Exploring the Two Basic Types of Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs)

scissor lfit

EWPs, often referred to as aerial work platforms or mobile elevating work platforms, are mechanical devices used across a variety of sectors to provide temporary access to inaccessible areas, usually at height. They have revolutionised numerous industries by offering a safer and more efficient means of reaching high elevations, compared to traditional methods like scaffolding or ladders.

The importance and role of EWPs cannot be overstated. From construction sites to warehouse management, from window cleaning to tree trimming, and electrical repairs to painting, these versatile machines play an integral part in daily operations. They not only boost productivity by allowing tasks to be completed more quickly, but they also significantly enhance worker safety. Understanding the different types of EWPs and their unique features is crucial for selecting the right tool for the job, ensuring efficiency and safety are maximised.

This blog post will delve into the characteristics, uses, benefits, and limitations of the two basic types of EWPs – Scissor Lifts and Boom Lifts. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newcomer to the field, this post will provide valuable insights into these indispensable pieces of equipment. Let’s get started!

What is an Elevated Work Platform (EWP)?

An Elevated Work Platform (EWP), also known as an aerial work platform or mobile elevating work platform, is a specialised piece of machinery designed to lift people, along with their necessary tools and materials, to working areas located above ground level. They provide a safe and efficient way to perform tasks at height, minimising the risk associated with traditional methods such as ladders or scaffolding.

The history of EWPs dates back to the mid-20th century when the need for a safer and more efficient way to work at height became evident. The early versions of these platforms were relatively simple in design and functionality. However, with the advancements in technology and engineering over the years, modern EWPs have evolved into highly sophisticated machines capable of reaching greater heights and maneuvering in tight spaces with increased safety features.

EWPs are used in a wide array of settings. In the construction industry, they’re indispensable for tasks such as building, repairing, or maintaining structures. They also find extensive use in maintaining and repairing public utilities like power lines and street lights. In warehouses, EWPs are used to manage inventory stored at great heights. Even in less industrial settings like film sets, concert stages, or large-scale cleaning operations, EWPs play a vital role.

The primary reason for using EWPs is safety. Working at height can pose significant risks, and EWPs are designed to mitigate these risks by providing a stable platform from which workers can operate. Additionally, they enhance efficiency by allowing workers to reach higher and further than they could with ladders or scaffolding, carrying the necessary tools and materials for the job. This reduces the time spent climbing up and down and increases the time spent actually working on the task.

Basic Types of Elevated Work Platforms

Scissor Lifts

Scissor lifts, also known as aerial work platforms, are a type of EWP characterised by their crisscrossing, accordion-like metal supports, termed the ‘scissor mechanism’. This mechanism contracts and expands to raise or lower the platform. They are powered by hydraulics, pneumatics, or mechanically with a screw drive system.

Scissor lifts offer a straight vertical elevation, making them perfect for tasks that require height but not horizontal reach. They are commonly used in construction, manufacturing, and retail industries for tasks like ceiling repairs, painting, electrical installations, stocktaking, and even in the film industry for overhead shots.

One of the main benefits of scissor lifts is their large platform size, which can simultaneously accommodate multiple workers and their equipment, increasing productivity. They also provide a higher level of stability than many other types of EWPs, especially when fully extended, making them safer for workers.

However, scissor lifts do come with certain limitations. Their vertical-only movement means they’re not suitable for tasks that need sideways reach. Additionally, they are usually slower to set up and move around than other EWPs. Also, while some models are designed for outdoor use, many scissor lifts are best suited to indoor applications due to their limited ground clearance and performance in adverse weather conditions.

Understanding these features, uses, benefits, and limitations can help businesses and individuals make informed decisions when choosing the right EWP for their specific needs.

Boom Lifts

Boom lifts, also known as cherry pickers or man lifts, are another type of EWP equipped with a hydraulic arm, called a boom, that can extend in multiple directions. At the end of this boom is a small platform or bucket where a worker can stand.

Unlike scissor lifts, boom lifts provide vertical and horizontal reach, making them highly versatile. They’re typically used in construction, manufacturing, and utilities for tasks that require access to high, hard-to-reach places. This includes painting, window cleaning, tree trimming, maintenance, and more.

One of the main benefits of boom lifts is their flexibility. The adjustable boom allows workers to maneuver over obstacles and reach areas that would be inaccessible with a scissor lift. Some models, known as articulated boom lifts, even have joints in the boom that enable it to bend, providing even greater flexibility.

However, boom lifts also have their limitations. Their platforms are generally smaller than those of scissor lifts, meaning they can accommodate fewer workers and less equipment at a time. Although they are capable of reaching greater heights, they also tend to be less stable when fully extended, particularly in windy conditions. Additionally, they require more skill to operate safely due to their complex controls.

Despite these challenges, boom lifts can be an invaluable tool for many jobs, especially those requiring a combination of height and reach. As with any piece of equipment, understanding its capabilities and limitations is crucial when selecting the right tool for the job.

Comparing Scissor Lifts and Boom Lifts

Scissor and boom lifts serve the same fundamental purpose – safely elevating workers to heights. However, they differ significantly in their design, capabilities, and optimal usage scenarios.

Key Differences

  1. Movement and Reach: The most significant difference between these types of EWPs is their movement and reach. Scissor lifts can only move vertically, while boom lifts can extend vertically and horizontally. This makes boom lifts more flexible and versatile for reaching areas inaccessible to scissor lifts.
  2. Platform Size: Scissor lifts typically have larger platforms that can accommodate more workers and equipment at a time, making them ideal for tasks requiring teamwork. On the other hand, boom lifts generally have smaller platforms suitable for one or two workers.
  3. Stability: Scissor lifts are known for their stability, especially when fully extended, making them safer for workers. In contrast, boom lifts can be less stable when fully extended, particularly in windy conditions.

Situational Suitability

Scissor lifts are more suitable for jobs requiring a large platform and only vertical access, like painting a high wall or doing maintenance work on a ceiling. They’re also often preferred for indoor use due to their stability and ease of maneuverability.

With their ability to extend in multiple directions, Boom lifts are better suited for tasks that require reaching over obstacles or accessing hard-to-reach places. They’re commonly used in construction sites, tree trimming, and utility repairs.

Safety Considerations When Using EWPs

The use of Elevating Work Platforms (EWPs) like scissor lifts and boom lifts is not without risk. The importance of safety when using these platforms cannot be overstated as they can pose potential hazards if not used properly1.

Importance of Safety When Using EWPs

EWPs are designed to provide workers access to elevated areas that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to reach. However, these platforms can pose risks such as falls from height, entrapment, equipment failure, and tipping over. Therefore, promoting occupational safety and mitigating these potential hazards is crucial.

Safety Measures and Guidelines Specific to Scissor Lifts and Boom Lifts

Scissor Lifts: Operators should ensure the lift is on a firm and level surface before use. Overloading the platform must be avoided, and guardrails should always be in place when the platform is elevated. Using the platform only for its intended purpose and not as a bridge or scaffold4 is also essential.

Boom Lifts: Safety harnesses should always be worn when operating a boom lift to prevent falls5. The lift should not be moved when the boom is elevated unless it’s designed for this function. Additionally, care should be taken not to exceed the load capacity of the platform4.

Training Requirements for EWP Operators

Before operating any EWP, workers should undergo proper training. This includes understanding the operation and limitations of the specific EWP, recognising and avoiding potential hazards, and knowing how to handle emergencies. Training should also include practical demonstrations and assessments to ensure workers can operate the equipment safely.

In conclusion, safety should always be the number one priority when using EWPs. Proper training and adherence to safety guidelines can significantly reduce the risks associated with their use.

Choosing the Right EWP

When it comes to choosing between a scissor lift and a boom lift, several factors should be considered to ensure you select the most suitable Elevating Work Platform (EWP) for your specific job requirements.

Factors to Consider

  1. Working Height: The first factor to consider is the height you need to reach. Boom lifts can typically reach higher elevations compared to scissor lifts. A boom lift might be the best option if the job requires working at significant heights.
  2. Direction of Movement: Another important consideration is the direction of movement. Scissor lifts are limited to vertical movement, while boom lifts can move both vertically and horizontally. This makes boom lifts more suitable for jobs that require reaching over obstacles or accessing hard-to-reach areas.
  3. Work Surface Accessibility: The surface where the EWP will be used also matters. Scissor lifts require a firm and level surface, while some boom lifts can handle uneven terrain.
  4. Load Capacity: Load capacity is another critical factor. While telescopic boom lifts usually have higher weight capacities, they may be more difficult to maneuver. Conversely, scissor lifts often have larger platforms capable of carrying multiple workers and equipment but have lower overall weight capacities.
  5. Budget: Lastly, cost can also influence the choice between a scissor lift and a boom lift. Generally, scissor lifts are cheaper to rent and own, while boom lifts tend to be more expensive. However, the final decision should not be solely based on budget but rather on the requirements of the task at hand.

Making an Informed Choice

Understanding these factors can guide you in making an informed decision. It’s essential to assess the specific needs of your project and match them with the capabilities of the EWP. For instance, a boom lift would be more suitable if you need to reach a high location and navigate around obstacles on uneven terrain. On the other hand, if your work involves a large team working at moderate heights on a stable surface, a scissor lift may be the better choice.

Selecting the right EWP is crucial in ensuring the efficiency, safety, and success of your project. When in doubt, it’s always advisable to consult with equipment rental professionals or manufacturers who can provide expert advice based on their extensive knowledge and experience.


Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the two main types of Elevating Work Platforms (EWPs) — scissor lifts and boom lifts — and their various uses. With their large platforms and vertical movement, scissor lifts are well-suited to tasks requiring a large working area at elevated heights on stable surfaces. On the other hand, boom lifts, with their ability to extend both vertically and horizontally, offer greater flexibility in reaching areas inaccessible to scissor lifts, especially on uneven terrain or around obstacles.

Safety remains paramount when operating any EWP. From adhering to specific safety measures and guidelines for each type of lift to ensuring proper training for operators, every effort should be made to mitigate potential risks and promote a safe working environment.

Understanding the capabilities and limitations of each EWP, prioritising safety, and seeking professional advice when in doubt are the keys to successfully utilising these powerful tools in your work.

Choosing the right EWP for your specific needs can greatly enhance productivity and safety. While the information provided here serves as a general guide, nothing beats professional advice tailored to your unique circumstances. The team at AusDirect Hire Group is ready to assist with your EWP hire needs, providing expert guidance to ensure you select the most suitable EWP for your project.

If you would like to speak with one of our expert team members, they are looking forward to chatting with you!

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