Mobility, stability and ease of operation make self-propelled aerial lifts the fastest, most efficient and safest way to raise workers, tools and equipment to elevated heights for almost every kind of electrical construction and maintenance work. Inexpensive, one-person, manually raised lifts are easily pushed around work sites.

Today’s versatile lift equipment elevates quickly, and many models can conveniently be driven around job sites with platforms raised, as long as safety measures are adhered to (see sidebar). Self-propelled lifts keep workers from climbing structures or ladders while carrying heavy tools and equipment. In many instances, they eliminate the time-consuming job of erecting and dismantling scaffolding.

Personnel lifts are widely available from equipment rental centers, and most lifts on projects today are rented. Some estimates are as high as 75 to 85 percent.

Lift models range from lightweight, compact, one-person models to self-­propelled booms that can extend to working heights of 135 feet or more.

Vertical masts are available in both push-around and self-propelled models. The smallest single-worker models are pushed from place to place, and battery power elevates the platform to limited heights. Other self-propelled models elevate higher, and some have platforms that can accommodate two workers and tools.

Scissors lifts employ linked, folding supports in a crisscross “X” that operate in a scissors-like fashion to raise and lower the work platform. They offer the largest work platform and load capacity of all lifting equipment. Generally, the larger the lift, the greater the deck size, lift capacity and extension capability. Scissors lifts are available in many sizes in both indoor and outdoor models with working heights ranging from approximately 20 to 60 feet.

Telescopic multisection booms not only go up but also extend with a bucket or basket to provide horizontal reach. The equipment typically is used on construction and industrial projects. Models are available with booms from 40 to 130 feet; the length of each is dependent on height capability of the unit. When operated in accordance with individual model safety procedures, equipment can be moved while the bucket is elevated. Controls are designed to allow precise positioning, and multiple functions operate simultaneously to maximize lift speed. Telescoping booms are available for indoor and outdoor use.

Articulating booms have telescoping sections connected at individually controlled pivot points to extend up, out and over obstacles such as ducts and other fixtures. Models are available with heights from 30 to 140 feet with out-and-over reach, depending on the model’s height. Typically, articulated models cannot reach out as far as conventional telescoping booms, but the up-and-over positioning makes them more versatile. Articulated boom equipment also is available in indoor and outdoor models.

Power options and accessories
For indoor use, there are direct current-powered models or units with engines that operate on clean-burning fuels, such as liquified petroleum gas. Diesel engines generally power rough terrain models, and units may be equipped with lug tires, oscillating axles and four-wheel drive. Many models offer platform size options, and available accessories include auxiliary platform railings, tool trays, work lights, welder leads and fluorescent tube storage caddies. Some contractors install small generators on the platform for operating power tools and charging cordless tool batteries.

While categories of lift equipment have not changed over the years, each type has evolved with continuing improvements. Significant recent changes have been made in compact models.

Snorkel (, David Smith, president of Snorkel North America, said: “The past three years have seen an explosion of products in the emerging sector of low-level access. Low-level access is defined as lightweight, compact, portable machines, designed to lift one or sometimes two people to platform heights of up to 12 feet.”

Smith identified three primary drivers for this trend:

• Widespread use of suspended floors in commercial buildings can’t support some scissors lift models.
• There are safety benefits of mini-aerial lifts, compared to conventional means of low-level access.
• Compact lifts allow workers to be more efficient than when working on podiums or steps, making those workers more productive.

“Equipment for low-level access has revolutionized the electrical contractor sector in Europe, and we believe it will do the same in North America,” Smith said. “There is a wider array of these products than ever before, which are more tailored to electricians’ needs while delivering better safety and productivity.”

Snorkel offers push-around mast lifts, push-around mini-scissors lifts, electric self-propelled scissors lifts, and electric self-propelled boom lifts.

JLG (, Jeff Ford, global product director, said: “JLG has introduced a new single-person lift with working heights of 12 to 14 feet that dramatically decreases the entry cost of owning an aerial work platform,” he said. “The LiftPod weighs only 150 pounds and costs 25 percent of other vertical mast lifts. Its portable design allows it to be disassembled in less than 30 seconds for movement up stairs or ease of transport in a van or SUV. It is a great alternative to ladders that allows electricians to utilize both hands and move 360 degrees within an enclosed platform.”

The JLG product line of lift equipment includes single person vertical mast lifts, scissors lifts and boom lifts, and an electricians package that includes a workstation with wire spool holder and conduit racks.
Ford said electric scissors lifts with 19-foot platform heights are popular models with electrical contractors because their compact dimensions allow access to narrow passages and corridors.

Terex (, Sean Larin, marketing coordinator, for Terex Aerial Work Platforms, (which markets the Genie line of access equipment), said Genie recently introduced a new tube-in-tube steel telescoping mast model, the GRC-12, with a platform height of 12 feet and lift capacity of 500 pounds.

“Significant features,” he said, “include a standard extension deck, which provides a large work space for up to two operators, along with workstation trays on either side of the mast, which keeps tools and fasteners within reach for increased productivity. In addition, the extension deck gives the operator 17½ inches of outreach. Additional optional features include a power inverter, maintenance-free batteries, and fluorescent tube caddy.”

The Genie line of lifts includes personnel lifts, material lifts, indoor and outdoor scissor lifts, and towable and self-propelled booms with working heights from 36 to 135 feet.

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at