By Tim Baxter, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist

Over the years, NIRMA has received a number of claims involving workplace injuries that easily could have been avoided if proper care and attention to detail would have been exercised.

Included in these injury and claim reports have been incidents where employees were instructed to perform tree trimming or other elevated work tasks without the proper personnel lifting devices.

When asked why these instructions were given, a common answer is, “We’ve always done it that way.” This statement should never justify following unsafe work habits or practices.

The only safe way to perform elevated tasks is to use equipment and a personnel cage specifically designed and intended for the types of jobs that have the approval of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and has been inspected by a registered engineer. The operator’s manual will tell you if the piece of equipment is approved for lifting personnel. It is important to note here the bucket of a front-end loader is not approved.

OSHA Standard 1926.451(c)(2)(iv) clearly states, “Front end loaders and similar pieces of equipment shall not be used to support scaffold platforms unless they have been specifically designed by the manufacturer for such use.”

Front end loaders are not specifically designed for lifting personnel. If an operator’s manual states “Never use the work tool for a work platform,” then it must not be used to elevate personnel. If the manual is silent on the personnel lift issue, it is the obligation of the employer to determine if the equipment was designed specifically for lifting personnel. The employer would need to find out directly from the manufacturer if it was designed to do so, or if that information is not available the employer should obtain a certification from a certified professional engineer that the equipment was indeed designed for personnel lifting.

Trimming or removing trees can be very dangerous, even when the proper personal protective equipment and an approved employee lift are used. Instructing employees to use a lift, such as the bucket of a front-end loader, to reach high branches or limbs should never be an option. Instead, consider getting price quotes from a professional tree service. It likely will be much less expensive and disruptive than a workers’ compensation claim if an employee is seriously injured.

While OSHA regulations do not technically apply to counties, NIRMA recommends member counties meet or exceed OSHA standards. NIRMA’s Best Safety  practices for Counties also recommends members “use appropriate safety equipment at all times” and “follow nationally recognized safety standards as a guide.”

Before directing an employee to perform work in an unsafe manner, first think about the consequences should something happen and the irreparable harm that could be done, then don’t give unsafe directives.

If you have questions about personnel lifting devices or performing elevated work tasks, please contact me at Be Safe.