Between 1992 and 1999, 31 construction laborers were killed in aerial lift mishaps, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Boom-supported lifts were involved in 58 percent of the deaths; scissor lifts in the rest.

With help from the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (CPWR) the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) obtained aerial lift fatality data for all construction trades as well as for laborers, in particular. Overall, electricians had the most fatalities (25 percent of the total). Laborers had the second most (15 percent), followed by electrical power installers and repairers (13 percent), painters (eight percent) and carpenters (five percent).

The elevated and precarious circumstances in which lifts are used on construction sites make falling, electrocution, collapse, tipover, caught between and struck by incidents more likely and more deadly. With proper precautions, however, these deaths can be prevented.

For construction workers as a whole, electrocutions were the most common cause of aerial lift fatalities, but, among laborers, falls took the heaviest toll (45.2 percent).

According to Michael McCann, Director of Safety and Ergonomics at CPWR who examined reports that accompanied the BLS data, half of all fatal laborer falls were caused by ejections from the bucket (boom lifts) or off the platform (scissor lifts) after the laborer or the lift was struck by vehicles, cranes, crane loads or falling objects or when a lift suddenly jerked. Little is known about the exact causes of the other half of laborer falls, but, among all fatal lift falls, about nine percent were from scissor lifts after chains or guardrails were removed or when workers stood on or leaned over the railings.

The available data do not explain the nature of laborer deaths due to collapses or tipovers, but data on total construction collapse and tipover deaths is revealing. Two-thirds of the boom lift deaths occurred when the bucket cable or boom broke or the bucket fell.  Most of the rest were due to tipovers. In the case of scissor lifts, three-quarters of workers were killed when they fell due to tipovers, and the rest were killed on the ground when hit by a tipover. About 40 percent of the tipovers occurred when the lift was extended over 15 feet, mostly while driving the lift.

While electrocutions caused 29.9 percent of total construction aerial lift fatalities (62 of 207), only 16.1 percent (five of 31) of laborers died that way. All the electrocuted laborers were killed when the aerial lift contacted overhead power lines. In most cases, however, the laborer was not operating or in the lift but was on the ground and in contact with it.

Data on injuries associated with aerial lifts are unavailable. However, a simple statistical comparison suggests that—with approximately 1200 total construction deaths and 194,400 lost workday injuries per year (2001 data) and 4.43 aerial lift deaths per year (1992-1999)—about 720 lost workday injuries likely are caused annually by aerial lift mishaps.

Deaths from Aerial Lifts in Construction 1992-1999
CauseTotal DeathsLaborer Deaths
Collapses or Tipovers465
Total Deaths20731
*Includes caught in/between, struck by/against and fire

Source:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

[Steve Clark]