What Is an Aerial Work Platform?

Jordan Weagly

An aerial work platform is a lift that enables access to hard-to-reach places by lifting a work platform into the air. The benefits of using this kind of device include temporary access to otherwise inaccessible locations, simple operation and consistent support. These aerial devices will usually be made of three major parts, including the support structure, the lift and the elevating work platform. They are usually meant to provide temporary access for maintenance, construction, or emergency access and are usually mobile as a result. Commonly known types of aerial work platforms include the cherry picker and the scissor lift, and many construction, maintenance and emergency access applications can utilize aerial work platforms in some way.

Cherry pickers allow workers to be raised high in the air.
Cherry pickers allow workers to be raised high in the air.

An aerial work platform usually can be distinguished from others by the type of power being used to support the lift. The different kinds of power can vary based on the size of the lift and the weight capacity of the platform. These different types may include electric, gas, pneumatic or hydraulic systems that power a series of often metal supports. Like the type of power used, the type of support is another important identifying feature of each aerial work platform.

Aerial platforms are often used by firefighters.
Aerial platforms are often used by firefighters.

Some lifts, for instance, use a telescoping design in which the lift extends in a straight line from a single mechanism. Others might include the typical cherry picker design, in which one arm leans back to support the weight of the fully extended work platform. Another kind of aerial work platform, usually called a scissor lift, implements an X-shaped pattern of supports or a series of self-propelled lifting structures. Though this kind of lift is limited to vertical motion, it may provide a higher weight capacity or other benefits.

Safety is a major concern in designing an aerial work platform because of the heights at which a person may be operating the device and depending on the device for support. A strict safety protocol often accompanies the proper operation of these devices, and training and proper certification are often required to work with an aerial work platform. Once trained, however, it can be easy to operate an aerial work platform. Many such platforms can be operated from a set of controls inside the platform being lifted. Many models include controls in the platform to allow a single technician to operate a lift and access otherwise inaccessible spaces.

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