE, such as helmets, harnesses, and safety lanyards, is vital to protect workers from falls and other injuries. Employers should establish and enforce safe operation practices, including securing the platform before use, ensuring load limits are not exceeded, and using spotters and communication systems. Having an emergency response plan in place, including training workers on emergency procedures, providing first aid kits, and establishing communication protocols, can save lives in the event of an accident.

Legal Implications & Worker Rights

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment, including complying with OSHA regulations, conducting regular safety training, and maintaining equipment in good condition. Workers have the right to a safe workplace and can take legal action if injured due to employer negligence.

Manlifts and powered platforms are indispensable tools in many industries but come with significant risks. By understanding the types of equipment, associated hazards, and necessary safety measures, employers and workers can prevent accidents and save lives. Adherence to OSHA regulations and proper training are crucial in ensuring workplace safety. If you have been injured while using these platforms, seeking legal advice from an experienced work injury lawyer is essential to protect your rights and secure compensation.

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