The History of Elevated Work Platforms

Welcome to our examination of Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs). EWPs, also known as aerial work platforms, are mechanical devices that provide temporary access to inaccessible areas, usually at height. They are a staple in various industries, from construction and maintenance to emergency services, enabling workers to perform their duties at elevated heights safely.

In this blog post, we will journey through time to explore the history and evolution of EWPs – from their simple beginnings to the high-tech machines we see today. We’ll delve into early instances of work at height, the invention of the EWP, the significant technological advancements that have transformed their design over the years, and what we might expect in the future.

The Early History of EWPs

The concept of working at height is a familiar one. Since time immemorial, humans have sought ways to reach higher places for various purposes, from picking fruit and building structures to creating art on high walls and ceilings.

The earliest use of elevated platforms for work can be traced back to ancient civilisations. The Egyptians, for instance, were known to use simple wooden scaffolds to build their monumental pyramids. The Greeks and Romans also used similar methods to construct grand temples and buildings.

However, the real game-changer in working at height was the invention of scaffolding. Scaffolding has been around for centuries, with early evidence found in ancient Greek frescoes dating back to the 5th century BC. These depict wooden scaffolds used for painting murals and repairing structures.

Early scaffolding was typically made from wood and rope. It was a rudimentary solution, but it provided a platform that allowed workers to reach heights that would otherwise be inaccessible. This simple yet ingenious invention was pivotal in constructing some of the world’s most iconic structures, from the Great Wall of China to the Colosseum in Rome.

Despite their utility, these early methods of working at height had significant limitations. First and foremost, they were not exceptionally safe. Falls from height were common, and there were no safety measures in place to protect workers. Secondly, these solutions were not very flexible or mobile. Once a scaffold was erected, it was difficult to move or adjust, limiting its usefulness. Lastly, the process of setting up and dismantling these structures was time-consuming and labour-intensive, which could slow down project timelines significantly.

These limitations eventually gave rise to the need for a more advanced, safer, and flexible solution for working at height – a need that the invention of the Elevated Work Platform would eventually meet.

The Invention of the EWP

The first significant step towards the invention of the Elevated Work Platform (EWP) came in 1944 with Jay Eitel’s creation of the original ‘cherry picker’ style truck and trailer-mounted platform. However, it was during the 1950s that the EWP as we know it today began to take shape. Canadian inventor Walter E. (Ted) Thornton-Trump is credited with creating the boom lift, a key component of modern EWPs.

Thornton-Trump affectionately dubbed his invention the “Giraffe,” but it would soon become more commonly known as the boom lift. His design featured a hydraulic arm mounted on a mobile platform, which could be extended to reach high places. This significantly improved over traditional scaffolding methods, offering increased mobility and flexibility.

The purpose of the EWP was simple: to provide a safe, stable, and efficient way for workers to access elevated heights. Its design was revolutionary, incorporating a platform that could be raised or lowered using mechanical means, eliminating the need for labour-intensive scaffolding erection and dismantling.

The EWP had a transformative impact on the construction industry. It offered unprecedented safety and efficiency, significantly reducing the risk of falls and the time to complete tasks at height. With the advent of the EWP, tasks that previously took days could now be completed in hours. This significantly improved productivity and allowed for more complex and ambitious construction projects.

The EWP also found applications beyond the construction industry. It became invaluable in many other sectors, including maintenance, emergency services, and film production. The flexibility and safety of the EWP made it an indispensable tool in any situation where work needed to be performed at height.

In 1973, the first JLG scissor lift was introduced, further expanding the capabilities and variety of EWPs available. This marked another milestone in the evolution of EWPs, offering a compact yet versatile solution for working at height.

The invention of the EWP marked a turning point in the history of working at height. It represented a significant leap forward in terms of safety and efficiency, and its impact continues to be felt in myriad industries today.

Technological Advancements in EWPs

Over the years, Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs) have undergone significant technological advancements that have not only improved their functionality but also enhanced safety and efficiency.

One of the most notable advancements in EWP design is the incorporation of new standards like ANSI A92.20, (AS1418.10 in Australia), which have significantly modified the design requirements for Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs), including boom lifts and scissor lifts. These standards have led to the development of more secure, reliable, and user-friendly EWPs.

Another game-changing advancement has been in the realm of hybrid technologies. The latest EWPs are designed to maximise machine height and reach while minimising environmental impact. Hybrid EWPs combine the benefits of electric power with the performance of traditional fuel-powered machines, resulting in devices that are both powerful and eco-friendly.

Safety has also been a major focus of recent EWP advancements. New technologies are being developed to make common aerial jobsite challenges more manageable. For example, innovations like automatic levelling systems help ensure stability when working on rough terrain, significantly reducing the risk of accidents.

The next generation of MEWPs is not just about spec changes. They are combining innovation and technology to solve job site challenges. For instance, some of the latest models feature advanced control systems that allow for precise positioning, making it easier to navigate tight spaces and work at awkward angles.

One of the most exciting developments in EWP technology is the increasing adoption of smart and autonomous features. The future of the EWP market looks promising, with the introduction of platforms equipped with sensors and software that can analyse surroundings, predict potential hazards, and even perform tasks autonomously.

The technological advancements in EWPs have revolutionised the way we work at height. Today’s EWPs are safer, more efficient, and more versatile than ever, thanks to ongoing innovation in design and technology. These advancements are not just improving productivity but also enhancing safety, making EWPs an indispensable tool across a variety of industries.

Modern EWPs

Modern Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs) have evolved dramatically from their early predecessors. They are now sophisticated machines that offer an array of features designed to improve safety, efficiency, and productivity. Today’s EWPs are capable of reaching greater heights, navigating challenging terrains, and providing stable platforms for a variety of tasks.

There is a wide range of EWPs available today, each designed to cater to specific needs. Some of the most common types include:

  1. Scissor Lifts: These are vertical lift platforms that use a crisscross mechanism to extend upwards. They are ideal for tasks that require a straight vertical reach, such as maintenance work, painting, or installation jobs.
  2. Boom Lifts: Boom lifts, also known as cherry pickers, feature a hydraulic arm with a platform at the end. This design allows for both vertical and horizontal reach, making them suitable for tasks that require access to hard-to-reach areas.
  3. Telescopic Boom Lifts: These are similar to standard boom lifts but feature a straight, extendable arm that can reach greater heights. They are often used in construction and industrial settings where high reach is required.
  4. Articulating Boom Lifts: These lifts have jointed arms, allowing them to bend around obstacles and reach confined spaces. They are commonly used in areas with limited access or complex structures.
  5. Vertical Mast Lifts: These are compact lifts ideal for indoor applications or tight spaces. They provide a straight vertical lift, similar to scissor lifts, but on a smaller scale.

EWPs are commonly used across various industries. In the construction industry, they are indispensable for tasks like building, repairs, and maintenance at height. The telecommunications and utility sectors use EWPs for tasks such as installing and maintaining overhead lines. In the aviation industry, they are used for aircraft maintenance and repair. Emergency services use EWPs for rescue operations at height. They are also used in the film and entertainment industry for shooting from elevated perspectives.

In essence, modern EWPs have revolutionised work at height, offering safer, more efficient solutions across a wide range of industries.

The Future of EWPs

The future of Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs) looks promising, with advancements in technology and an increased focus on sustainability expected to drive significant changes.

Predictions for the Evolution of EWPs

As technology advances, EWPs are likely to become more sophisticated and versatile. One prediction is that digital adoption platforms and automated learning technologies will play a significant role in the evolution of EWPs. These technologies can help address skills shortages by providing operators with virtual training tools and real-time guidance, enhancing both safety and efficiency.

The spatiotemporal analysis could also prove valuable in predicting future trends for EWP usage. By analysing patterns of EWP use over time and across different regions, manufacturers and operators can better anticipate demand and optimise resource allocation.

Impact of AI and Robotics

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have the potential to revolutionise the EWP industry. Autonomous EWPs that can perform tasks without human input could become commonplace, improving productivity and reducing the risk of accidents.

Furthermore, AI could be used to analyse data from sensors on EWPs, allowing for predictive maintenance and reducing downtime. This could help prevent equipment failures and improve the lifespan of the machines.

Sustainability and EWPs

Sustainability concerns are also likely to shape the future of EWPs. As society moves towards greener practices, EWPs will need to adapt. This could mean a shift towards more energy-efficient designs or the use of renewable energy sources. For instance, hybrid EWPs that combine electric power with traditional fuel-powered machines are already becoming more popular.

The future of EWPs is likely to see significant advancements in technology and a stronger focus on sustainability. These changes will not only enhance the capabilities of EWPs but also make them safer and more eco-friendly.


Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs) have come a long way since their inception. From simple, manually operated platforms to technologically advanced machines with extensive capabilities, the evolution of EWPs has been remarkable.

The introduction of standards like ANSI A92.20 and the advent of hybrid technologies have significantly modified EWP design requirements, resulting in more secure, reliable, and user-friendly platforms. These advancements have not only improved safety but also enhanced efficiency, making EWPs an indispensable tool in various industries.

In industries such as construction, telecommunications, utilities, aviation, and emergency services, EWPs are used extensively for tasks requiring work at height. They offer safer, more efficient solutions, enabling professionals to perform their duties effectively while minimising risks.

The future of EWPs looks promising, with emerging technologies like AI and robotics set to revolutionise the industry. Alongside this, sustainability concerns are driving the development of more eco-friendly designs, aligning the EWP industry with global efforts to combat climate change.

In essence, EWPs are a testament to human ingenuity, transforming how we work at height and contributing significantly to improved safety and productivity across various sectors. As we move forward, it’s exciting to imagine how further advancements will continue to shape the landscape of work at height, making it safer, more efficient, and more sustainable.


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