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Aerial Work Platforms 101: Common Types of AWPs and Use Cases

June 27, 2022

Four Aerial Work Platforms with "AWP101"

If you need to get somewhere very high up without being in danger, you’re looking for a lift. Literally. Known more formally as aerial work platforms, these devices are useful on jobsites and beyond. Whether you’re repairing the roof of a warehouse or painting street art on the side of a wall, you would benefit from using one on your project.

An aerial work platform (or AWP for short) is, by definition, any device that is used to reach high places. Their wide platforms are designed for both people and material handling, so an operator can bring their tools and materials up with them. Although, this definition is very broad. AWPs come in several forms that work better for different circumstances.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Aerial Work Platform


Where are you trying to get, exactly? The distance is, of course, relevant to this question, but it’s also worth analyzing other parts of the jobsite. Consider any awkward or tight spaces you need your operators to fit into, or what angles you would need the work platform to move in.


Not every AWP is suited for every jobsite. Working indoors will require a more compact machine, while working outdoors might require something that can handle rough terrain.


Aerial work platforms are popular because they vary so much. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you should consider what kind of work your operator will be doing once they are off the ground.


Although operating an AWP might not seem as intensive as driving an excavator or backhoe, it is still a piece of heavy machinery. You could get seriously hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing. Anyone who operates an AWP needs to go through safety training first. Check with your staff members to make sure they are certified to operate an AWP before deciding.

Common Types of Aerial Work Platforms

Boom Lifts

Likely the most common type of AWP, boom lifts are recognizable by the boom arm that lifts the platform. Boom lifts can reach up to 100 feet away, depending on the manufacturer and model. Some even have a turntable, so the lift has 360-degree rotation.

Boom Lift Variations

  • Articulated Boom Lifts - have multiple joints in their arms, making them better to maneuver in hard-to-reach places. Sometimes, they are referred to as knuckle booms. They’re especially useful for electrical work and piping repairs.
  • Telescopic Boom Lifts - have an extending arm that gives them a longer reach. You can regularly find people using these for highly-specialized jobs that require a lot of reach and a straight angle.
  • Cherry Pickers - have a jointed arm mounted to the top of a truck. Although it has a shorter reach than other boom lifts, it’s much better at moving around quickly. The cherry picker is aptly named for its usefulness in tree trimming and fruit picking.

Scissor Lifts

These compact machines might not look like other aerial work platforms, but they’re just as useful. Scissor lifts use an accordion-style support system to raise or lower people and materials– anywhere from 20 to 50 feet. They can’t extend laterally, but that often works to the machine’s advantage. The combination of their lifting ability and their especially wide work platform make them popular for jobs that require plenty of room, like building repairs and window installation.

Scissor Lift Variations

  • Electric Scissor Lifts - run on electricity. These machines are quieter and better for the environment, but aren’t as powerful as other varieties. Usually, you can find these in indoor operations.
  • Rough Terrain Scissor Lifts - require diesel fuel to operate. As the name suggests, these are meant to operate outside in heavy construction. Although they are loud and release fumes, they carry a heavier load and move better on rough terrain.
  • Pneumatic Scissor Lifts - powered by compressed air, they do not require electricity or fuel to operate. As far as environmental health is concerned, this is the best option, although it is not suited for rougher environments.

Atrium Lifts

Also known as a spider lift, an atrium lift carries people and materials in its relatively small platform with an articulated arm. Its most obvious difference are the four extendable legs that help stabilize and level the machine. Unlike other types of AWPs, atrium lifts do not move while in operation, but they make up for it with their compact shape. Most models can even fit through a standard double-doorway, and they have reaching capabilities similar to a boom lift (typically around 60-100 feet). Atrium lifts are especially useful for cleaning and maintenance of large rooms like libraries, gymnasiums and atriums– hence the name.

Atrium Lift Variations

  • Z-Style - the boom of the atrium lift has one joint much lower on the boom, giving it the ability to form a ‘Z’ shape.
  • S-Style - the joints on the boom of this type of lift are placed high on the boom, giving it a curvier ‘S’ shape.

Scaffolding and Ladders

The time and place might be entirely different, but humanity has used scaffolding for centuries as a means to reach elevated heights. Scaffolding redistributes your weight and keeps you elevated without using machinery. Ladders are used in tandem to help navigate the scaffolding system. They’re extremely versatile because they can be built to suit the job’s needs, whether you’re working on a residential home or a skyscraper.

Scaffolding Variations

  • Supported Scaffolding - built from the ground upward, work platforms are supported by a network of lumber or steel support beams. This is useful for any exterior work that has ample ground space.
  • Suspended Scaffolding - hangs from ropes and chains. The pulley system lets you raise or lower the work platform as needed, although the work platform can hold less. You would normally use this for jobs that would otherwise be unreachable.

Should You Rent or Buy an Aerial Work Platform?

No matter which aerial work platform you choose, it will be a significant financial investment. Even after you have decided on an AWP, you need to consider how you will acquire it. Renting and owning your AWP are both equally advantageous, depending on your circumstances.

Owning your equipment has obvious advantages. You don’t have to worry about the availability of AWPs at rental yards if you own the equipment. Plus, you don’t have to compete with other contractors to find the equipment you need. The only downside to buying your equipment is the sizable upfront investment. You would also be responsible for the maintenance and storage of your equipment. Buying an AWP is a smart choice if you anticipate using it regularly.

Renting, on the other hand, takes a lot of responsibility off your shoulders. The company you rent from will take care of maintenance issues and storage costs. You also have a considerable amount of control over your spending if you’re renting. Once you’re finished using a piece of equipment, you can simply off-rent it and save money. If you don’t typically work at high elevations, it’s worth it to just rent your lifting equipment for the project and then off-rent once you’re finished.

If you’re unsure of what equipment you need, your best bet is to speak to an expert. At EquipmentShare, we want to provide you with a rental experience you can’t beat. Visit us at one of our 115+ branch locations across the country and see for yourself why we are a better way to rent. We are also authorized dealers for a variety of OEMs. Shop for equipment and parts or rent an aerial work platform at EquipmentShare.

About EquipmentShare

Founded in 2015 and headquartered in Columbia, Mo., EquipmentShare is a nationwide construction technology and equipment solutions provider dedicated to transforming the construction industry through innovative tools, platforms and data-driven insights. By empowering contractors, builders and equipment owners with its proprietary technology, T3, EquipmentShare aims to drive productivity, efficiency and collaboration across the construction sector. With a comprehensive suite of solutions that includes a fleet management platform, telematics devices and a best-in-class equipment rental marketplace, EquipmentShare continues to lead the industry in building the future of construction.