When Low-Level is the Right Level

March 30, 2018

Using an oversized lift on indoor worksites is sometimes like attacking a mosquito with a baseball bat. It’s impractical, unsafe and might do more damage than good.

Low-level scissor lifts, however, are designed for indoor projects, such as electrical installation or drywall hanging because they can be easier to maneuver, usually have intuitive controls, and most importantly, get people to the right working heights without lugging tools and building materials up shaky ladders and scaffolds.

There are hundreds of lifts on the market and picking the right lift can optimize productivity and operator safety on the job site. When faced with multiple catalogs of varying models and specs, rental stores should consider four features before making a purchase — working height, platform size, worksite impact and lifting capacity.

Less is more when it comes to interior working heights. Contractors might think they need a lift with working heights taller than 25 ft., when actually they may be able to reach all projects with one that reaches a 20-ft. working height.

Smaller lifts also can bring added benefits to many job sites. For example, low-level scissor lifts have step-in heights as low as 20 in., making it easier for operators to load tools and materials onto the platform. Low step-in heights can eliminate the fatigue caused by climbing multiple ladder rungs, reduce the chance of a serious fall and minimize repetitive strains that can create workers’ compensation issues. Some manufacturers also incorporate a full swing gate, which is designed to make platform loading safer because the operator doesn’t have to duck under chains or railings.

Using an oversized scissor lift for interior work, such as electrical installation, can even endanger the operator. Crush hazards are a constant presence when operators use an oversized lift indoors because the platform height exceeds the ceiling height.

For instance, if an installer is using a 20-ft. lift inside a 20-ft.-tall room, he or she might get distracted while looking down over the railing as the platform is nearing the ceiling, creating a potential crush hazard. A low-level lift, on the other hand, has roughly a 15-ft.-tall platform height, which allows the installer to achieve a 20-ft. reach with virtually no crushing hazard.

Stowed height also is an important factor for rental stores to consider when helping customers select a low-level lift. If a lift is less than 6 ft. tall with the platform fully lowered, operators can easily push or drive the lift under overhead fixtures, such as support beams and door frames.

Having a lift that offers plenty of working space, yet still fits through cramped worksites, is just as important as reaching the correct working height. A low-level lift should be less than 3 ft. wide and 6 ft. long, so operators can transport it or maneuver it through narrow pathways.

For example, some drive-around, low-level lifts are as narrow as 2.5 ft., which is wide enough for an operator and any tools he or she might need, yet still small enough to fit through doorways and take up minimal space in narrow hallways. A lift that is less than 6 ft. long also can fit inside most elevators.

Some lifts have platform extensions that give operators extra working space for an additional person or building materials. The extension also allows operators to work over obstacles that might prevent the lift from moving forward. For example, an operator can slide out the extension to install a lighting fixture over a stairway railing.

If a lift has an extension, rental stores should be sure to inspect how it is attached to the platform to avoid extra maintenance. Some extensions are attached to the platform’s floor and use wheels that can collect debris and become jammed. This creates downtime to clear the obstruction. Some manufacturers attach extensions to the platform midrails using C-clamps, which virtually eliminate the chance of debris jamming an extended platform.

Low-level lifts also are designed to have minimal or no impact on a worksite. For instance, dual front wheels, counter-rotating wheels and self-contained hydraulic systems are designed to prevent a chance of hydraulic oil leaking and damaging costly carpeted, hardwood or tiled floors.

The wheels for low-level lifts are designed to spread the lift’s weight throughout the unit to reduce pressure on sensitive surfaces, including tile and stone floors. For example, a 1,200-lb. lift with dual front wheels might have wheel loads as low as 62.7 psi, which enables operators to maneuver the lift over tile, laminate, raised floors and mezzanines with minimal risk of damage. The weight distribution also means operators can get onto poured concrete several days sooner than with heavier lifts.

Counter-rotating wheels also are designed to minimize the risk of damaging sensitive floors, such as carpet and linoleum. Non-rotating wheels twist and bunch up the floor when the operator turns the lift, causing tears or deformations. Counter-rotating wheels allow one side of the wheel to move forward, while the other moves back, which prevents bunching or twisting.

To minimize the risk of harmful leaks, some manufacturers make electric-driven lifts with hydraulic systems that have only two connection points. These lifts use hydraulic systems that are solely dedicated to elevating the platform instead of driving, lifting and steering the lifts, which reduce 
the chance of leaks and generally have greater motor efficiency.

Since connection points are a major source of hydraulic leaks, having only two connection points minimizes the chance of a leak occurring in multiple spots.

Units with castor locks and built-in charging systems also can be beneficial to have in your rental inventory if your customers have projects that require working through long hallways and longer working hours.

Some manufacturers include caster locks that limit the wheels’ turning radius. These locks, when engaged, are designed to allow operators to drive in a straight path while permitting minor steering adjustments.

Another consideration when adding low-level lifts is the environmental impact. For example, some manufacturers build lifts that have electrical drive motors and steering systems. These systems draw fewer amps and require less overall power than hydraulically driven engines, which results in long operational hours — sometimes as long as 16 hours — and fewer recharges.

Some manufacturers also include an on-board battery charger that self-monitors the electrical current and stops it once the battery is fully charged. This reduces energy consumption and prevents the battery from overcharging, which can shorten its life. Some chargers also maintain batteries independently from each other instead of pushing the electrical current from one battery to the next. Combined with a self-monitoring system, they help ensure the equipment owner gets the most life from the battery.

Having a low-level scissor lift that can elevate workers and building materials while maintaining its stability is key to maximizing productivity. For instance, if an operator is hanging drywall, the lift needs to accommodate the worker, screws, tools and a couple of sheets of drywall. Plus, each sheet can weigh between 52 to 77 lbs., depending on the size and material. This weight adds up quickly and can be a deciding factor when choosing a lift.

Some 10-ft. lifts have 750-lb. lifting capacities, which is generally enough to support two operators or a single operator and any building materials he or she may need on the job site. To minimize a scissor lift swaying under heavy loads, some manufacturers enhance platform stability by using a scissor stack and oversized pins.

Knowing what features fit a project’s needs should help increase productivity and minimize costly downtime on a wide range of applications. From hanging slabs of sheetrock to twisting in the final lightbulb, the best low-level lift safeguards the operator, the project and the production schedule from beginning to end.

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