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Q.Is there any legal way to work off the forks of an all-terrain forklift — for instance, in a steel cage that's safely secured to and supported by the forks?

A.Mike DeBlasio, a masonry contractor in Littleton, Mass., and a member of the Scaffold Industry Association, responds: OSHA doesn't specifically prohibit the use of forklifts and rough-terrain forklifts to elevate personnel, but there are a number of restrictions that severely limit their use for this purpose.

For one, the manufacturer of the forklift has to specifically allow the use of a work basket, in which case the company typically will offer an approved model as an optional accessory. The width of work baskets is limited by the wheel base of the forklift; according to OSHA and ANSI requirements, baskets can extend no more than 10 inches past either side of the load-bearing tires.

On an 8-foot-wide forklift, for example, the allowable work basket could not measure more than 116 inches wide (96 inches + 10 inches + 10 inches).

These work platforms must meet OSHA scaffold standards in terms of capacity, construction, access, use, fall protection, and training, and the operator of the forklift must be fully trained and licensed.

In cases where the manufacturer does not address the question of whether its machine may be used for this purpose, there's more of a grey area.

First, the employer or contractor needs to either find out from the manufacturer if the forklift was, in fact, designed for this use, or have a registered PE certify that it was. In addition, the engineer would need to certify that the supported scaffold being used in conjunction with the forklift complies with applicable requirements in terms of capacity, construction, access, use, and fall protection.

Also, these forklift-supported platforms can be used only when the contractor has determined that no other practical options — such as scaffolds, scissors lifts, aerial lifts, or ladders — could be used instead.

Keep in mind that, regardless of the platform design, you can't use a forklift for elevating personnel platforms if this is specifically prohibited by the manufacturer or by the operator's manual.