Aerial work: It's just like scuba diving... says Dave White

By Dave White07 May 2008

The planning and care that goes into scuba diving presents some valuable lessons for how we should approach working at height. Dave White, president with MEC Aerial Platforms – and a keen scuba diver – explains.

Like many other activities, performing work at heights on aerial work platforms presents hazards, which are identified and managed by the operator, sometimes on the spot. Pre-start inspections, equipment familiarization, and work place inspection are imperative to the safe operation of an aerial work platform – every time – and may help prevent or lessen accidents or fatal injuries.

I often use analogies as a way to help describe work related issues or to put issues like this into perspective. To demonstrate this point further, let's compare aerial work to scuba diving. As a certified scuba diver, my own safety – as well as others I dive with – is something I take seriously.

Scuba diving, like using an AWP, is also subject to several hazards that can be protected only by the exercise of intelligence, care, and not by mechanical means.

I feel that in addition to training, the process of pre-dive planning, equipment inspection and equipment operation review is critically important to minimizing the risks associated with the activity and allows for safe and enjoyable diving. The same type of planning and precautions are a necessity for aerial work platform safety.

When scuba diving, I do not have the responsibilities as does a product design engineer. When diving, the roles of responsibility are reversed, as I am now responsible for the use of equipment as an operator, rather than the safe design of the equipment. In diving, like AWPs, there are sets of standards and training certification courses that represent the “standard of care” for diving equipment, training and safe practices.

The equipment inspection, operational checks, and familiarization are directly comparable to the process of preparing to use an aerial work platform. Creating a dive plan involves outlining the depth of a dive, entry and exit paths, type of terrain, currents, etc. This is essentially equivalent to the process of workplace inspection as it applies to the operation of aerial work platforms.

Let's compare the responsibilities of the aerial work platform operator and the importance of pre-operation inspection, familiarization, and workplace inspection.

The “Responsibilities Manual” which is required to be provided and stored on the AWP in a weather resistant storage compartment is a reprint of a portion from each of the ANSI standards.

Pre-Start Inspection

Before use each day or at the beginning of each shift, the aerial platform shall be given a visual inspection and functional test including but not limited to the following:

1 Operating and emergency controls.

2 Safety devices.

3 Personal protective devices.

4 Air, hydraulic, and fuel system leaks.

5 Cables and wiring harnesses.

6 Loose or missing parts.

7 Tires and wheels.

8 Placards, warnings, control markings, and operating manuals.

9 Outriggers, stabilizers and other structures.

10 Guardrail systems.

11 Items specified by the manufacturer.


When an operator is directed to operate an aerial platform he/she is not familiar with, the operator shall receive instructions regarding the following items:

1 The location of the weather resistant compartment (for manual storage).

2 The purpose and function of all controls.

3 Safety devices and operating characteristics specific to the aerial platform.

Before Operation

1 Read and understand the manufacturer's operating instructions and user's safety rules or have them explained.

2 Understand all labels, warnings and instructions displayed on the aerial platform or have them explained.

3 Ensure all occupants of the aerial platform wear appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) for the conditions, including the environment in which the aerial platform will be operated.

Workplace Inspection

1 Drop-offs or holes, including those concealed by water, ice, mud, etc.

2 Slope(s).

3 Bumps and floor obstructions.

4 Debris.

5 Overhead obstructions and electrical conductors.

6 Hazardous locations and atmospheres (reference ANSI/NFPA 505-1995).

7 Inadequate surface and support to withstand all load forces imposed by the aerial platform in all operating conditions.

8 Wind and weather conditions.

9 Presence of unauthorized persons.

10 Other possible unsafe conditions.

Whether you're scuba diving or operating an AWP, know your equipment and take the time to pre-start, familiarize, and do inspections. Working on aerial work platforms at heights, just like being under water with a mask and a tank of compressed air, can be enjoyable or dangerous; it's up to you.

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