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OSHA: Focus on Safety First when Using Scissor Lifts

The death of University of Notre Dame student last year has prompted OSHA to warn colleges and high schools of the hazards involved in using scissor lifts to film extracurricular activities.

On Oct. 27, 2010, 20-year-old Declan Sullivan suffered fatal injuries when the hydraulic scissor lift he was using collapsed in windy conditions. Sullivan, a University of Notre Dame junior, had been filming a football practice for the university. According to OSHA, Sullivan was not properly trained to operate the equipment and was working in the lift with winds exceeding 50 miles per hour.

Scissor lifts are portable, hydraulic-powered lifts commonly used by colleges and high schools to film athletic and band activities. OSHA’s alert lists hazards associated with scissor lifts that include using the equipment during high winds or bad weather; overloading the equipment with heavy objects; removing the guardrails during operation; and driving the lift on uneven or unstable ground.

Employers can minimize scissor lift hazards by establishing safe work practices, including inspecting the lift before use; safely moving, positioning and stabilizing the lift; selecting safe work locations; and identifying weather conditions that prevent use. Additional safety practices include putting the scissor lift on a firm level surface, setting brakes and stabilizing the lift before raising it, and maintaining a 10-foot clearance from electrical power sources and overhead hazards such as tree branches.

In addition, employers should train workers to operate scissor lifts safely; ensure the scissor lift has a guardrail system for fall protection; and operate and maintain the lift according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

In the months since Sullivan’s death, the University of Notre Dame has announced it will replace the scissor lifts used for filming practices with a permanent, remote video system.

To view OSHA’s hazard alert, visit For more information about scissor lift safety, see OSHA’s scaffolding eTool and scaffolding Safety and Health Topics page.

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